Independent musicians are often thought of as self-serious crybabies, holding their craft to the highest imaginable standards and scoffing at anything resembling fun. Often, that’s not the case, however, as many musicians moonlight with comedic output. From follow-worthy Twitter accounts to viral videos and other projects, we’re here to point out some of the best secret comedians in the world of independent music.
Last year was an enormous one for Montreal-via-Vancouver-via-Edmonton singer-songwriter Mac DeMarco. After years of perfecting his demented pop craft as the frontman for Makeout Videotape, he went solo, signed with endlessly hip, tastemaking Brooklyn imprint Captured Tracks, released two deservedly hyped LPs and toured the world.
If you only heard 2, the second DeMarco LP and one with the most hype, you might expect an entirely different frontman. After all, it’s a collection of smoothed out yacht rock anthems with, for all intents, serious, respectable songwriting. Then, however, you might notice that one of the songs is quite literally an ode to cheapo Quebec cigarettes Viceroy, complete with its own video.
Then there’s the inexplicably wacky clip for the sweet and soft “Dreamin,’” which casts Mac as a guitar-shredding, chain-smoking 18th Century skid.
Rewind to Rock and Roll Nightclub, his first 2012 release, and the Alfred E. Neuman grin shines through even more: punctuating the tracks with short, wacky skits from fictional, archetypal radio hosts, the album’s a hard listen if you’re not willing to laugh at the goofiness of it all.
Once you dig into DeMarco and his crew, the trail of comedy is long and full of gems. Along with his former Makeout Videotape bandmate Alex Calder (who is also now signed to Captured Tracks as a solo artist) and a group of friends in Vancouver, he’s developed a remarkably juvenile, often off-putting style of YouTube videos, equally fascinating for their VHS video qualities as their tongue-in-cheek goofiness.
On his own YouTube channel, DeMarco’s most popular clip by far is “Test Press.” Released right when he signed with Captured Tracks, the clip sees Mac as arrogant cock rocker, imparting useless wisdom with a thick dose of self-importance. Sprinkle in some goofy editing techniques and plenty of laughable absurdity, and six minutes doesn’t feel so long.
While “Test Press” is the best DeMarco viral video, he soon followed it up with “Jizz Jazz Teknix 502z.” Still making music insider jokes, this one saw Mac wearing Bono-esque fly glasses and a puffy orange vest. Here, he’s taking on DJ culture, shooting the shit about some dumb, imaginary music equipment.
The other clips on Mac’s channel suggest more potential than any final product, as “My Great Movie” demonstrates a terse bit of self-deprecation while Makeout Videotape’s cover of “Christmas Time is Here” is treated to shaky, gag-inducing footage of some horrible surgery.
DeMarco’s not the only in on the web video game, however, as bassist Pierce McGarry is also a filmmaker. Aside from directing myriad music videos, his channel is littered with some nice little bits of absurdism, including a fuzzed-out impromptu set from Mac DeMarco performing as some bizarro version of Rufus Wainwright (his words, not mine).
There’s also an excellent, sadly under-watched video with McGarry and fellow filmmaker Evan Prosofsky (who’s made clips for Grimes and Cadence Weapon, among others) offering some awful advice on how to fix the dreaded Xbox Ring of Death. One viewer didn’t find it too helpful, commenting, “You guys are mean. I really wanted to fix my fucking xbox you douche-bags!!”
Alex Calder’s YouTube channel is packed with comedy videos, many of which taunt you with needless repetition and a ton of effects. His two latest clips offer similar parodies of the YouTube form, with an excruciatingly pointless (and hilarious) iPhone cover instructional video and a slapstick “fail” video that becomes torturously long (and hilarious).
Sure, all of these videos are amateurish and intended to be shared between friends, but they show a juvenile knack for joke-telling on par with some of today’s best millennial comedy stars. Get lost in a YouTube hole — or catch Mac DeMarco live, often a mess of belches, exposed genitalia and unnecessarily long classic rock covers — and you begin to understand why they’ve got such an obsessive fan base with Tumblr-scrolling teenagers and hip tastemakers alike. Here’s hoping they get big enough for their very own show on Adult Swim.
We briefly caught up with Mac DeMarco over email to discuss what it’s like to have teens obsessing over his online persona. We also found out why his first press photos were cropped at the waist.
When did you start making videos?
Probably 2008 or around then. Right when I moved to Vancouver.
Why did you start?
A lot of my friends and I got really into leaving really dumb videos on each others Facebook pages. Eventually they got longer, and dumber.
Do you start with a concept and go from there, or do you just kind of dick around and see what happens?
It’s usually just out of boredom I guess. There’s definitely never a plan involved.
Do you feel like your sense of humour has helped you with your music career?
Maybe… a lot of people probably think it’s pretty annoying. There’s a lot of kids on the internet that really get down with all the stupid crap I post. I guess we’ve kind of gained a bit of a reputation, as far as our live shows go, for being pretty wacky. We’re all just trying to have fun though, I guess.
Has it gotten in the way at all? Does it get you into trouble?
Sometimes kids will turn up to shows and just want us to burp into the microphone or do weird shit the whole time, which isn’t so bad — at least they want to get funky. Other than that it’s never given me any grief really.
I heard from a friend that you initially sent Captured Tracks pictures of yourself with your schlong hanging out, and then they had to crop them all. Is this true?
Yeah. It was my friend Chas who sent the photos. I asked him to put together any photos he had of me right when they signed me so they could be used for press stuff, and it turned out he had a lot of photos of me wearing lipstick, stretching my penis out as far as it goes.
It seems like you guys are pretty deep into the YouTube scene. Who are some users you’d suggest checking out?
I’m not a huge comedy guy, but some of my favorite YouTubers include: Shoenice22, Vikram Yadav, Shane Jensen and FartinFreak to name a few. I tried my hand at stalking a YouTube celebrity named Mememolly back when I lived in Vancouver, she went to Emily Carr.
Who is the funniest person in the world to you?
I think it’s Robin Williams.
Have you ever thought about pursuing comedy on a more serious scale?
Nah, whenever I’m trying to be funny it’s never that funny. If I tried comedy I’d probably be soooo bad at it.