SKINS AND GRINS - Drummers and Comedy / by Bo Gerard

There have been many famous drummers that were funny, like Buddy Rich and Ringo.  And there were, and are, a lot of famous funny people that also play drums, like Craig Ferguson, Dana Carvey, Penn Jillette, Fred Armisen, Jimmy Kimmel, Jerry Lewis, and even Peter Sellars!

So, what is this connection between four-limbed-polyrhythmic-kettle-banging and comedy.  Could it be as simple as that old axiom, “Comedy is timing”?  Or could it be something deeper that connects comedy to the ability to move one’s limbs in an isolated, yet sympathetic, rhythm – the ultimate multi-tasking.

As a comedy magician, I am constantly doing at least two things at a time; Handling props, controlling an audience member that I have brought on stage, misdirecting, getting the laugh, doing the secret move, prepping for the next trick, pressing my sound cue controller, and keeping the pace brisk with physical and verbal energy.  I believe that my love of playing the drums has helped me immensely in this endeavor.  And for comedy to work, you have to bring together a lot of elements - simultaneously.  The joke, the timing, the style of presentation and the placement in the show.  And all of this needs to be tempered by the disposition of the particular audience you are standing in front of.  All audiences are not alike, and it can be a mistake do things exactly the same way for every audience.

I was drawn to playing drums at around 13.  Guessing I would get little encouragement or funding from my parents, I carved a pair of drum sticks out of some scrap wood my father had in the shed.  I would set up pillows around me on the floor, near the Hi-Fi in the basement, and play along to 45’s I had.  I must have played “pillow drums” to The Circle’s “Red Rubber Ball” around a thousand times.  (I actually wore out the grooves on the record!  You could really do that!)

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But other things became more important to me, (singing, clowning, magic) and I never actually owned a set of drums until I was 40.  But I was always drumming – on the car dashboard, on tables, on my legs.  Always figuring out patterns and syncopations.  And exploring rhythm and musical time has helped me understand what it is that makes a joke funny.  The length, the set-up, the punch, the choice of one word over another.  Drumming helps with all of these.  AND BOY IS IT FUN!!!