Every other Friday, we’ll explore one of comedy’s underrepresented — but thriving! — genres: musical comedy. From artists who cut their teeth in comedy clubs with a guitar and a dream, to artists who make funny with full bands backing them; from going behind the scenes of classics like the Dr. Demento show, to uncovering the deepest corners of YouTube, we’ll highlight a hilarious musical comedian who’s out there making the world laugh with expertly crafted tunes.
For July, we thought we’d take a look at some of the funny females from the world of comedy music, and this week we’re featuring self-proclaimed “Professional Smart Aleck” and “Singing Patient” Carla Ulbrich.
Ulbrich (pronounced “Ol-brick”) has been a staple of funny radio and folk festivals since the late 90s. Beginning with her breakout debut album (appropriately titled Her Fabulous Debut), Carla made a quick name for herself. Her sly southern sensibilities coupled with a sharp wit and skill with the guitar quickly got her recognized and played on the legendary Dr. Demento radio show. Her clever wordplay earned her acclaim with tracks such as “What if Your Boyfriend Was Gone” and “If I Had The Copyright (The F-Word Song)” (which became instant hits on the show, and the later was even used in the 2005 documentary “F*CK,” about the expletive’s origin, why it offends some people so deeply, and what folks can gain from using it).
In 2001, Ulbrich recorded a live album (Professional Smart Aleck), but it’s release wound up being delayed two years, after she fell ill in 2002. In January of that year, Ulbrich suffered not one but two strokes plus kidney failure, along with accompanying anemia, hair loss, weight loss, congestive heart failure, pleurisy, fever, migraines, and fatigue, which left her unable to play the guitar or perform. She was diagnosed with systemic lupus.
Thankfully, she was able to re-teach herself how to play guitar, and released her third album, Sick Humor, another live album detailing her trials and tribulations of her illness through her comedy. To keep herself in good spirits while sick and recuperating, she composed a number of parodies (since she was yet unable to play guitar again) and then performed them on the live album once her ability returned. Songs such as “Prednisone” and “What If Your Butt Was Gone” (a parody of her own hit about her sudden weight loss) revealed that despite her illness, she was still able to keep her sense of humor and keen wit throughout the ordeal.
Ulbrich then took her album of humorous medical songs and parlayed that into another career — that of the “Singing Patient.” She became a medical music comedian, giving keynote speeches and customized comedy performances for healthcare workers, caregivers, nurses, physicians, and patients. She appears at conventions and other gatherings of patients and medical professionals, giving her own humorous take of the life of a patient with several chronic and sometimes catastrophic illnesses. In 2011, she released a book of humorous essays about those same medical adventures, entitled How Can You NOT Laugh at a Time Like This?, which was awarded the Lupus Foundation of America’s Seal of Approval. Since 2012, she’s been a Certified Holistic Health Coach.
However, as Ulbrich herself said, “I got better so I could get my life back, not so I could dwell on the worst chapters of my life,” so performing as The Singing Patient is only part of what she does, not the focus. Recently, Carla has been featured numerous times on Sirius XM radio, AOL News, and ABC, as well as making appearances on Up All Night, The Revolution and some small roles in Netflix’s Master of None, NBC’s Law & Order: SVU, and, if you look really carefully, she claims you can see her in the background of SyFy’s Sharknado 2.
Beyond all of that, her focus has clearly been her music. Ulbrich has continued to use her quirky wordplay and unending humor to release albums and win awards with her tongue planted firmly in-cheek, such as the winner of the 2016 Winfield Song Contest (in the humor category, of course), winner of “Novelty Song of the Year: 2006” at the Just Plain Folks awards, plus numerous other folk festival accolades, including her most recent win for Outstanding Parody Song for the 2016 Logan Awards for her song “Cheek to Cheek.”
That song was a featured track on her sixth and most recent album, Totally Average Woman, which is her most musically ambitious album to date. Featuring co-production from Bob Malone and pal Steve Goodie, it contains such fully orchestrated earworms as “Dr. Pepper”, “Man Pants,” and “Joe’s Ex-Girlfriends,” her tribute to all the loves of her husband that came before her…that make her look better.
Ulbrich’s self-described love of the absurdities of ordinary life, her somewhat twisted viewpoint, and her clever way with words shine through on every song she sings. From duets with Klingons, odes to Swamp Thing, and revelations on the nuances of Star Wars, nothing is too far from her grasp to lampoon. What more would you expect from someone whose list of biggest musical influences were Sesame Street, camp songs, and cat food commercials?