Comedy Tonight (And Every Night This Summer)
By Peter Filichia —
Summertime, and the livin’ is supposed to be fun. None of the other three seasons is as associated with good times.
In honor of the impending summer, I thought I’d assemble a list of The Broadway Musical’s 50 Funniest Songs.
Remember: sense of humor is very subjective. My former wife is one of the brightest women I’ve ever known, and yet, she used to watch Green Acres and laugh like a seal. Why? Because Eva Gabor’s character had the same thought-for-thought value system as her grandmother. Believe me, if Lilli had had a different grandmother, she would have turned up her nose at Green Acres as quickly as she turned it up at me during our eighth and final year of marriage.
So what takes my fancy may not be what takes yours. But if I may cast my three electoral votes, these are the 50 that give me the biggest smiles, laughs and guffaws in alphabetical order.
1. “Adelaide’s Lament” (Guys and Dolls). A person could develop a hold on this gem.
2. “Always True to You in My Fashion” (Kiss Me, Kate). “Mr. Harris, plutocrat, wants to give my cheek a pat. If the Harris pat means a Paris hat, bebe!” is so spectacular that I will forgive the false accent on “pluto-CRAT.” (But why didn’t he just write, “Mr. Harris, who is fat?”)
3. “Been a Long Day” (How to Succeed). As delicious as the song is, the reprise makes it even sweeter. Many didn’t know this encore until the 1967 film, for it wasn’t included on the original cast album.
4. “Bobby and Jackie and Jack” (Merrily We Roll Along). Sondheim’s model was in fact those Julius Monk topical satires, and he did as well as any of Monk’s writers ever did. (Not that that should have been any surprise.)
5. “Bosom Buddies” (Mame). Even though the line, “Somewhere between forty and death” is actually a stage direction from the original Auntie Mame play.
6. “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” (Kiss Me, Kate). If you don’t like this one, I’m going to kick you right in the Coriolanus.
7. “Buddy’s Blues” (Follies). Just love the “Thank-you-for-the-present-but-what’s-wrong-with-it stuff.” How many times wives have said that to husbands, and vice versa?
8. “Cell Block Tango” (Chicago). And they really worked on this one. If you saw the Philadelphia tryout, you’d see how it wasn’t yet remotely there.
9. “The Contract” (Gigi). While all the other songs that Lerner and Loewe wrote for their stage Gigi made only a mild impression, this one, in which many constantly haggle over what a young bride can expect from her older husband, was wicked fun.
10. “Crossword Puzzle” (Starting Here, Starting Now). But a note to auditionees: I’m told that those behind the table are mighty tired of hearing this song.
11. “Dance: Ten: Looks: Three” (A Chorus Line). Or, as it’s more frequently called, “Tits and Ass” — which indeed was its original title in the program until the authors noticed no one was laughing because they’d already read the punch line.
12. “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly” (Annie Get Your Gun). And remember that Irving Berlin wasn’t even slated to write this score!” (Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields were.)
13. “Everybody Loves Louis” (Sunday in The Park with George). When I attended the last preview and Dot sang, “Louis drinks a bit, Louis blinks a bit,” I laughed so hard and so long that people were turning around to see who was out-of-control.
14. “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum). Maybe vaudeville wouldn’t have died had there been more songs like this.
15. “Friendship” (DuBarry Was a Lady/Anything Goes) Porter must have raised the bar on audacity when he wrote, “If you ever lose your teeth and you’re out to dine, borrow mine.”
16. “Funny/The Duck Joke” (My Favorite Year). And if you see the movie from which the musical was adapted, you’ll see that Ahrens and Flaherty greatly improved the moment.
17. “Gee, Officer Krupke” (West Side Story). It’s the first place many of us ever heard the word “marijuana.”
18. “Getting Married Today” (Company). What’s terrific is that Sondheim didn’t have a man frightened over an impending wedlock, but a woman, whom we usually think of excitedly looking forward to getting down the aisle as soon as she could.
19. “Gooch’s Song” (Mame). You asked “What Do I Do Now?” You wait for your applause, Agnes, of which there will be a considerable amount.
20. “The Grass Is Always Greener” (Woman of the Year/And the World Goes ‘Round). Despite the odd lyric that “The teeth are always cleaner in somebody else’s Polident.”
21. “He and She” (The Boys from Syracuse). A story of a happy marriage that isn’t so happy — unless you’re listening to and not living the story.
22. “He Had Refinement” (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) . I am so glad that the line, “May I suggest you call a lady’s chest a chest instead of her ‘points of interest’?” was written by a woman. (Dorothy Fields, no less.) If it had been penned by a man, we’d never hear the end of it.
23. “The Hooker” (Inner City). In which a lady of the evening rationalizes that we’re all selling something, after all. “You do it your way,” she snarls. “I’ll do it mine — and that’s fine.” It sure was fine songwriting.
24. “A Hymn to Him” (My Fair Lady). What I’ve always loved is how little Henry Higgins wants to concede here: “One man in a million may shout a bit. Now and then there’s one with slight defects. One, perhaps, whose truthfulness you doubt a bit.” Henry doesn’t want to give an inch, does he?
25. “I Cain’t Say No” (Oklahoma!). That Ado Annie is so honest and understands herself so well is the main reason that it’s so funny.
26. “I’ll Never Be Jeakous Again” (The Pajama Game) . Trust me, those of you who don’t know the show: this is a most amusing song.
27. “I’m an Ordinary Man” (My Fair Lady). Has any misogynist ever been as hilarious?
28. “Impossible” (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) . Both an old and a young man see the pros and cons – and absurdities – of their situations.
29. “I Never Do Anything Twice” (Side by Side by Sondheim). One could say that it’s technically from a movie, but that’s not entirely true. The song we know and love, with all three sections, was not heard in The Seven-Percent Solution; there it was tragically truncated. But in Side by Side, we got to hear it in toto, to our everlasting delight.
30. “It’s a Fish” (The Apple Tree). No, in fact, it isn’t, and that’s the charm of the song: Adam (of Adam and Eve fame) can’t identify this silent creature who, “on occasion, he says ‘goo.’”
31. “It’s a Simple Little System” (Bells Are Ringing). In finding a composer to match a racetrack – Beethoven: Belmont Park; Puccini: Pimlico — the cherry on the sundae was “What is Handel?” “Hialeah! Hialeah!”
32 . “Jeanette’s Showbiz Number” (The Full Monty). Nice joke about Sinatra, too.
33. “A Little Priest” (Sweeney Todd). The only time in musical theater history when the word “locksmith” got an enormous laugh.
34. “The Little Things You Do Together” (Company). And Jesus Christ, is it good!
35. “The Love of My Life” (Brigadoon). I’ve always thought that Lerner and Loewe’s Meg Brockie had a little of Rodgers and Hart’s Morgan Le Fay in her.
36. “Man” (The Full Monty). Incorporating a little of Elmer Bernstein’s The Magnificent Seven theme was a good idea, too.
37. “Miss Marmelstein” (I Can Get It For You Wholesale). Harold Rome’s song that put the then-funny Barbra Streisand on the map.
38. “Nobody Makes a Pass at Me” (Pins and Needles). And here’s the song that inspired Harold Rome to write “Miss Marmelstein.” It’s just as good, if not better.
39. “Nobody’s Chasing Me” (Out of This World). Decades after Cole Porter wrote about animal love in “Let’s Do It,” he was still getting laughs and double-entendres out of the subject.
40. “Oh, Happy We” (Candide). Surprised? Well, there is something funny about two lovers who believe that they’re on the same wavelength while they most certainly are not.
41. “Old-Fashioned Wedding” (Annie Get Your Gun). A more out-there version of “Oh, Happy We” and Irving Berlin’s last great quodlibet.
42. “They Couldn’t Compare to You” (Out of This World). I still remember hearing, “Though I liked the Queen of Sheba, she was mentally an amoeba” not long after I’d learned what an amoeba was in biology class. And while I hated biology, that one day I was glad I was taking it, for I wouldn’t have otherwise understood the joke.
43. “Those Were the Good Old Days” (Damn Yankees). A devilishly funny number.
44. “What Can You Do with a Man?” (The Boys from Syracuse). There’s a nice homonym-based joke here in the very last word, when a wife mentions that she has “acres and acres of beauty going to waste.” Get it?
45. “What Do We Do? We Fly!” (Do I Hear a Waltz?) “The shiny stuff is tomatoes, the salad lies in a group; the curly stuff is potatoes, the stuff that moves is soup.” Sondheim wrote some nice, light-hearted lyrics before the advent of security, shoe removal and 2.5 ounce containers.
46. “When I’m Not Near the Girl I Love” (Finian’s Rainbow). Has any song from the musical theater canon used words more effectively?
47. “The Worst Pies in London” (Sweeney Todd). Overshadowed by the show’s first-act finale, but it still belongs on the list.
48. “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun” (Annie Get Your Gun). Perhaps not, but you can sure get a lot of laughs with this song.
49. “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” (Gypsy). “Do something special,” the strippers urged us – and their lyricist did just that.
50. “You Must Meet My Wife” (A Little Night Music). “What is she? A bird?” Such a simple line — and such a titanic laugh. You must meet this lyric – and all the others on this list.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Friday at www.kritzerland.com.and www.mtishows.com. His books on musicals are available at Amazon.com.