Rockin' the punchline

There's often nothing sadder than a rock musician who tries to be funny. The result can be painfully unbearable, like trying to eat more than Vince Neil or playing PlayStation with your toes.

Want proof? Let's start with joke white-soul act Har Mar Superstar, who seriously needs a beatdown. Har Mar's chubby ass tries to shake like James Brown, but his face is closer to Ron Jeremy. And he somehow manages to be completely unfunny and simultaneously offensive to white people, black people and porn. There's also Adam Green and Kimya Dawson of the now broken-up Moldy Peaches. These plushy-loving, "anti-folk" kids have written some pretty songs, but they look and sound too juvenile to know anything about crack or banging somebody with no legs. Then there's Liam Lynch, who convinced Ringo Starr (!) and Jack Black to contribute to his pointless "Fake Songs" album. The only thing more boring than listening to Björk is listening to Lynch's fake Björk song.

With his goofy side project, Reggie and the Full Effect, keyboardist James Dewees, of Get Up Kids, has created a surprising bunch of songs and personas that make you laugh. He writes new-wave and European metal and emo and classic-rock songs that could stand alone with no comic element; but he dresses them up with fake accents and dead-on cheesy lyrics and even self-mockery.

"They're real songs," Dewees says. "I do play guitar. I use my skill as a musician, I'm not just going, 'I crapped my pants' on it 20 times and 'Ha ha ha!' If I did 12 songs like that, it would take me an hour to `make` a whole record."

What Dewees has done instead with his latest, "Under the Tray," is create a wide-ranging record that takes apart various genres while creating catchy tunes that fit well into any of those genres. "Your Bleeding Heart" makes fun of hypersensitive music and its fans, but it also sounds like it could be Jimmy Eat World's best song. "Mood 4 Luv (featuring Fluxuation)" resembles Kon Kan collaborating with the New Kids on the Block, with perfectly ridiculous lyrics, such as "I released 12 doves/ 'Cause when you're here I'm totally in loves." There are lovey-dovey power-pop moments that sound better than the new Fountains of Wayne album. "Linkin Verbz (featuring Common Denominator)" is a fake Finnish metal song in which the singer explains subjects, predicates and linking verbs, and then urges you to buy a T-shirt. It's the best song ever about diagramming a sentence; its cartoonish swagger sounds like what it must feel like to be in an airplane when Yngwie Malmsteen loses his mind.

"Being humorous is really hard to do," Dewees says. "It's hard to appease everyone. You can't impress everybody."

But in his case, he's decided to try all sorts of different stuff to at least amuse himself, and it works. "A lot of times, people who try to be funny have a one-track-mind style of humor. They're a one-trick pony. Making parodies gets old really quick. That's why I'm not just doing comical stuff."

Dewees often will think of Reggie and the Full Effect song ideas on his way to practice with the Get Up Kids and then try them out in front of the band. "They know it's going to be silly, with heavy elements and funny elements and poppy elements and metal elements," he says. "They know to expect the unexpected."

It's a good outlet, a chance to do stuff that may seem a little out there just because it feels fun and right. It gives Dewees a side project where he can play whatever he wants, including children's music, while the Get Up Kids continue to mature to the world of, well, adult music.

"It's been going for about eight years," Dewees says of the Get Up Kids. "We could write a cheesy emo-pop record -- like when we were 18 -- and have it be really popular. We already have a record like that. We want to make it more interesting, not wear the same clothes for the last eight years. The only people who do that live in their basement, and they're still wearing clothes that they bought in the '80s."


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