Comedy Issue: A Timeline Of Musical Humor Milestones

Comedians and satirists have made their mark with music on the Billboard charts and at the Grammys since at least the 1950s. 

Here’s a timeline of laugh-inducing musical landmarks.

1959 — Folk music duo Bud & Travis, Bud Dashiell and Travis Edmonson, record its first album, interspersing stand-up comedy with traditional folk music songs and Spanish-language numbers. One of its recordings includes a reference to “licorice pizza,” which will become the name of a Southern California record store chain in the 1970s. That same year, the first Grammy Awards ceremony honors “The Chipmunk Song” by Ross Bagdasarian Sr. (who recorded as Dave Seville) for best comedy performance.

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1961 — Ray Stevens makes his debut on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Jeremiah Peabody’s Poly Unsaturated Quick Dissolving Fast Acting Pleasant Tasting Green and Purple Pills.” It’s the first of 27 singles he will land on the chart (not all of them comedic). Stevens will peak in 1974 with “The Streak,” which hits No. 1 for three weeks.

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1962 — The Smothers Brothers’ first album, "The Two Sides of the Smothers Brothers," debuts on the Billboard 200 in October and stays on the chart for 66 weeks, peaking at No. 26. Over the next three years, they release seven albums and, in 1967, get their own CBS-TV show that will be remembered for its controversial political satire and musical performances, including the 1967 appearance by The Who in which Keith Moon blows up his drum kit.

1963 — TV writer and song parodist Allan Sherman hits No. 2 with “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh! (A Letter From Camp),” a song set to Amilcare Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours.” The song wins a Grammy for best comedy performance.

1964 — Tom Lehrer becomes the official songwriter of NBC’s "That Was the Week That Was," where he lampoons the Catholic Church (“The Vatican Rag”), nuclear proliferation (“Who’s Next?”) and education (“New Math”). Uncensored versions of the songs are released in 1965 as "That Was the Year That Was," which spends 51 weeks on the Billboard 200.

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1970 — Dr. Demento broadcasts his first radio show of novelty and comedy records on KPCC Pasadena, Calif., creating a home for Weird Al Yankovic, Stan Freberg, The Roto Rooter Goodtime Christmas Band and comic greats Groucho Marx and Spike Jones. The show continues to stream online today.

1973 — “The National Lampoon Lemmings” stage show features John Belushi’s first Joe Cocker impersonation and spoofs of Motown, Bob Dylan, John Denver and Neil Young.

1973 — Cheech & Chong’s “Basketball Jones,” which includes musical cameos by George Harrison and Carole King, hits No. 15 on the Hot 100. Los Cochinos, the album that contains the single, peaks at No. 2 and wins the Grammy for best comedy recording. 1973 — Albert Brooks’ first album, "Comedy Minus One," includes the classic music routine “Rewriting the National Anthem.” Two years later, he gives up stand-up comedy to become a film director and actor.

1973 — Martin Mull’s “Dueling Tubas” peaks at No. 93. It appears on the album "Martin Mull & His Fabulous Furniture in Your Living Room," which pokes fun at polkas, the blues, big bands, Leon Russell and Elton John.

1978 — Steve Martin’s “King Tut” hits No. 17 on the Hot 100. His album, A Wild and Crazy Guy, hits No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and earns him his second Grammy for best comedy recording.

1984 — “Eat It,” Yankovic’s parody of Michael Jackson’s hit single “Beat It,” hits No. 12 on the Hot 100, the first of 10 songs he places on the chart. “White & Nerdy,” a spoof of Chamillionaire’s “Ridin’,” will become his highest-charting single, peaking at No. 9 in 2006.

1984 — "This Is Spinal Tap" is released. The movie makes just $4.7 million at the box office, and its soundtrack only reaches No. 121 on the Billboard 200, but its cultural impact is immeasurable. The mock heavy metal band — consisting of comic actors-writers Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer — eventually reunite in 1992. The act records the album "Break Like the Wind," tours in 2001 and plays the Glastonbury Festival in 2009.

1986 — Dana Carvey makes his "Saturday Night Live" debut, portraying burned-out rock star Derek Stevens performing “Choppin’ Broccoli.” Two years later, Carvey will further his rock-comedy efforts with Mike Myers in the "SNL" debut of "Wayne’s World," which will lead to two movies in 1992 and ’93. 

1988 — Sam Kinison covers The Troggs’ “Wild Thing.” Although the single never charts, the video (which features Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Slash, Billy Idol, Steve Vai, Richie Sambora, Jon Bon Jovi and Tommy Lee) is a hit on MTV. His album Have You Seen Me Lately? peaks at No. 43.

1995 — Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song” hits No. 10 in late December. It returns to the Hot 100 in 1996, 1997 and 1999.

2001 — The eponymous debut from Tenacious D, the comedic rock duo of Jack Black and Kyle Gass, hits No. 33 on the Billboard 200. Together since 1994, they will score an HBO show, open for Beck and Pearl Jam, and beginning in 2001, headline several tours.

2003 — After appearing as The Folksmen on SNL in 1984, McKean, Guest and Shearer return in the folk-music mockumentary A Mighty Wind. At the 2004 Grammys, the title song bests Eminem’s “Lose Yourself ” and other contenders for the best song written for a motion picture, television or other visual media.

2003 — Warner Bros. releases "Triumph the Insult Comic Dog’s Come Poop With Me," which peaks at No. 141 on the Billboard 200. Triumph creator-voice Robert Smigel performs with fellow comics Sandler and Black on such hard-rock parody songs as “Bob Barker,” “Together in Pooping” and “Underage Bichon.”

2008 — The first of two soundtracks to the HBO series "Flight of the Conchords" peaks at No. 3 on the Billboard 200.

2011 — Heavy metal parodists Steel Panther hit No. 40 on the Billboard 200 with the release of their second album, "Balls Out," and support the record by opening for Def Leppard and Motley Crue in the United Kingdom. Right before Christmas, they open for Guns N’ Roses at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif.

2011 — The Lonely Island musical comedy trio — SNL cast member Andy Samberg and writers Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer — score their highest-charting position, No. 3, on the Billboard 200, with “Turtleneck & Chain.” Their late-2010 video for “I Just Had Sex” featuring Akon has racked up more than 215 million views. 

2012 — Reggie Watts brings his unique hip-hop-rooted humor to IFC talk show "Comedy Bang! Bang!" In 2009, he received the ECNY Award (formerly Emerging Comics of New York Award) for best musical comedy act and took part in Conan O’Brien’s 2010 national tour.

2014 — Comedy-folk duo Garfunkel & Oates (Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci, respectively) are slated to debut their own IFC series in late summer — the network’s first with two female leads — after appearances on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and Childish Gambino’s track “These Girls.”

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