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10 Essential Musical Comedians

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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. The comedians on this list make it look easy. They're the 10 essential musical comedians you should know.

1. Bo Burnham

Photo courtesy of The Syndicate

One of the youngest stand-up comedians ever to hit it big, Bo Burnham was performing at festivals and signing record deals while barely out of high school. 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 debut album, Bo Burnham). 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. Burnham proves that being young helps you get away with being a smart ass.

2. Rodney Carrington

Comedian Rodney Carrington
Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images

Blue Collar comedian Rodney Carrington might be more successful as a musician than as a comedian; he's one of the top touring acts in the U.S., with six successful comedy albums under his belt. In addition to being star of his own short-lived ABC sitcom Rodney and a co-star in country star Toby Keith's movie Beer for My Horses, Carrington regularly appears on CMT where music videos for his comedic country songs (with names like "Letter to My Penis") are in heavy rotation. 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.

3. Jimmy Fallon

Comedian Jimmy Fallon
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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, even 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, but 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.

4. Zach Galifianakis

Zach Galifianakis
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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.

5. Jon Lajoie

Comedian Jon Lajoie at the 2009 Just for Laughs Chicago Festival
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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? His songs often have an edgy sound -- they're rock and rap songs with vulgar lyrics -- but cover 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.

6. 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.

7. Stephen Lynch

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 Special and 3 Balloons, as well as two live albums and a DVD, and on all of his recordings is evidence of a stand-up who's just as committed to the melodic as to the comedic. Lynch 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.

8. Steve Martin

Comedian Steve Martin
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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, in recent years, has practically abandoned comedy altogether (the Pink Panther movies don't count) to pursue a legitimate career as a bluegrass musician; it's one of those things you can do only after you've established yourself as one of the all-time greats.

9. Nick Thune

Nick Thune at the 2009 Just for Laughs Chicago festival.
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 (though he does perform several '80s-inspired songs on his debut album, Thick Noon) as much as he uses music to accompany his comedy. 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.

10. Reggie Watts

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 opened for Conan O'Brien on his "Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television" tour. He's as odd as he is creative; as unpredictable as he is funny. Reggie Watts defies description.

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