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10 Wacky Comics Who Made a Mark as Musicians

by Jennifer Lafferty
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Music and comedy may seem like completely different art forms, but they have some important things in common, such as their reliance on timing and rhythm. It is also surprising how many famous comedians, like the banjo-playing Steve Martin, have found success in music as well. These 10 wacky comics have also made their mark as musicians.

Related: 10 Extreme Controversial Bands And Musicians

10 Craig Ferguson

Craig Ferguson’s Punk Rock Past

When off-the-wall comedian Craig Ferguson ended the 10-year run of his unconventional late-night show in 2014 with a rendition of “Bang Your Drum” by Dead Man Fall, not only was the star-studded musical number an inspiring finale, but it reminded fans of Ferguson’s former career. During his wild youth, he was a drummer for several bands in his native Scotland, such as one that was called Bastards from Hell, renamed Dreamboys, which featured the future Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi as lead singer.

It was actually during his stint with Dreamboys that hints of his destiny as a popular comic started to show up when he realized he liked the banter on stage more than playing music. While Ferguson’s comedy/acting career has been much more successful than his time as a musician, he has still played drums over the years, including multiple performances on The Late Late Show.[1]

9 Harpo Marx

Harpo Marx Brothers

The hilarious Marx Brothers were a surprisingly musical bunch. While Chico played the piano and Groucho played the guitar and mandolin, Harpo was proficient on the harp—which was the source of his stage name—. He also played the clarinet and piano. Harpo was known as the verbally silent Marx brother, doing lots of physical comedy. However, he still managed to make plenty of noise and not just with his trademark horn.

The Marx Brothers actually started out as a musical act in vaudeville. Their mother sent him a harp when they were on tour after learning they could make more money with this instrument. Mainly self-taught, he did later receive training from prominent harpist Mildred Dilling, who said that he was very serious about music.

In addition to playing the harp many times on stage and screen over the course of his long career, he also worked out his own very complex arrangements for the harp. However, the most unexpected thing about Harpo, the musician, might be how much inspiration he provided. Concert harpist Carrol McLaughlin, Ph.D., professor of harp at the University of Arizona, who has recreated his music for live shows, said, “I’ve met people around the world who say they play the harp because of Harpo Marx.”[2]

8 Katherine Ryan

The Masked Singer UK – Pigeon – Season 4 Full

Born in Canada and based in London, comedienne Katherine Ryan gained early fame with humor inspired by her job at Hooters and has largely built a career poking fun at celebrities during her many TV appearances in Canada, the UK, and the U.S. In addition to her often edgy comedy, Ryan is also a singer who started out in musical theater. She performed in a number of small stage productions while in Canada, including Jesus Christ Superstar, Annie, and The King and I.

In 2023, Ryan competed on the popular UK show The Masked Singer three times while donning a pigeon costume. After losing the competition with her rendition of “Fight for This Love,” Ryan blamed issues like the weight of her costume and the difficulty of doing a choreographed dance routine while eight months pregnant.[3]

7 Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais 1980’s Pop Star

Hilariously irreverent comic Ricky Gervais is a multi-talented comedian, but in addition to his success in acting, stand-up comedy, and television writing, he also has a musical side. It may come as a surprise to some of his fans to learn that he was once a lead singer for a British new wave band called Seona Dancing, which he and keyboardist Bill Macrae started in 1982 during their final year at University College London.

Though the synth-pop duo was mostly unsuccessful, they did have one single that was massively popular in the Philippines, an up-tempo song called “More to Lose.” Surprisingly, the song has held up well over the years and has become what Time describes as “a cultural landmark in the Philippines.”

Gervais reflects on this chapter with his characteristic sense of humor, telling the Philippine Daily Inquirer in an interview, “People always find that picture of me looking thin and young. It’s terrible, isn’t it? I had a jaw and lovely, thick hair.”

While Seona Dancing broke up in 1984, Gervais did not immediately leave the music industry. He was a band manager and worked in radio before his comedy career took off.[4]

6 Adam Sandler

Adam Sandler: 100% Fresh | Chris Farley Tribute [HD] | Netflix Is A Joke

When people think of Adam Sandler, the musician, a list of parodies and humorous songs will likely come to mind that include offerings such as “Lunchlady Land” and “Ode to My Car.” However, Sandler, who sings, plays the guitar, and writes songs, has also recorded some very poignant pieces, like his irreverent but heartfelt “Chris Farley Song,” which was praised by critics.

While Sandler got a lot of laughs as Robbie Hart in the 1998 comedy The Wedding Singer, performing wacky numbers like “Somebody Kill Me,” one of the most memorable moments is when he serenades Julia (Drew Barrymore) with the sweet ballad “Grow Old with You.”

Noted for being a talented guitarist, Sandler has played the instrument numerous times on TV, including a memorable performance on Conan in 2020 and during his 2018 Netflix special 100% Fresh. He has made the instrument an important part of his live shows, even playing his impressive collection of guitars on tour.[5]

5 Maya Rudolph

Amy Adams, Maya Rudolph – Badder (From “Disenchanted”)

Former Saturday Night Live cast member Maya Rudolph also happens to be the daughter of the late soul singer Minnie Riperton and composer/producer Richard Rudolph, who often collaborated with one another. With such a strong musical heritage, it makes sense that she has shown herself to be a talented musician as well. She had a brief stint as a keyboardist for The Rentals and gathered an impressive resume as a singer.

During an interview with NPR, she talked about her musically rich background, saying in part, “Music poured out of my mother, and I’m sure I heard it before I even got here when I was in her belly.”

Following roles in movies like Grown Ups and Bridesmaids, Rudolph is still thought of first and foremost as a comedienne. She has recorded many songs, including some for major motion picture soundtracks like Disenchanted, which features a duet with Rudolph and Amy Adams. However, sometimes comedy converges with the world of music in a really entertaining way, such as Rudolph’s unforgettable impersonation of Beyoncé on SNL.[6]

4 Woody Allen

Woody Allen and The Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band Live at Carlyle Cafe 11.18.2012

Fans of Woody Allen movies may notice that jazz music is frequently featured in the soundtracks. Not only is the iconic filmmaker-actor-comic a big fan of this genre, but he has publicly played it on the clarinet for decades. Allen, who based his stand-up career on his neurotic persona, may not project the type of mellow, self-assured image frequently associated with jazz musicians. However, he and his New Orleans-style jazz band have played at venues like Manhattan’s Carlyle Hotel for years.

Allen started playing the instrument around the same time that he developed a love of jazz as a teenager after WWII. Still, he preferred the early 20th-century styles such as ragtime. One of his first televised clarinet performances was during an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971. Many years later, Woody Allen & His New Orleans Jazz Band’s 1996 European tour was a major focus of the documentary Wild Man Blues. Their album by the same name was released in 1998.[7]

3 Steve Martin

Steve Martin & Earl Scruggs – Foggy Mountain Breakdown

It’s no secret that legendary comedian Steve Martin can play the banjo. The instrument has had a place in his act since the early part of his career. But he is now almost as well known for music as humor. Even though he put a lot of work into his comedy routines, Martin actually added banjo playing to the shows in order to give himself more credibility as a professional entertainer, explaining, “My act was so crazy I thought it’s probably good to show the audience I can do something that looks hard, because this act looks like I’m just making it up.”

Self-taught from the age of 17, he was influenced by a wide range of artists, including Earl Scruggs, Pete Seeger, and The Kingston Trio. Originally, he used the banjo in conjunction with his comedy to play satirical songs. However, as time has gone on, his banjo playing and composing has become more of a serious occupation unto itself.

The real turning point came after he joined musicians Earl Scruggs, Vince Gill, Marty Stewart, Leon Russell, Jerry Douglas, and Scruggs’ sons Randy and Gary on The Late Show with David Letterman for their version of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” in 2001. The group went on to record a Grammy-winning studio version. Since then, Martin has released several more albums and established an award for banjo players.[8]

2 Dudley Moore

Dudley Moore live “The Song From 10″ ” It’s Easy To Say” Henry Mancini-Robert Wells

Best remembered for his lovably offbeat on-screen characters in comedy films like Arthur (1981), Dudley Moore was also an accomplished pianist who performed with his own jazz trio and had over a dozen record releases.

The British comedian, who counted artists like Miles Davis among his influences, had an impressive musical background, earning a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music when he was 11 years old. He later earned a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford. Though he was classically trained in piano, Moore usually performed jazz in public but worked in a variety of genres.

Moore began his career in both music and comedy on stage, finding early success with the satirical revue “Beyond the Fringe.” He would go on to combine his comedic and musical skills in many television and film performances over the years, sometimes in the form of song parodies.

One of his most popular characters was songwriter George Webber in the hit film 10, but in real life, Moore was also a prolific composer who wrote music for a number of big and small screen projects, including the score for the 1967 movie Bedazzled.[9]

1 Jamie Foxx

Jamie Foxx – Unpredictable (Video) ft. Ludacris

While plenty of actors who don’t have a background in music have played musicians, actor/comedian Jamie Foxx had the advantage of being a very skilled pianist when he portrayed Ray Charles in the 2004 biopic Ray. Foxx, who had attended college on a classical piano scholarship, said that playing the instrument for the movie was “a blessing and curse.” He explained that because of the way Charles performed the songs, he had to spend many hours learning “all of the fingering of the piano in order for it to look authentic.”

Foxx has gone on to build an impressive career as a singer and musician in his own right, specializing in R&B. He has released several albums over the years, including the double-platinum Unpredictable in 2005 and the platinum-selling Intuition (2008), featuring high profile guest artists like Kanye West and Lil Wayne.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen