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A Classical Crack-Up

Monday, September 19, 2011

Classical music has been described as stuffy, elitist... and positively hilarious. From P.D.Q. Bach to Jack Benny to Bugs Bunny, we take a look at classical music's lighter side. Plus, a sneak preview of the WQXR Classical Comedy Contest with WQXR host Elliott Forrest.

Listeners: Tell us about a funny moment you've witnessed in the world of classical music that was intentional -- or unintentional. (In fact, extra points if it was unintended.) Post a comment below or call us during the show at 212-433-WNYC (9692).


Elliott Forrest

Comments [17]


Hey there! I've been reading your blog for some time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Houston Tx! Just wanted to say keep up the great job!

Mar. 07 2013 01:57 AM
Roy from Brooklyn

Hmm, I'm surprised this segment and discussion have not mentioned the most recent entry in this category: the Jack White / Insane Clown Posse revival of Mozart's little-known song "Leck mich im Arsch."

Then again, what excerpt could you have played on air...

Sep. 23 2011 03:28 PM
Donald Sosin from Lakeville CT

Peter Schickele is the best classical comedian by far, IMHO (and my wife and I are honored to have performed on WQXR with him), with Iphigenia in Brooklyn, the Quodilibet, and The Seasonings all tied for funniest, . But no one has mentioned the Hoffnung concerts? Probably people know his fantastic cartoons and illustrations, but there was a series of concerts in London that came out on a few LPs, very funny stuff like "The Barber of Darmstadt." Some of his work is online at Also see "The Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra" on YouTube.

Victor Borge, Anna Russell, unbelievably funny, glad they were included in today's show.

Then there's the Bubonic Bassoon Quartet which used to play things like Peter and the Bassoon, in which each character is represented by a different bassoon...

Among current acts, the Paris-based DUEL's with Laurent Cirade's cello and Paul Staïcu's piano shenanigans are both visually and musically brilliant. One sketch requires the pianist to insert a credit card to play, another to share the cello between them. Finally, the duo of Igudesman & Joo. Check out "Rachmaninoff Had Big Hands" on YouTube. Hysterical.

Sep. 19 2011 05:48 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I agree w/the other Amy about dance comedy--the Trocks rule!

Sep. 19 2011 02:35 PM
Amy from Manhattan (not the one on the phone right now!)

Seems to me this ties in w/the series you did recently on classical music in cartoons. (If you mentioned it, I missed it.)

Sep. 19 2011 02:32 PM
David Ranada from Long Island City

At performances I attended at the NY Philharmonic:

The finale of Haydn's 90th symphony has a false ending. The audience was caught out on this and laughed. But the whole section containing the false ending was repeated. And the audience was caught again, to even greater delight.

re: Perlman breaking a string. No such comedy luck when that happened during a performance of the Saint Saens 3rd Violin Concerto. He handed his violin to the concert master who handed Perlman his fiddle. The second chair violinist gave the concertmaster hers and handed Perlman's violin back another stand where its string was replaced. This all happened without the music stopping, as I recall.

Sep. 19 2011 02:32 PM
Ron Rothenberg from Westchester Cty

Spike Jones!! (Lee? Really?)

Jones & his rowdy but precise gang mined "Pagliacci" for more laughs than can be counted.

Sep. 19 2011 02:32 PM
Gary from the Village

Jones, Jones, Jones!

Sep. 19 2011 02:26 PM
Gary from the Village

No homage for Spike Lee?

Sep. 19 2011 02:25 PM

judy- it just may, be too much to ask, in a world of young people, who don't get music appreciation, in school anymore,sadly.

Sep. 19 2011 02:23 PM
Ray Gaffigan from Queens

What nonsense is this about going to Carnegie Hall for a "classical music show?"

And why doesn't Carnegie Hall train the ushers not to say: "Enjoy the show"?

The word is concert. Unless it's a recital.

Sep. 19 2011 02:20 PM
Ken from Little Neck

British comedian Bill Bailey did an entire stand up show with an orchestra a couple years back, and has done many other bits based on classical music - all highly recommended!

Sep. 19 2011 02:15 PM
Judy from NYC

Good grief! Music you need to know a little something about to appreciate the humor. That's way too much to ask, right?

Sep. 19 2011 02:13 PM
Tim from Nyack

Elliott and Candice Agree tried this back in the day on now defunct WNCN. It fell flat then and I suspect it will fall flat again. A never ending barage of tired old PDQ skits. Yikes.

Sep. 19 2011 02:12 PM

i'm also thinking about movies that are unitentionally funny. do we have a classical music equivalent, of music that was not intended to be funny,but is perceived as funny by the public[critics]? it makes me wonder, if the composer, would not be inclined to keep their mouth shut,so as not to be seen as having missed the mark. also,what about the course of time, and the changing of society, making the perception of a work funny, or viceversa.

Sep. 19 2011 01:53 PM

there is thematic humor,within the musical construct itself,in the use of instruments,and, there is the humor of the lyric,which is usually an operatic convention. i wonder how much of a knowledge of classical music, is needed, to appreciate the humor,or simply, to be able to, "get it" to begin with ?

Sep. 19 2011 01:36 PM
Ken from Little Neck

Peter Schickele has been one of my biggest musical heroes ever since I attended one of the classic (and much missed) PDQ Bach New Year's concerts with the NY Philharmonic.

As far as "classical" composers go, Haydn is of course noted for his humor. In addition to the well known Op. 33 no. 2 quartet and "Surprise" symphony, I recommend the finale of his Piano Sonata no. 60 in C.

My favorite piece of humor in classical music has to be Beethoven's 8th Symphony. In addition to being a wonderful piece on it's own, if you look a little deeper, it can be seen (in the 2nd and 4th movements in particular) as a send up of his own "heroic" style!

Sep. 19 2011 10:14 AM

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