Is Humor Bad in Competitive A Cappella?

Measure for Measure

In Measure for Measure, A Cappella Blog contributor takes a look at both sides of a controversial issue in collegiate a cappella. Please note that the views expressed by columnists do not necessarily represent those of The ACB as an organization, nor do they
necessarily represent the view of individual columnists. The purpose of this piece is to explore issues and further civil, intellectual debate.

Every a cappella group has its own style, but when it comes to competition are groups best served to “play it straight” and not aim for laughs? In this edition of Measure for Measure we take a look at the statement:

A cappella groups should avoid humor in competition.

True: Humor has a long and storied history in a cappella, from punny group names, to humorous takes on the vocal electric guitar, to pseudo-sexy choreography. There’s nothing wrong with making the audience laugh, but if you want to be take n seriously on the competition stage, you need to approach your set with a serious attitude. Sure, audiences like to laugh, but judges don’t look at the class clowns of the competition as champions, or as the ones who they want to represent their show or region when they progress to the next round of a tournament. They’re fun, but when it comes time to pick the best of the best, judges will gravitate toward the group with perfect tuning over the one with comedic timing; the one that moved them tears rather than the one that got them laughing. A cappella are best served to leave humor out of their competition sets.

False: Humor is vital in a cappella, particularly in the current era when competitions tend to have so many groups performing. Including a good comedy song helps a group stand out—it’s different and it genuinely entertains the audience. Furthermore, let’s not forget that only one group can win a competition. While it’s all well and good to aspire to walk away champions, there’s also a lot to be said for stealing the show. The judges’ opinion is only half the story at any competition—the rest of the story is told in which groups the audience actually remembers—the ones they like on Facebook afterward, and the ones whose sets they’ll track down on YouTube the next day to share with all of their friends. Fans—and particularly casual fans—may appreciate good music but they're more prone to remember the act that made them laugh.