The Grammy Awards have a comedic legacy
When it comes to the Grammys today, we seldom think of comedy — unless it’s some on-stage incident such as Michael Portnoy (a.k.a. Soy Bomb) crashing Bob Dylan’s 1998 set or Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder bashing the awards show during his 1996 acceptance speech.
Still, year after year comedians — some of them also singers — take home a golden gramophone and join the ranks of legends including George Carlin and Steve Martin. In 1961, comedian Bob Newhart even bested the musical offerings to take the top Grammy prize of album of the year for his "The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart."
In 1959 the first comedic prize went to a rodent serenade by Ross Bagdasarian Sr. (better known as David Seville) called the "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" — yes, that chipmunk song (video below). The next year the prize went to Shelley Berman, who was the first comic to win a nonmusical comedy Grammy, for his 1959 album “Inside Shelley Berman.” In a Calendar piece looking at how the comedy category has changed over the years, Berman is quoted discussing the then-importance of the comedy album.
“There was a time when it was phenomenal, when it suddenly became a very important medium,” Berman says. “But TV took over, and the album performance lost its charm.” Today, he says, “I don’t think it’s in vogue — there are too many other ways to be seen and heard.”
A scan of the category reveals that plenty of comedy household names have won the award. Allan Sherman's novelty song “Hello Mudduh, Hello Faddah ” won in 1964, when the award went to a comedy performance, and Steve Martin's comedy albums "Let's Get Small" and "A Wild and Crazy Guy" won in 1978 and 1979, respectively. The last contained a rendition of Martin's comedy song hit "King Tut."
Today, as Deborah Vankin's Calendar piece notes, comedy is one of the smallest categories at the Grammys, with only 49 eligible submissions this year, compared with 760 for album of the year and 227 for rock album. The academy doesn’t solicit material, so submissions are the only way into the Grammys.
Entries are screened for eligibility, then voted on by the membership to cull five nominees. In comedy, anything that’s at least five tracks and 15 minutes long, and sold commercially — even if just online — can be considered for a Grammy.
This year only two musical comedy albums made the cut, "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Apocalypse," and the Lonely Island's "Turtleneck & Chain." Other nominees on the ticket are stand-up albums: Louis C.K.'s "Hilarious," Patton Oswalt's "Finest Hour" and Kathy Griffin's "50 & Not Pregnant."
Below, Yankovic parodies Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" from his new album:
— Lily Mihalik
Photo: Members of the comedy hip-hop trio Lonely Island, including Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times