10 Essential Musical Comedians

Musical comedy can be a hard thing to pull off. Not only do you have to be funny, but you also have to be a good singer, play an instrument and write songs that are worth listening to over and over again. Somehow, though, the comedians on this list make it look easy. 

From the young and fresh outlook Bo Burnham's comedic songs have on the world to classic performances like Steve Martin's "Saturday Night Live" skit and song "King Tut," the musical comedian variety is sure to get audiences laughing — and perhaps even get a few songs stuck in their heads.

Although this list features only individual comedians, be sure to check out the five essential musical comedy teams when you're done laughing at these. I definitely recommend "Garfunkel and Oates" by the dynamite female due​ Kate Micucci and Riki Lindhome.

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Photo courtesy of The Syndicate

One of the youngest stand-up comedians ever to make it big, Bo Burnham was performing at festivals and signing record deals while barely out of high school — all because he uploaded a few hilarious comedic songs to Youtube!

Inspired by legendary comic instigators like ​George Carlin and ​Richard Pryor, Burnham performs satirical and very politically incorrect songs about issues of race, gender, the disabled and sexuality — for examples, check out his self-titled debut album.

Though propelled to fame by internet videos, he has become a regular on the club and festival circuit, and his songs have made him a hit with college crowds. With two stand-up specials under his belt, Burnham proves that being young helps you get away with being a smart ass.

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Comedian Jon Lajoie at the 2009 Just for Laughs Chicago Festival
Comedian Jon Lajoie performs his show "Live as Fuck" at the Lakeshore Theater as part of the 2009 Just for Laughs Chicago festival. Photo by Barry Brecheisen/Getty Images

Like Bo Burnham, Canadian comedian and musician Jon Lajoie created his own celebrity with a series of hugely popular internet videos for songs with titles like "High as F*ck" and "Everyday Normal Guy."

Though his videos are very funny, the songs stand on their own— as evidenced by Lajoie's first album, 2009's "You Want Some of This?" These tunes often have an edgy sound, mixing rock with rap while covering mundane topics like normalcy, stay-at-home dads and, of course, recreational drug use.

A starring role on the FX comedy "The League" suggests that Lajoie is poised to break out to bigger and better things, but it's the comedian's songs that will keep his fans coming back.

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Rodney Carrington. Getty Images

Blue-collar comedian Rodney Carrington might be more successful as a musician than a comedian, but he's still one of the top touring acts in the U.S. with six successful comedy albums under his belt.

In addition to being the star of his own short-lived ABC sitcom "Rodney" and co-starring in country star Toby Keith's movie "Beer for My Horses," Carrington regularly appears on CMT where music videos for his comedic country songs are constantly playing.

Though all musical comedians combine stand-up with a musical element, Carrington is the only comedian on the list to successfully be not just a musical comedian, but a full-fledged country star.

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Comedian Jimmy Fallon
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Most people probably recognize Jimmy Fallon from his days as a cast member on "Saturday Night Live," where he first made a name for himself as a musical comedian by performing parody songs on an acoustic guitar with more than a few shades of his cast predecessor, Adam Sandler.

Singing and songwriting became the cornerstone of Fallon's comedy, later being incorporated into his stand-up act and his first and only comedy album, "The Bathroom Wall." Though Fallon's original songs like "Car Wash for Peace" and "Idiot Boyfriend" aren't terribly strong, his signature bit — a mash-up of '80s songs performed on the guitar — is amusing, energetic, and more than a little eager to please. Just like Fallon himself.

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Zach Galifianakis
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Comedian, writer and actor Zach Galifianakis is probably best known for his full, bushy beard, but to place the focus entirely on his abundant facial hair would be to miss one of the sharpest, oddest musical comedians working today. Galifianakis is a master of the absurd, creating characters and conceptual bits in the place of traditional joke-telling.

An accomplished pianist, he often incorporates music into his act — sometimes even bringing full choirs out near the end of a performance. He doesn't write funny songs necessarily but uses music to support his out-there humor. What may seem "odd" to the uninitiated audience is actually inventive, daring and often brilliant comedy.

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Tom Lehrer.

Political comedian and satirist Tom Lehrer is one of the founding fathers of musical comedy. Though he created the majority of his work in the 1950s and '60s — after which he basically retired from musical comedy until the late 1990s — the classically-trained Lehrer was and remains an influential figure for both musical and political comedians, infusing all of his work with razor-sharp intelligence and a dark, sick sense of humor.

Perhaps the most famous of his songs, "The Elements," was recently performed by Daniel Radcliffe. This track, like many of his others, mix science and math with humor in a comical tune about the chemical elements on the periodic table of elements. 

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Stephen Lynch. Vegas24Seven

Calling himself a "musician trapped in the body of a comedian," Stephen Lynch uses comedic songs to satirize the tedium of everyday life. He's released two studio albums, "A Little Bit Specialand "3 Balloons," as well as two live albums and a DVD.

All of these recordings provide evidence of Lynch's commitment to not only the melody but the humor of his bits. He takes his music career very seriously and was even nominated for a Tony for his performance in the Broadway adaptation of "The Wedding Singer. "Unlike some other comedians on this list, Lynch doesn't just dabble in music as part of his stand-up act. He's all about the music — and it shows!

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Comedian Steve Martin
Photo by Glulio Marcocchi/Getty Images

The first stand-up comedian to sell out stadiums and achieve a rock star-like celebrity, Steve Martin is the guy who made musical comedy cool. Whether it was performing a number of banjo songs in his live act or singing "King Tut" on "Saturday Night Live," Martin brought musical comedy to the masses and proved that it was possible to achieve mainstream success as a musical comic.

Martin gave up stand-up in the early 1980s and since 2010 has practically abandoned comedy altogether (the "Pink Panthermovies don't count) to pursue a legitimate career as a bluegrass musician. This feat could only be accomplished by someone like Martin who's dedicated his career to establishing himself as one of the all-time greats.

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Nick Thune at the 2009 Just for Laughs Chicago festival.
Nick Thune performs as part of "The Very Funny Show" at Zanies Comedy Club during the inaugural TBS Presents A Very Funny Festival: Just for Laughs Chicago, held June 17-21, 2009. Photo by Edward M. Pio Roda/Getty Images

Like the comedians who inspired him — including Steve Martin and Mitch Hedberg — musical comedian Nick Thune revels in the deadpan, absurdist one-liner.

Strumming a guitar as he delivers one joke after another, Thune isn't always a musical comedian in the traditional sense as much as he uses music to accompany his comedy — though he does perform several '80s-inspired songs on his debut album "Thick Noon." 

And though the guitar may seem a little like a gimmick, it's helped Thune carve out a niche for himself — he's the guitar comic, or "that guy with the guitar." The fact that he has really funny material doesn't hurt, either.

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Comedian Reggie Watts
Photo by Noah Kalina/courtesy Right On

Rather than writing songs that will become a staple of his live act, musical comedian Reggie Watts creates improvisational music using only a looping machine, his voice and an absurd, stream-of-conscious comic wit. Less classifiable than any other musical comedian on this list, Watts' unique talents are on display on his albums "Simplified," "Pot Cookies" and ​"Why Shit So Crazy?"

Watts also wrote the theme song to the Louis C.K. TV series "Louie" and for "Comedy Death-Ray" as well as opening for Conan O'Brien on his "Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television" tour. He's as odd as he is creative and as unpredictable as he is funny. Truly, Reggie Watts defies description.