Musical Gag

Simply put, a Musical Gag is either one of two things:

  • In music, a Musical Gag is a joke that comes from somewhere other than the lyrics.
  • In other media, a Musical Gag is a joke within the item's music/soundtrack.

The following tropes are Musical Gags of the second type:

To avoid excessive repetition, examples on this page should be of Musical Gags that don't already fit into the specific tropes above.

Type 1 Examples - A joke from somewhere other than the lyrics

Literature
  • Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid has many of these within the dialogues:
    • In "Canon by Intervallic Agumentation," a song based on the theme (famously used in Johann Sebastian Bach's Art of the Fugue) whose notes spell out B-A-C-H is played on a different record player, which distends the intervals so that the notes instead spell C-A-G-E, as in John Cage. When a third record player plays the song, the intervals are stretched even further so that the notes of the theme spell B-C-A-H.
    • In "...Ant Fugue," the four characters enter one by one like the voices of a fugue, each delivering the same theme at a different philosophical pitch.
    • In "Six-Part Ricercar," the Crab adds a mordant to the theme from Johann Sebastian Bach's The Musical Offering, so that the notes spell "Babbage, C(harles)" backwards.

Music
  • Tom Lehrer, a satirist most famous in the 1950's and 1960's, had a distinctive style involving writing and performing songs poking fun at various (then-)current events. Most of the jokes are in the lyrics, so they would not be Musical Gags — but there was the occasional melodic joke. For example, at the end of "New Math", Lehrer quips: "Come back tomorrow night, we're gonna do... fractions." This is followed up by a quick melody on the piano which seems to translate as either "Oh, brother!" or "Just kidding!".
  • Peter Schickele, a composer who moonlights as a musical satirist, has created a number of compact discs purporting to follow the work of "P.D.Q. Bach", a fictional classical composer. Every one of PDQ Bach's works is actually filled with as many Musical Gags as Schickele could fit in, be it including the melody of "Pop Goes the Weasel" or an Overly Long Gag consisting of going up and down the 5-note scale and adding in increasingly nonsensical instruments. Much to his dismay, these musical parodies have become so popular that they have eclipsed his serious work.
  • "Faerie's Aire And Death Waltz" could be considered a Musical Gag, in that even a layperson looking at the score should be easily able to tell that it's intentionally unplayable.
  • Filk Songs, in addition to the silly lyrics, will often include gags.
  • Mozart himself wrote a piece entitled A Musical Joke. There are a few wrong notes, but most of the joke is how the piece fails to develop (as if it were written by someone who was out of ideas).
  • Camille Saint-Saens included a number of musical gags in The Carnival of the Animals. For example, movement twelve, "Fossils", includes quotes from Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and the French nursery rhyme Au Clair de la Lune, among other musical "fossils".
  • The Led Zeppelin song "The Crunge" consists entirely of this trope. It is written to sound like James Brown style funk, which is written to be danced to, but there are so many changes in the time signature that any attempt to actually dance to it would result in a faceplant.
  • Cledus T. Judd, being a Country Music parodist, does this frequently:
    • He coughs during the last chorus of "If Shania Was Mine" (Shania Twain's "Any Man of Mine") and asks of the backing vocals, "Now was that Mutt Lange or Dwight Yoakam?" In the video, David Ball butts in with "At least he's not pickin' on me this time."
    • "Jackson (Alan That Is)" interpolates Johnny Cash's "Jackson", the source of the parody, with Alan Jackson's "Chattahoochee".
    • He likes to make the musical instruments miss notes on purpose, such as the piano riffs in "Every Light in the House Is Blown" ("Every Light in the House" by Trace Adkins) and "Coronary Life" ("Ordinary Life" by Chad Brock), and the deliberately off-key guitar solo in "Breath" ("Breathe" by Faith Hill).
    • The piano/fiddle riff on "Just Another Day in Parodies" ("Just Another Day in Paradise" by Phil Vassar) plays a descending scale at the end instead of the right notes.
    • "What the *$@# Did You Say" (Martina McBride's "Whatever You Say") uses a tuba in the second verse, an instrument blatantly not present in the original song.
    • The guitar riff at the beginning of "My Cellmate Thinks I'm Sexy" (Kenny Chesney's "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy") interpolates the "William Tell Overture".
    • "I Was Country When Country Wasn't Pop" (Barbara Mandrell and George Jones' "I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool") randomly throws in pop and rap elements.
    • After the Truck Driver's Gear Change on "Bake Me a Country Ham" ("Paint Me a Birmingham" by Tracy Lawrence), Cledus raises the pitch on his voice to make him sound even more like Tracy Lawrence.
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic, in "Smells Like Nirvana" ("Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana), gargles water to the beginning of the guitar solo, then has a tuba play the rest of it.
  • In Johann Sebastian Bach's Battle of the Bands cantata "The Contest Between Phoebus and Pan" (BWV 201), the violins during Midas's aria proclaiming Pan as master do donkey imitations, foreshadowing Midas's Karmic Transformation.

Newspaper Comics
  • In Peanuts, Schroeder whistles Beethoven's F minor sonata to call Snoopy in; the Musical Gag is that this would require whistling two notes at once. Later strips have Woodstock whistling similarly complex melodies.

Radio
  • Hello Cheeky would have one or two humorous songs in each episode. One of them, I've Fallen For A Girl Called Agnes, is entirely about the fact that nothing rhymes with Agnes, and the rhythm of the song keeps changing in reference to the fact that the singer never finishes a verse.

Theatre
  • Chee-Chee, a famous musical flop by Rodgers and Hart based on the novel The Son of the Grand Eunuch, has a final scene where the main character is being taken away to have the relevant operation. The orchestra plays a few bars from The Nutcracker Suite.
    • In one of Richard Rodgers' later works, the ballet "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue," three cops on a raid enter to the tune of "Three Blind Mice."
  • In Of Thee I Sing, the French soldiers enter to the first few bars of "An American in Paris" (which, like the musical, was composed by George Gershwin).
  • In The Mikado, when the Mikado's song mentions "Bach, interwoven/With Spohr and Beethoven" as a punishment for the music hall singer, woodwinds play the theme from Johann Sebastian Bach's Fugue in G minor (BWV 542).
  • In Show Boat, the second verse of "Why Do I Love You?" has Ravenal singing "I'll come home as early as I can" to the portion of "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" whose original lyrics were "He can come home as late as can be."

Type 2 Examples - a joke within the item's music/soundtrack.

Anime and Manga

Film
  • In Spaceballs, the pan across the Spaceballs' ship is made even funnier by the orchestra repeatedly trying to segue into the next part of the music only to find out that there's more of the ship to get past first.
  • In the movie Down with Love, a character claims that something doesn't ring a bell. The soundtrack contradicts him.

Live-Action TV
  • Much of the Source Music chosen for LOST was recorded by artists who died in plane crashes.

Multiple

Pinball

Radio
  • One that requires some explanation: Hamish And Dougal was a show spun off from Im Sorry I Havent A Clue, featuring two of Clue's regulars. In one episode, the rest of Clue's cast join Hamish And Dougal as guest stars. After they've all been introduced, we hear a brief burst of Clue's theme tune, The Shickel Shamble.
    • Also, since Clue has a local pianist in the form of Colin Sell, he sometimes joins in on the joke-cracking. As one round of Just A Minim collapsed into shambles, he could be heard playing Enter The Gladiators (circus music), and you can sometimes hear him pausing as he's thrown off by one of the panellists or has to adjust his tempo.
    • When Neil Innes was the pianist, Humph listed his acomplishments (The Rutles, Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, etc), concluding "All of which has brought him to where he is today. Standing in for Colin Sell." Neil instantly played the funeral march.

Video Games
  • In Digital Devil Saga, there's an optional boss fight with the Demi-Fiend, the protagonist of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne. This is the hardest fight in the game, requiring a very specific strategy, lots of grinding, and a generous helping of luck to win. The music that plays during the fight? Nocturne's regular battle theme. To him, you're just another random encounter.

Web Originals
  • SF Debris often uses musical bits of various lengths and styles to emphasize ridiculous elements in the works he reviews, to deliver subtle (or less-than-subtle) puns, and so forth. He also often interjects with short comedic songs (with or without music), usually to make a point absolutely clear.

Western Animation
  • South Park used a Leave It to Beaver style soundtrack to make Cartman injecting Kyle with his own AIDS infected blood sound like Wacky Hijinks.
  • In the Pinky and the Brain episode "It's Only A Paper World," the title characters attempt to Take Over the World by building a life-sized replica of the planet Earth out of paper-mâché and luring the population onto it so they can rule the real Earth without interference. All the music in the episode is based on themes from Dvorak's New World symphony.

Other Examples

Video Games
  • On the original Skies of Arcadia Dreamcast discs, if you inserted one in a CD player, instead of the standard "Insert Dreamcast discs into your Dreamcast not your CD player" message, one of three randomly selected custom messages to this effect issued by the voice actors for Vyse, Aika, and Fina would play.
  • In Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Alucard would inform you that this disc only has game data. It would then play some music before going into the game data and being annoying static.
    "Track one contains computer data, so please don't play it. But you probably won't listen to me anyway, will you?" * cue music with Evil Laughs*

Web Comics
  • This xkcd strip. For those who can't read music, here's the spoiler.