What’s so funny?

“Dying is easy — comedy is hard.” Those are the supposed last words of, well, someone. Various sources attribute it to Edward Kean, Noel Coward, Donald Wolfit, or various other people. Whoever said it is certainly right, but I think we could expand it a bit; perhaps:

“Dying is easy — comedy with music that will entertain both kids and parents is really, really hard.”

Most family-oriented humor is, let’s be frank, awful (I’m looking at you, “Full House”). Add to that fact the observation that a substantial proportion of family-oriented music is also pretty bad, and the sheer math suggests that most kids’ music that’s trying to be funny will be beyond bad — into Carrot Top territory, even.

But good funny music is great to find. It can get you and your family dancing and laughing, and not just at you getting down with your bad self. (By the way, your moves could no doubt use some updating.) Below, some suggestions for some of the best:

SteveSongs Steve Roslonek, who tours and records under the moniker “SteveSongs,” plays pretty straightforward pop rock, never blowing your mind with crazy dissonance or any major musical surprises, but with catchy melodies that would fit right in on a lot of commercial radio. If you don’t pay attention beyond that, you might just dismiss his five-and-counting CDs as the kids’ equivalent of, say, Third Eye Blind (or whatever competent and inoffensive but largely empty band you want to insert). But that would be a mistake. In addition to some quite insightful songs evincing a real understanding of kids’ worlds, Roslonek is flat-out hilarious. I defy you to listen to “Elephant Hide and Seek” or, even better, “Fast Monkey,” and not crack up. SteveSongs.com

Telephone Company If SteveSongs is, say, “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”, Telephone Company is the “Upright Citizens Brigade” improv troupe. Based in Austin, Texas, this duo is likely to make your kids alternate between laughing and looking befuddled, and it might do the same to you. Musically, it’s the lowest of low-fi, but that’s not the point — check out the video for “Mustache” on their web site, and you’ll see what I mean. That song, from their first record, The King’s Surprise, tells the timeless tale of Mustache borrowing Beard’s car and getting arrested after wrecking it in a ditch, forcing Beard to ride his bicycle to the jail to retrieve Mustache, where Mustache is causing a ruckus. Naturally. The band’s new release, Panda Brain Album, is a bit more accomplished musically, and includes a sequel to “Mustache,” plus the terrific title track, discussing the challenges of being raised by pandas.
Telephone Company is a little darker than a lot of children’s artists, with fairly frank discussions of (among other things) death, so you might want to tread carefully, but it’s worth it.

Keith Munslow Rhode Island-based Keith Munslow is (take a deep breath) a singer, illustrator, storyteller, jazz piano player, percussionist, and probably two or three other things. He’s strongest in a live setting, where he combines all of those talents and more, but his CDs (including his brand-new one, Dressed Up for the Party) combine a slightly askew perspective with clever word play and impeccable storytelling rhythm to entertain every listener.

Steve Weeks I’ve mentioned Weeks before, but anyone who can make a kids’ song punch-line out of the small disclaimer print on product packaging, as he does on “Professor Poindexter P. Puggleston’s Prepostrapercopopulataportapipplephone” (on Alphabet Songs Vol. II) gets my vote. Then again, I’m a law professor who teaches products liability.

Other picks: They Might Be Giants (obvious but an entirely deserving pick, their new kids’ album comes out in October, TMBG.com); Ginger Hendrix (melodic goofiness, BustertPumpkinHead.com — be sure to read her blog, too!); Jingle Punx (nothing funnier than punk holiday songs, no?, JinglePunx.com); Eric Herman (lots of musical shaggy dog stories,

Bill Childs is a law professor in western Massachusetts who still proudly answers “Minnesota!” when asked where he’s from. He and his 8-year-old daughter produce a kids’ music radio show, “Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child,” weekly; check it out at SpareTheRock.com. Contact him at [email protected].

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