The Origin of an Internet Musician

Question: How did you get into comedy songwriting? 

Jonathan\r\n Coulton: Well, I've always been interested in music. I played \r\ninstruments when I was young and sang when I was young and was in the \r\nband and the chorus in school. And I think somewhere in high school I \r\nhad decided that I actually wanted to make a profession out of it and \r\nbecome a professional musician and then didn't do much about that for \r\nmany years. And, you know, like many people, went to college because \r\nthat's what you do. Then some point after college, found myself in New \r\nYork City, not really knowing exactly what I was doing there and had a \r\nfew short-lived jobs and put a band together kind of but never really \r\ndid anything with it. Played out a few times for our friends and \r\nultimately found myself working in the software industry writing code \r\nfor a company in New York and did that for about nine years and kept \r\ndoing music on the side, recording things and writing things, just for \r\nmy own amusement mostly. 

Question: How did a cappella \r\naffect your songwriting? 

Jonathan Coulton: It is true\r\n that I was in the Whiffenpoofs in college and before that the \r\nSpizzwinks. Those are two of the oldest all male a cappella collegiate \r\nsinging groups in the world. So, very proud to be a part of them and the\r\n Whiffenpoofs really were kind of one of the reasons I wanted to go to \r\nYale. My dad went to college there and my grandfather went to college \r\nthere and so, when I was growing up, they both had old records, \r\nWhiffenpoofs LPs that they would play for me. So I was familiar with \r\ncollegiate a cappella music in a way that many American kids were not. 

I\r\n was thinking recently some friends of mine from the a cappella \r\ncommunity who I had been out of touch with for a while, recently came to\r\n one of my shows in New York for the first time and as I was doing my \r\nstandard Jonathan Coulton show, I was thinking of them in the audience \r\nand I realized how much my shtick on stage really does owe to whatever \r\nit was that I learned when I was doing a cappella. Because, you're in \r\nthis group of people and for me it was a group of 14 guys all wearing \r\ntuxedos and you're standing in a big circle and you're singing, you \r\nknow, ironic covers of popular songs, but also sort of jazz standards. \r\nAnd there's a mix of stuff that you're really quite serious about. \r\nYou're serious about the music but you're also wearing a tuxedo and \r\nwhite gloves and a white tie. It's ridiculous, you know. And you're \r\ndoing a lot of funny stuff in between the serious stuff and it's very \r\nshtick-y and hammy. So I think I actually took a lot from that. I mean, \r\nthat's how I learned to be a person on stage. And so that still applies \r\nto what I do in my show even though I'm now a rock star. I don't wear a \r\ntuxedo anymore. 

Question: One of your first breakout \r\nsongs was “Code Monkey.” How much did that come out of your life at that\r\n time? 

Jonathan Coulton: "Code Monkey" is a \r\nsong about a sad software developer. It’s loosely autobiographical. It \r\nis true that while I was working there I felt some frustration about not\r\n having allowed myself to pursue what I believed was my true calling. I \r\nwas there for nine years and it wasn't a terrible job. I actually liked \r\nit quite a bit. I learned a lot. I had fun and good people there. But \r\nthere was that vague dissatisfaction. So I used that when I wrote the \r\nsong, but it is loosely autobiographical. The guy in the song really, \r\nreally hates, really, really hates his job, and in particular, his boss.\r\n I did not hate my boss. I loved all of my bosses and they were never as\r\n boring as I described them in the song. I'll say that for them. 

Recorded on May 6, 2010

From the Yale Whiffenpoofs to the Internet, Jonathan Coulton reflects on his career, including his breakout song about a sad software developer.

Related Articles

How schizophrenia is linked to common personality type

Both schizophrenics and people with a common personality type share similar brain patterns.

(shutterstock)
Mind & Brain
  • A new study shows that people with a common personality type share brain activity with patients diagnosed with schizophrenia.
  • The study gives insight into how the brain activity associated with mental illnesses relates to brain activity in healthy individuals.
  • This finding not only improves our understanding of how the brain works but may one day be applied to treatments.
Keep reading Show less

Human skeletal stem cells isolated in breakthrough discovery

It's a development that could one day lead to much better treatments for osteoporosis, joint damage, and bone fractures.

Image: Nissim Benvenisty
Surprising Science
  • Scientists have isolated skeletal stem cells in adult and fetal bones for the first time.
  • These cells could one day help treat damaged bone and cartilage.
  • The team was able to grow skeletal stem cells from cells found within liposuctioned fat.
Keep reading Show less

How exercise helps your gut bacteria

Gut bacteria play an important role in how you feel and think and how well your body fights off disease. New research shows that exercise can give your gut bacteria a boost.

National Institutes of Health
Surprising Science
  • Two studies from the University of Illinois show that gut bacteria can be changed by exercise alone.
  • Our understanding of how gut bacteria impacts our overall health is an emerging field, and this research sheds light on the many different ways exercise affects your body.
  • Exercising to improve your gut bacteria will prevent diseases and encourage brain health.
Keep reading Show less