Tim Walker: 'Flight of the Conchords have a scenester cool and priceless facial repertoire'

The Couch Surfer: “The Lonely Island mock pop culture – movies, music or the munchies – but they love it, too”
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The Independent Online

My favourite recent YouTube hit must be "Jizz in my Pants", a music video that details the travails of two sexually incontinent young men. As the track begins, Andy is chatting up a girl in a club and inviting himself back to her place. Before they can get there, however, she "rubs [his] butt" and he, erm, "jizzes" in his pants.

Jorma is just buying groceries, until the cute checkout girl asks him if he'd like to pay cash or credit, at which point he, too, "jizzes" in his pants. Watching horror movies, eating grapes, standing too close to open windows: all of these things cause the pair to... well, you get the idea. It's kind of repetitive. But hilarious. Honestly. You probably have to see it.

The video is the work of California comedy group The Lonely Island, which comprises Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer. These are the chaps who also brought us such three-minute gems as "Dick in a Box", "We Like Sportz" and "I'm on a Boat" (featuring T-Pain). Their musical skits are some of the funniest contributions to the US sketch show Saturday Night Live, where Samberg is a regular cast member; and their debut album, Incredibad, arrived on iTunes in February.

Call me a miserable git, but comedy and pop music were never meant to mix. I can think of few things more tedious than having "The Lumberjack Song" chanted back to me by a beery companion. I'd rather sit through the omnibus edition of The Archers than endure a long car journey with only a "Weird Al" Yankovic cassette for company. Yet the internet age has made all things possible, including, it seems, comedy songs that actually make me laugh.

The Lonely Island rose to fame online, courtesy of "The 'Bu", their parody of The OC, set in Malibu. "The 'Bu" was produced in micro-episodes for Channel101.com, a website that chooses which shows to produce and broadcast based on the votes of viewers. Thus the trio are well versed in what's required of a successful viral video.

Their first successful SNL skit was "Lazy Sunday", in which they appropriated the aggressive hip-hop sound and lo-fi video visuals of the Beastie Boys, to describe a trip to an afternoon screening of The Chronicles of Narnia at their local cinema. The sketch generated countless webpage hits, slogan-smothered T-shirts and a slew of amateur YouTube remakes. Inevitably, they're all about as amusing as a drunken cover of "The Lumberjack Song".

Much of The Lonely Island's fans must come, like me, from beyond the Saturday Night Live audience, and key to their videos' success is their viral appeal. Samberg, Taccone and Schaffer's default position is pitch-perfect pastiche of America's dominant musical styles: immediately recognisable, and instantly laughsome. "Dick in a Box" – which won an Emmy in 2007 – is a slow-roasted spoof of early-Nineties R&B, concerning the ideal Christmas gift ("my dick in a box"); "I'm on a Boat" is a sardonic celebration of hip-hop bling; "Jizz in my Pants" is appropriately pulse-racing electropop.

Sure, The Lonely Island mock pop culture – be it movies, music or the munchies – but they clearly love it, too. And pop culture loves them back: Justin Timberlake appears in at least two of the videos, Norah Jones and Jack Black feature on the album, and "Natalie's Rap" stars a game Natalie Portman demolishing her good-girl reputation in all of 150 seconds. The joy of those moments comes, like in "Lazy Sunday", from the gap between the subject matter and its musical execution.

Funny folk duo Flight of the Conchords are the other group making comedy songwriting acceptable again. Like The Lonely Island, the success of their skits rests on visuals as much as vocals. New Yorkers via New Zealand, Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement have a priceless, understated facial repertoire, and a neurotic-scenester cool that makes them acceptable to the sort of savvy audience who might catch their HBO sitcom, or seek them out online. What they also share with the Lonely Island boys is an earnest, straight-faced delivery to match our irony-laden times. Benny Hill they are not.

Comedy songs used to be for young boys, old men and anyone in between with a questionable sense of humour. But these guys make it hip. All that said, I still won't be buying Incredibad. Without the witty visual accompaniment that YouTube so brilliantly facilitates, The Lonely Island's songs wouldn't be half as funny. Like I said, you probably have to see it.

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