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The Mel Brooks Number

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So you have a musical number. The music is absolutely beautiful, and the instrumental part makes you want to cry or go "Awwww...". But wait, something's wrong. There is something that is keeping you from bursting into tears. What could it be?


You're hearing a Mel Brooks number, not necessarily a bad thing, unless you don't like musicals.note  This song can be described as:

  • A song with beautiful or classic-sounding orchestral arrangements but that features humorous or inappropriate lyrics.
  • A song with orchestral arrangements and gorgeous lyrics, but the choreography is funny. Or the actors are in funny costumes or wearing fake noses. Or...
  • A song that sounds like the perfect Tear Jerker... until you discover what it is really talking about.

This song is always Played for Laughs. A subtrope of Bathos and Lyrical Dissonance. Named for the quintessential master of this kind of song, Mel Brooks.


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  • The Trope Namer is Mel Brooks. Many of the songs he writes fit this trope, most obviously "Springtime for Hitler" from the first film version of The Producers.
  • "Brian", from the opening of Monty Python's Life of Brian, fits this to a tee—beautiful orchestration and a fantastic singer (essentially a take-off of Shirley Bassey's performance in Goldfinger) undercut by silly graphics and increasingly silly lyrics.
    • Monty Python's The Meaning of Life has "The Galaxy Song", a light, cheery number with a lovely instrumental break...that turns out to be about an individual human's insignificance in the universe, and "Every Sperm Is Sacred," an anthemic hymn sung by Catholics of all ages (including ancient relics) about sperm.
    • Monty Python and the Holy Grail has "Knights of the Round Table," which includes very silly choreography and increasingly painful rhymes for "Camelot."
    • Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl, perhaps most audaciously, features "Sit On My Face," a rousing up-tempo choral anthem about anilingus.
  • The four Oompa-Loompa songs in the 2005 version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory play out this way. Danny Elfman assigns each one a different genre (mambo for Augustus Gloop, psychedelic Folk Rock for Veruca Salt, etc.) and gives them terrific melodies and arrangements. The lyrics (pulled from the original novel) are still about naughty kids getting their comeuppance, though, and the "rather rehearsed" dance numbers the Oompa-Loompas — all voiced by Elfman — mount are parodies of Busby Berkeley numbers, heavy metal videos, etc.
  • Walk Hard is full of these. While some of the songs ("Guilty As Charged" comes to mind) could easily pass for a 60s Johnny Cash hit, others ("Let's Duet") are gleefully silly and filled with double entendres.

    Live-Action TV 
  • "The Lumberjack Song" from Monty Python's Flying Circus, where the backing chorus breaks up due to the lyrics' ridiculous emphasis on transvestism.
  • The bread and butter of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Notable numbers include:
    • "You Stupid Bitch" - a soliloquy of self-loathing, but some of it comes out less than poetically. Just to pile on the cringe, Rebecca has the audience sing along with her at one point.
    • "(Tell Me I'm Okay) Patrick" - gets more silly as the number goes on, including a package playing the piano, despite the number being about desperately needing comfort and validation
    • "The Moment Is Me" - this song's lyrics are completely earnest; it's the deliberately listless delivery that makes it this trope

  • Tom Lehrer was also infamous for these kind of songs. A bright, cheery serenade about killing pigeons ("Poisoning Pigeons in the Park")? A parlor-music piss-take on school fight songs ("Fight Fiercely Harvard")? Full orchestral backing for songs about humanity's utter annihilation by nuclear war ("We Will All Go Together When We Go" and "So Long, Mom"), a guy Too Kinky to Torture ("Masochism Tango"), and Reckless Gun Usage ("The Hunting Song")? And this is only a fraction of the man's catalog.
  • Jonathan Coulton is incredibly fond of these. "I Crush Everything" is a tale of loneliness and depression. As told by a giant squid. Or the nostalgia-packed ballad about a girl he knew in high school: "The Town Crotch."
  • Singer-songwriter Brute Force (real name Stephen Friedland) is a skilled musician with a Cloudcuckoolander sensibilty, so naturally he specializes in these. His most famous song, "The King of Fuh", which was one of Apple Records' first non-Beatles releases, is a beautiful ballad with exquisite strings and stirring piano. The lyrics are about the king of the land of Fuh, and the obvious pun gets used many times.
  • Parts of Ylvis's song, "The Fox," would genuinely have a feeling of wonder and mystery, if were not for the entire song being about something as random as wondering what sounds a fox makes, with ridiculous gibberish words (presumably "speculation" about said sounds) and a section asking if said fox would come across a horse, would it speak to it in Morse code?

  • One could convincingly argue that this trope should be called The Gilbert and Sullivan Number. One of the reasons their operettas have endured with such popularity is their wonderful use of The Comically Serious, avoiding cheap laughs and instead writing beautiful melodies filled with inane, punny, or ridiculous lyrics.
    • Perhaps one of the best is "When the Foeman Bears His Steel" from The Pirates of Penzance, in which the Police sing a rousing song about how they're afraid of the pirates, while the women sing about how glorious their deaths will surely be, and the two choruses are combined in counterpoint, a highly-technical musical effect that is difficult to pull off.
    • Also from Pirates, 'With Catlike Tread', a song about how stealthy and silent the pirates are...sung at the top of the lungs with cymbals and trumpets during a burglary.
    • H.M.S. Pinafore gives us "He Is An Englishman," a number with a stirring martial melody celebrating the main character's Patriotic Fervor... until you notice the lyrics are mocking the entire concept of patriotism by explaining it means he has actively resisted temptations to be a person of any other nationality.
  • "Something Has Happened", from the little-known musical I Do! I Do!
  • Chicago has "Class", which has a beautiful melody (the sheet music notes that it should be played "quasi Franz Schubert") but is packed with swearing and grammatical errors.
  • The Book of Mormon is full of these:
  • While the entire show is hysterical, "You Won't Succeed On Broadway" from Spamalot is definitely one of these... especially since the song talks about Broadway shows flopping if they can't get Jews in the cast.
  • Discussed in The Drowsy Chaperone. "Bride's Lament" is a beautiful, sad song sung by Janet van de Graaf after breaking up with her fiancĂ©. However, the lyrics are completely ridiculous. The Man in Chair (who is listening to the cast recording of the Show Within a Show) says it's best to ignore the lyrics.
    I put a monkey on a pedestal
    And tried to make that monkey stay
    And he did for a time, but he needed to climb
    And with other monkeys play, far away
  • Much the way that the 2005 version did, the 2013 stage musical adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman) handles the four naughty kids' demises with different musical styles befitting each child's personality, while their lyrics are pure "The Villain Sucks" Song material. The most spectacular example is probably "Juicy!", in which Violet's transformation into a blueberry is presented as a glittering, joyous Gratuitous Disco Sequence ending with a Confetti Drop over the audience...the result of her exploding in a shower of glitter.
  • The Gospel-Sermon "God Said" from Leonard Bernstein's Mass starts out as a mostly pious uptempo song-and-dance number, but the last line of the refrain, "And it was goddamn good," foreshadows the lyrics' descent into increasingly vicious satire on religion.
  • "Lizzie Borden" from New Faces of 1952 is positive proof that you can have a hoe-down with a double ax murder trial. (Coincidentally, one of the writers of the movie version was a certain Melvin Brooks.)
  • The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) ends with a cheerful song-and-dance salute to The End of the World as We Know It as prophesied in the Book of Revelation: "That's Armageddon!"
  • "The Cookie Chase" from Anyone Can Whistle, in which Cora's underlings try to arrest forty-nine people of any description while Fay repeatedly schemes to free them, is a gleefully overdone classical ballet pastiche in three-quarter time, with vocal sections for barbershop quartet and coloratura soprano thrown in for good measure.

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     Web Video 
  • Puppet History features a song every episode by a puppet representing a character or object relating to the topic at hand. Some of them are appropriately silly, but then some of them are overly dramatic while still sharing absurd or irreverent premises with the rest. The best examples would be the dramatic rock ballad from a train lamenting it never got to transport Abraham Lincoln; a triumphant ballad from the Olympic torch in which it screams furiously at the listener to subject themselves to ever-greater pain to win a gold medal; the Randy Newman-style chipped coin song, which may be one of the series's least outright goofy songs in its writing and performance, but nonetheless is so upfront with its Affectionate Parody and applies it to such a niche concept that it retains a good bit of inherent humor; and the tragic romantic duet between an oar and a former oar-turned-sword.
  • This ode to the Bagger 288 bucket wheel excavator. The verses sound so epic they may have you shed a tear but the frenzied chorus kills the mood with pure absurdity.
    • Also note the lyrics: "The leader of the Germans stood with a triumphant roar." Now consider who is the current German chancelor and imagine her acting out what the lyrics say. Or the Germany guy in Hetalia.

    Western Animation 
  • "Up There", from South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. One of the better "I Want" Songs . . . sung by Satan.
    • "La Resistance" is a beautifully stirring Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number in the vein of "One Day More" from Les MisĂ©rables . . . featuring lyrics such as:
      "They may cut your dick in half,
      And serve it to a pig,
      And when it hurts, you'll laugh,
      And dance a dickless jig.
      But that's the way it goes,
      In war you're shat upon.
  • Animaniacs had "Yakko's Universe", a musical Expy of Monty Python's "Galaxy Song", with a charming uptempo orchestral arrangement straight out of a classic Disney cartoon.
  • Phineas and Ferb has the song "Fish Out Of Water" The tone of the vocals has tearjerker in spades and the accompanying piano doesn't help either but when you realize this is a song about a literal goldfish that Buford lost while swimming in the ocean, things turn out a little differently.
    Singer: When I'm soaking in my bath,
    I dunk you in the tub.
    There's no need to say another word.
    You had me at "glub"
  • VeggieTales: "The Star of Christmas" has the title characters of "The Princess and the Plumber" sing a melodious love duet with absurdly unromantic plumbing-themed lyrics.


Video Example(s):


I'm Just Ken

Ryan Gosling performs the Barbie hit at the Oscar with all the spectacle it deserves.

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Main / TheMelBrooksNumber

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