The 11 Best Comedian-Musicians - Rolling Stone
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The 11 Best Comedian-Musicians

From Russell Brand and Jimmy Fallon to Margaret Cho, this crowd is adept at both joking and singing on stage

Jason Kempin/Getty(Martin), Tim Mosenfelder/Getty (Cho), Douglas Mason/Getty(Black), Randall Michelson/WireImage for Film Independent (Robinson),

Ricky Gervais may be the only superstar comedian who was in a British New Wave band – after college, Gervais and friend Bill Macrae formed Seona Dancing (pronounced “Shawna”), a New Wave group with hints of David Bowie, Wham! and Duran Duran – but he's certainly not the only one to ever burst into song. Here are 11 more comedians who have found that setting their shtick to music can pay off.

By Erika Berlin


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Russell Brand

The British funnyman, perhaps just as well known for his much-chronicled debauchery and teased curls (and now for being married to Katy Perry) as for his phenomenally narcissistic and hilarious stand-up, broke through in the States playing a rockstar version of himself in 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall. For the role of Aldous Snow, Brand contributed two songs to the movie’s soundtrack, and his performance was so well-received that 2010’s spinoff Get Him to the Greek had Brand recording 16 original songs for his character's fictitious band, Infant Sorrow.

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Steve Martin

When Steve Martin was the hottest comedy ticket of the late Seventies, he regularly punctuated his unconventional show with magic and his banjo, whether fake-tuning it as a gag, or picking and clawhammering his way through foot-tapping bluegrass pieces. Martin brought his banjo along for gigs on The Muppet Show and SNL, and in 2009 he released The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo, which won the Grammy for best bluegrass album.

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Margaret Cho

Margaret Cho has always been one to go for the ultra-raunchy joke, and that tendency held true when she wrote her first studio album of comedy songs. Working with noted indie artists Tegan and Sara, Ben Lee and Ani DiFranco, Margaret released Cho Dependent in 2010 and managed to cover topics from cameltoes to detailing the act of sperm donation ("We just want to breed, and we don't need you"). She took the album on the road and nabbed a Grammy nomination for best comedy album.

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Jack Black

Jack Black has made a living playing wanna-be rockers who routinely burst into song, from his breakout role as a record store employee in 2000's High Fidelity to his out-of-work-rocker-turned-substitute-teacher in School of Rock. Black even upgraded to play real-deal Paul McCartney in 2007's Walk Hard. But it's been his comedy-rock band Tenacious D that has allowed Black to live out his rockstar fantasies. Formed in 1994 with friend Kyle Gass, who taught Black to play the guitar, the duo have put out two albums and a movie, 2006's Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny, all while worshipping their metal heroes (Ronnie Dio) and giving new meaning to sex, drugs and rock & roll.

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Adam Sandler

Adam Sandler used his over-enunciated, silly man-child singing voice for many of his SNL and movie characters from Opera Man to Billy Madison, but his most famous contribution was the ditty "The Chanukah Song." Sandler name-checked famous Jews like David Lee Roth, Kirk Douglas, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock when he debuted the song on SNL's Weekend Update in 1994, and the song has since been a radio staple during the holiday season. Sandler even wrote two follow-up versions to include other heavyweights who have "so much fun-akah" celebrating Hannukah, like Bob Dylan, Joey Ramone, Lou Reed and all three Beastie Boys.

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Andy Samberg/Lonely Island

Childhood friends Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone had been making joke songs under the name The Lonely Island since 2001, but the comedy crew hit it big four years later when they got the attention of SNL head Lorne Michaels. All three were asked to join the SNL team, Samberg as a featured player and Schaffer and Taccone as writers. Since then, their star-studded SNL Digital Shorts — featuring everyone from demure Natalie Portman spitting rhymes about "bustin' dudes mouths like Gushers" in "Natalie's Rap" to T-Pain Auto-Tuning the nautical "I'm On a Boat" — have become one of the most popular and viral segments of the show. In 2007 they won an Emmy for "Dick in a Box," an instant hit starring Samberg, Justin Timberlake, bad dance moves, worse facial hair and their junk wrapped in gift boxes.

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Jimmy Fallon

Since taking over Late Night in 2009, Jimmy Fallon has had the perfect stage to showcase some of his best impersonations — famous musicians. His recurring "Neil Young" covers (complete with long hair and harmonica) of ridiculous pop culture phenoms, from "Pants on the Ground" to "Double Rainbow," have inspired Young contemporaries like Bruce Springsteen to join him on stage. Fallon's house band, The Roots, have also gotten in on the fun by helping Fallon illustrate the history of rap with Justin Timberlake and taking on Rebecca Black's "Friday" with Stephen Colbert. Fallon also famously used his 2010 Emmys hosting gig as a chance to show off a mean Springsteen impersonation with a mass-produced "Born to Run" opening number along with the cast of Glee.

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Craig Robinson

Craig Robinson may be best known as "Darryl from the warehouse" on The Office, but those who have seen his stand-up sets know that he's adept at showing off his musical and comedic talents simultaneously. Bringing his keyboard along for early gigs on the comedy festival circuit and Def Comedy Jam, Robinson often accompanies himself while serenading audience members or giving his jokes extra ambiance. His seven-piece band, the Nasty Delicious, has made appearances on an episode of The Office and during the finale of Robinson's hosting gig of last season's Last Comic Standing.

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Conan O’Brien

When his network late-night career went down in flames in early 2010, Conan O'Brien said good-bye to his Tonight Show followers by closing out his final show with a seven-minute jam session of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird." Acting as resident singer (and cowbell fanatic), Will Ferrell invited O'Brien to "strap on his ax" as he, Beck, Ben Harper, ZZ Top and Max Weinberg and the Tonight Show Band shredded in front of a giant American flag. Conan decided to go rockstar for awhile, growing a beard and launching his "Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television" tour, where he joked about his newly jobless condition and played reworked versions of "I Will Survive" and Radiohead's "Creep."

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Maya Rudolph

Before joining the cast of SNL in 2000, Maya Rudolph spent a couple of years touring as the keyboardist and backing vocalist for Nineties Moog-synthesizer enthusiasts The Rentals. The daughter of a songwriter father and an R&B singer mother, Rudolph had formed a nine-piece funk band called Super Sauce while in college in the early Nineties. She joined the Rentals on the road in 1994, when the band, formed by ex-Weezer bassist Matt Sharp, opened for Alanis Morissette and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. During her seven seasons on SNL, Rudolph used her pipes to channel Beyonce, Whitney Houston and Justin Guarini, among others.

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Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement

Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement started off as just a couple of New Zealanders with a cult following for their "a cappella-rap-funk-comedy folk" music outfit, Flight of the Conchords. After making the comedy and music festival rounds in the mid-2000s and releasing a short SXSW-based documentary, the endearingly deadpan Conchords got their big break when HBO signed them on for a series. During the show's two seasons, McKenzie and Clement wove witty, self-deprecating songs about seeking constructive feedback on their preposterous raps and fighting xenophobia among local fruit stand vendors (who won't "sell an apple to a kiwi") as they bumbled through New York City while trying to make it big.

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