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Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Five Sometimes-Embarrassing Attempts by Comedians to Be Musicians

Earlier this week it was announced that Tim Heidecker, of Tim and Eric fame, will be releasing an album in March — and not a comedy album. He’ll be working with Davin Wood, the composer for Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, and they’ll be called Heidecker & Wood. According to Pitchfork, the album will feature “songs that evoke classic rock from the Eagles to Steely Dan.” This isn’t the first time that a famous comedian decided to make a straightforward music album; just last month, Paul Reiser of Mad About You fame released Unusual Suspects, a collaboration with Julia Fordham.

There's long been a happy mutual appreciation society between comedians and musicians, but crossovers between the two disciplines tend to be questionable at best. I mean, has anyone seen those YouTube videos of John Mayer doing standup? And I'm pretty sure no one paid to see Conan live this year because they were huge fans of his The Band covers. But still, some attempts by comedians to become real-deal musicians are better than others. Here are five such examples that run the gamut from respectable to shameful.

#1. Steve Martin
The banjo was as much a part of Steve Martin’s early standup routines as his penchant for air quotes. He’s always been a solid musician and lover of music (see “King Tut,” which actually hit #17 on the Billboard charts in 1978), but in the past few years, he’s started talking the instrument more seriously. In 2009, he released The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo, a full-length bluegrass album, featuring guest performances by Earl Scruggs, Vince Gill, and Dolly Parton. It even won the Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album. Hopefully his musical career will keep him from making another Pink Panther movie.

#2. Eddie Murphy
Eddie, Eddie, Eddie. The world should have seen your current career slump coming. For a time, he was inarguably the funniest comedian out there, whether in films like Beverly Hills Cop and Coming to America, or standup routines like Raw and Delirious, or on Saturday Night Live. But even during all this greatness, he released something epically awful, just because he could: 1985’s How Could It Be, featuring “My God is Color Blind” and “Party All the Time.” He would go on to make two more albums — So Happy and, the album with possibly the world’s worst cover, Love’s Alright — and have a successful second career as the voice of Donkey in Shrek, but for many, it’s tough to look (listen?) past the fact that he once recorded a song with Rick James. It’s a shame, too, considering Murphy once out-Stevie Wonder’ed Stevie Wonder.

#3. Rodney Dangerfield

At the end of his career, after having received little to no respect for over four decades, Dangerfield decided to do something he’s always wanted to, I guess, and released Romeo Rodney, an album of cover songs made famous by Frank Sinatra and other similar crooners. But what makes this album truly worthwhile is that it includes a remastered version of “Rappin’ Rodney,” the comedian’s 1983 rap, um, hit (there’s an album of the same name out there, too, although it’s nearly impossible to find). Seriously, the song’s brilliant, with lyrics like, “I’m getting old, it’s hard to face (no respect, no respect)/Well, during sex, I lose my place (no respect, no respect).” To Dangerfield’s credit, he was one of the first mainstream non-African Americans to release a rap song.

#4. Creed Bratton
Instead of beginning as a comedian and then becoming musician, Creed did it the other way around. Bratton, who plays the borderline psychopath character of the same on NBC’s The Office, was a member of the Grass Roots from 1965-1969, playing guitar. He was a part of the band when they recorded their biggest hit, “Let’s Live for Today.” After leaving the group to become an actor, he appeared briefly on shows like Quincy M.E. and Eight is Enough, before landing on The Office in 2005. He still occasionally releases solo albums, and once sang on The Office, for Dunder Mifflin’s People Person’s Paper People advertisement.

#5. Minnie Driver
Disagree if you must, but I think of Minnie Driver as a comedian. She was wonderful on the short-lived The Riches, and has also appeared in Will & Grace, Modern Family, Absolutely Fabulous, and even voices Brooke Shields in South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. She’s also quite good in the soon-to-be released Barney’s Version. Although she did a bit of performing as a musician pre-Good Will Hunting, Driver didn’t release her first album until 2004’s Everything I’ve Got in My Pocket, followed by Seastories three years later. The songs are exactly what you’d expect them to be: middle-of-the-road safe bluesy rock, notable only because she’s a famous actress.

Josh Kurp encourages everyone to follow their dreams.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jason-Newstedt/100000178655331 Jason Newstedt

    Tim Heidecker playing music…ugh. I saw the last T&E Awesome Tour "Chrimbus Special" when it came rolling into my city. I'll sum it up: it was pre-shot video (out-takes mostly), a couple of poorly done skits, and the rest of the show was a performance by "Pussywhip Gangbang;" a "band" that was nothing more than a poorly veiled attempt to let EVERYONE know that Tim has a lot of fun playing guitar and singing – bored audience or not.

  • http://www.twitter.com/becca_oneal Rebecca O'Neal

    I guess this is a bad time to admit that I definitely liked Michael Jackson & Eddie Murphy's Whatzupwitu when I was a kid. Is there ever a good time to admit something like that?

    • Josh Kurp

      Actually, I do too, which is why I didn't mention it. "He got your number peeped" really speaks to me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jason-Newstedt/100000178655331 Jason Newstedt

    You, dear friends, have guts. My hat is off to yous…

  • http://www.facebook.com/thejacquelinenovak Jacqueline Novak

    "those videos of John Mayer doing stand up" — enjoy the horrors: http://douchechillz.com/chillz/mayer-brand-chuckles-two-drink-minimum/