The Funn(k)y Drummer

What's the connection between comedy and percussion?
By MIKE MILIARD  |  August 13, 2009

Johnny Carson was revered for his impeccable comic timing. It was "so precise," wrote one newspaper in his obituary, "that we wouldn't be surprised to find buried in his skull a quartz crystal." And why might that be? Perhaps because Johnny Carson was a drummer. In drumming, after all, timing is everything.

The King of Late Night used to play his Ludwig kit at home to relax, but he took it seriously — and he was good! It was Carson who thought up that little one-bar snare roll at the beginning of Paul Anka's Tonight Show theme, and it was he, a huge jazz fan, who ensured his favorite drummers — Buddy Rich, Max Roach — were booked on the show.

In fact, comedy and drumming are linked in ways that go beyond the incidental. And it's not just the perennial popularity of "drummer jokes." (What's the difference between a drummer and a savings bond? One will mature and make money.)

After a quick think I came up with a dozen comedians — including Carson and, well, one Muppet — who were also percussionists. (Or, in a couple of cases, drummers who happened to be funny.) The question, then: why is that?

Is it the drummer's subordinate place on the stage — seated, hidden behind a kit well toward the back while the sexier instruments strut their stuff — that sees them translating humility into clownish attention seeking or sharp-witted cynicism? Or does it simply have to do with the essential importance of spot-on timing in both music and comedy? Either way, it's hard not to notice how many slapstickers double as stick slappers in their spare time.

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