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 from 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.
With almost 30 years onstage under his belt, Devo Spice has not only dominated the world of comedy rap, he’s also made strides to move the world of comedy music forward as a whole.
The New Jersey-based rapper (real name: Tom Rockwell) came onto the scene in 1986 with his comedy rap group — then way ahead of its time — called Sudden Death. In 1990, shortly after their first song aired on the Dr. Demento show, Rockwell restructured the group and went solo, but kept the group name for himself — he continued recording and performing as Sudden Death until late 2008. After eight albums and several #1 hits cult radio hits, he rebranded himself simply “Devo Spice.” In that first year as Spice alone, he held the honor of having the #4, #2, and #1 songs of the year on the Dr. Demento show. Since then Devo has amassed even more hits, with his album Gnome Sane hitting #28 on the iTunes hip hop charts (just above Kayne’s album!) in 2011.
What makes Devo Spice such a hit with crowds and fans is his unabashed nerdiness. Often grouped with more mainstream “nerdcore” acts — such as MC Lars, YT Cracker, and Schaffer the Darklord — Devo has been a part of the niche music genre even before it had a name with his tracks about South Park, cell phones, video game technology, and Doctor Who — going as far as dedicating an entire concept album to the BBC show, which included guest spots from some of the actual stars of the series.
But it’s the way Devo weaves those concepts into his songs, with endlessly clever lyrics, that brings listeners in from all walks of life.
The self-proclaimed “red-headed stepson of ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic and Eminem,” Devo Spice revels in all the ridiculous aspects of culture: from the pains of flying in his track “Flight Check,” to the pitfalls of too much junk food in his Logan Award winning hit “Snack Bar.”
In 2007, Devo Spice helped co-found the Funny Music Project (also known as The FuMP). There, he and several other top artists would release two songs every week for free (or, $1 for a high-quality mp3), to help shine a light on funny musicians everywhere. Artists not part of the FuMP could post songs to the page’s “sideshow,” or eventually be invited to post on the main page, and quickly enough the site grabbed the attention of Dr. Demento himself, who’s gone on to call the website “the premiere online source for funny music” and “the best thing to happen to funny music since Al went weird.” Now, the site is in its 10th year online, with well over 1,000 songs released by a combination of more than 120 comedy musicians — so to call Devo Spice the godfather of musical comedy wouldn’t really be an understatement.
To even further bring comedy music to the masses, every year Devo Spice is the chairman of FuMPFeST, a 3-day comedy music festival held in the Chicagoland area. Since 2014, the festival has been home to concerts, panels, podcasts, movie screenings, guest performances, Q&A sessions, and more — all related to funny music, and a shared love for it.
These days, Devo helps promote funny on all three of his podcasts: Manic Mondays, where he features three or four comedy tunes along with standard features as his “News of the Stupid”; The Insider, which is his fanclub behind-the-scenes showcase on all things Devo Spice; and The FuMPcast, where he and co-host the great Luke Ski interview artists.
Through all of that, Devo still finds time to record and perform songs. Thanks to his love of technology, he composes tracks based on fan suggestions at an alarming pace. Recently, he’s been posting quick rhymes on Instagram — appropriately called “Instarhymes.” He also crafts more complete songs based off Twitter and Facebook suggestions in his ongoing series, “Ridiculous Raps,” many of which made up the track listing of his latest album, Herp Derp Ya Don’t Sterp.
Recently, Devo released this fan-inspired song, “Gravity is Stupid”:
After 30 years, it doesn’t look like Devo Spice will be getting offstage anytime soon – and honestly, the world of comedy music is all the better for it, thanks to his tireless efforts to highlight underlooked projects from up-and-coming artists.