The University of Southampton

HUMA3015 Music and Comedy

Module Overview

This module is a semester-long investigation of music and comedy, with a particular focus on popular music of the twentieth and twenty-first century. In this module we will explore different genres of comical music and musical comedians, through both theory of humour and close reading techniques – situating musical comics in their cultural context and considering why and how their comedy works. Part of the module will be devoted to student-led learning, through group presentations and discussion.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

The module’s aims are to introduce you to a range of critical methods, both musical and non-musical, to engage with comedy in popular music, and how musical comedians use their chosen form to comment on social, political, and cultural issues. On successful completion of the module you will be able to - interrogate musical and critical texts through the methodologies of humour theory and popular music analysis - read, annotate, and summarise critical literature from a range of disciplines.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Articulate uses and purposes of musical comedy
  • Identify genres and performers of musical comedy, and situated them in their historical context
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Work collaboratively towards a group presentation, researching the topic, and assembling materials
  • Engage with peer assessment
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Interrogate musical texts through methodologies derived from humour theory and popular music studies
  • Read, annotate, and summarise critical literature from a range of disciplines


The module covers the work of musical comics from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, considering the comic song, the novelty song, parody videos, and musical comedians. At the beginning of the module, you will have the opportunity to shape the roster of artists for exploration, but you should expect to engage with a range of different styles, which could include the Marx Brothers, George Formby, Weird Al Yancovic, Tom Lehrer, Jake Thackeray, Monty Python, The Mighty Boosh, Flanders and Swann, Isy Suttie, Tim Minchin, Victoria Wood… The principal source for humour theory and analysis is What Are You Laughing At? By Dan O’Shannon (executive producer of Modern Family); musical analytical techniques are drawn from Analysing Popular Music, by David Machin (for non-musicologists) and Song Means, by Allan Moore (for musicologists).

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

The module begins with lecture introductions to theories of humour, genre, and close reading methodologies for popular music, supported by seminar work in groups of no more than fifteen students dedicated to practice analysis and discussion. Partway through the module, the emphasis moves to student presentations: you will work in groups to prepare a short presentation on an assigned artist, which will be assessed in part by your peers.

Independent Study120
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Machin, David (2010). Analysing Popular Music: image, sound, text. 

O’Shannon, Dan (2012). What Are You Laughing At? A Comprehensive Guide to the Comedic Event. 

Moore, Allan F (2012). Song means: analysing and interpreting recorded popular song. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Class participation 10%
Exam  (2 hours) 30%
Group presentation 60%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3500 words) 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3500 words) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:

Books and Stationery equipment

David Machin book: copies £16.00 on Amazon

Dan O’Shannon book: copies £20.99 each on Amazon.

Allan Moore book: £16.99 on Amazon

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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