Comedy Issue: Tenacious D's Kyle Gass On Guitar Licks & Laughs

Kyle Gass and Jack Black of Tenacious D
Scott Gries/Getty Images

Kyle Gass and Jack Black of Tenacious D rehearsing in the mens room. 

There has been an explosion in comedy music lately, but I think it always has been around. 

If you went back to the ancient Greek satyr plays, I bet you they were playing some kind of janglies. Court jesters? They were definitely getting jingly and jangly. To me, comedy and music are not even really separate entities. 

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Acting, music, comedy are all just delivery systems to communicate ideas and stories. 

Of course, there’s the cliche that all rock stars secretly want to be comedians and all comedians secretly want to be rock stars. The grass is always greener. I want to be an astronaut. 

Who the hell knows?

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In terms of what influenced me, I grew up on The Beatles, and I always was struck by their dry British sense of humor. I remember watching The Smothers Brothers as a very young boy and thinking, “They’re pretty good musicians and they’re also throwing in some funny and political stuff.” I also found Bob Dylan to be really funny and, in the 1970s, I got into Martin Mull, who was a pretty decent jazz guitarist and had a great take on making fun of jazz and the blues. Of course, Steve Martin always had his banjo and was very accomplished, and in our idiom you can never forget Spinal Tap. They were definitely a template for what we do.

When Jack Black and I started Tenacious D, there were about two seconds in the beginning when we thought maybe we’d have a go at serious music. But we quickly abandoned that when we realized that everything we did tended to come out funny. We have that comic smile, as they say, so we decided organically to go in that direction.

The song “Tribute” was definitely the genesis. That’s where it started for us. It took us a long time to write it — we had the concept and we just kept tweaking. That set the stage for how we work: We get the germ of an idea, jam-jam-jam, and then we listen back, take the good parts and just continually shape it. “Tribute” became our calling card, and it really established who we were and what we wanted to do.

And apparently it’s still people’s favorite D song, so basically after our first song it has been downhill the entire way.

A song doesn’t have to be laugh-out-loud, ha-ha funny for us to do it, but it has to have at least a little bit of comedy. On our last album, "The Rize of the Fenix," we did a song called “Throw Down” about all the great religious leaders getting in a battle royale, and it was a little bit of a serious thing but it was still kind of cartoonish lyrically so we got away with it. Our songs definitely have to have a comedic angle, however slight. Rock got so pompous in the ’70s and ’80s, jazz has always been a little precious, and the worst singer-songwriter stuff is always so serious. Music, in general, is about feelings — and I love that. But it makes it very ripe for someone to have some fun with it.

Still, we take the music very seriously and we’re both big fans, literally.

There’s nothing better for us than to come close to our rock heroes. If we can simulate Led Zeppelin or the Foo Fighters and get in that arena musically — and I think we’ve come close a few times — that’s the most exciting thing to us.

I’ll never get over the fact that Dave Grohl, the greatest rock drummer in the f ’n universe, is playing on our albums. But I guess I’m going to have to just accept the mantle. In the end, the highest compliment we can get is if people are really into the music. Because we’re rock-ing as hard as we can.

KG’s Rules For Licks And Laughs

1. Treat every show like it’s your last and leave it all out on the field.
2. Look peeps in the eyeballs and talk to them — it brings the whole audience in.
3. Never forget to pretend to have a good time. If you are having a good time, you won’t have to pretend, and if you aren’t having a good time the audience wants to believe you are, and most times just pretending to have a good time can lead you to actually having one. Does that make any sense?
4. Don’t stay too long at the fair — always leave them wanting a little more.
5. On the road, always remember: Eatin’ ain’t cheatin’.

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