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Musical Gag

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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. The joke may be in unexpected or unusual musical parts or choice of instrument.
  • 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:

On occasion, the Leitmotif for a Joke Character will itself be this.

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


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Type 1 — a joke from somewhere other than the lyrics:

    Comic Strips 
  • In Peanuts, Schroeder whistles Beethoven's F minor sonata to call Snoopy in; it is this because that would require whistling two notes at once. Later strips have Woodstock whistling similarly complex melodies.

  • Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid has many of these within the dialogues:
    • In "Canon by Intervallic Augmentation," 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 mordent to the theme from Johann Sebastian Bach's The Musical Offering, making its notes spell "Babbage, C(harles)" backwards.

  • 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" by John Stump; aside from the nonsensical stage directions like "adagio cantabile with a rock tempo feel", "tune the uke", "cresc. or not", and "play ball!", 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.
  • The song "Circles" on Strong Bad Sings and Other Type Hits has a guitarist and a harmonica player squabbling between the vocal parts. The harmonica is noticeably out of tune, and at the end, the guitarist laughs and asks, "is this song really in G?"
  • Insane Clown Posse often put in a skit at the end of a song that shows their signature style of humor, whether it be young white kids trying to pretend that they're gangbangers, calling up a redneck to talk to "big fat fuckin' redneck chicken boy", or a drive-thru order for "the dog beats".

  • 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.

  • 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."
  • Near the end of "A Weekend in the Country" from A Little Night Music, the orchestra quotes the opening bars of Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, another musical sex comedy about the Idle Rich.

Type 2 — a joke within the item's music/soundtrack:

    Anime & Manga 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • Looney Tunes: Back in Action: When Brendan Fraser's character opens the garage to reveal his AMC Gremlin, the score plays a snippet of the Gremlins theme.

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


  • One that requires some explanation: Hamish and Dougal was a show spun off from I'm Sorry I Haven't 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.
  • Kirby:
    • Starting in Kirby's Return to Dream Land, certain areas with no music will instead have hidden melodies snuck into the ambient sound effects. In Kirby Star Allies in particular, if you wait long enough before the fight with Meta Knight, he'll start quietly whistling his own leitmotif.
    • "Studying the Power Plant" in Kirby: Planet Robobot uses electric guitar feedback to evoke the sound of high voltage in a power plant. Specifically, it was an electric guitar with the composer's reading glasses stuck in between the strings. Which caused them to break.
    • In Kirby: Planet Robobot, you fight a clone of King Dedede, who eventually splits into three copies. The song that plays in the second phase of the fight, "Dedede's Tridimensional Cannon", is an arrangement of King Dedede's theme in 3/4 (in other words, triple time).
  • In a mission late in Mafia IIIs storyline - infiltrating the Frisco Fields party to hunt down Olivia Marcano - Lincoln is instructed by Donavan, while posing as a waiter, to dose the wine being served with "military-grade LSD". By the time he returns to the party after ducking back into the kitchens for a smoke break, the entire group of assembled guests are hallucinating on the floor or dancing. With the speech that had punctuated the party while they were all sober now gone, the scene is instead accompanied by a piano. One which is playing White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane.
  • In Metal Gear Solid, the first howl you'll hear in the ambient track of wolf sounds that plays in the dog-focused passages of the game 'howls' the first two notes of the game's operatic Leitmotif, "The Best Is Yet To Come".
  • In Hollow Knight, the Godmaster DLC brings us Truth, Beauty and Hatred feat. Zote, which plays during the Eternal Ordeal. It's just a remix of Truth, Beauty and Hatred (the theme of Grey Prince Zote), but with Zote's rough, scratchy voice singing over it. And if that wasn't enough, killing 57 Zotes within the Eternal Ordeal unlocks a custom title screen, with Zote (poorly) singing to the title theme.
  • In GOHOME, Clodia's chase theme is a remix of Csikós Post, only with dog barks.

    Web Original 
  • 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.

    Web Video 
  • Dragon Ball Z Abridged: When Krillin is deciding whether or not to kill 18, the theme for Lapis Lazuli from Steven Universe plays. As the episode breakdown confirms, this was an oblique joke about how Akira Toriyama stated 17 and 18's real names were Lapis and Lazuli.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • Steven Universe associates most major characters with specific instruments. Peridot's is a triangle wave, and she has triangular hair. Ruby's is a square wave, as she has a cubic afro.

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.