How making music for a comedy is totally different than making it for a drama -- and the surprising similarities

The 90s are so hot right now, and the creators of “Wet Hot American Summer” took advantage of that with “Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later,” which made its debut on Netflix last week.

“10 Years Later” takes place in 1991, while the original 2001 film, and the first Netflix series “First Day at Camp,” take place in 1981.

While the absurd spirit of the out-there comedy remains in “10 Years Later,” its 90s setting changed some things, from the hair to the fashion to the music.

Creating a soundtrack that mirrors and makes fun of the best (and worst) of the 90s grunge scene was quite a challenge.

Business Insider recently spoke to Matt Novack, one of the composers, about the challenges of composing comedy, and parodying the music of a nostalgic decade.

Here’s what it’s like to compose comedy, especially one like “Wet Hot,” that is so outside the norm:

'I fell into comedy and it just kind of hit me unexpectedly and I've loved it ever since.'


Novack originally wanted to compose drama and sci-fi scores.

'With 'Children's Hospital' and 'Wet Hot,' having the ability to score seriously with such an absurd style of comedy really helped sell the comedy itself, rather than just writing jokey, slap-sticky queues.'


Novack pointed out that with comedy, it's easy to go too big with the music. Novack and his team work with the directors and creators of the show to make sure that they're letting jokes and scenes speak for themselves.

'Everyone on 'Wet Hot' -- all the actors, everyone involved, treats it as serious as possible. Even though it's completely bonkers . . it's true.'


'A lot of the comedy works because the performances, everyone is committing to it,' Novack said. 'So I think the score takes the same approach. And this season, a lot of it had to do with doing a parody. This season there's a lot of horror, thriller, psychotic storylines. Part of that was just being an homage to that type of thriller.'

'Sometimes we like to experiment. And sometimes, moments don't need music.'

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'I remember one time specifically on 'NTSF:SD:SUV,' Rob Riggle was doing this amazing over the top, in-your-face performance,' Novack said. 'This portion was so amazing and over-the-top that no matter what we did and no matter what we did with the score, it just didn't work. We tried all these different things and we all realised that when you have these performances that are taking over a scene -- in a good way -- it even kind of takes over the soundtrack as well. It doesn't even need anything. It's just funnier to not have music. And as a composer I try to be wary of that.'

'One of the things about scoring comedy is that you want to stay away from the jokes. You don't want to draw attention to them.'

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'Otherwise, you risk taking away the comedy,' Novack said. 'You want to let performances breathe and jokes land, and stay out of the way and support everything, rather than taking away.'

'On 'Wet Hot,' I wrote even thicker and larger and more epic than I probably would have in any other setting, even a more dramatic setting.'


'The lead composer on the project, Craig Wedren, he's an amazing songwriter and amazing at nailing different genres of rock and punk music. He wrote some fantastic songs that you would swear came out of the 80s or the 90s, but they're actually original compositions for the series. It's kind of like those cheesy popcorn action movies that I loved growing up.'

'With most comedies, the music is there for support, but 'Wet Hot' is outside the norm. It's atypical in that respect.'


'It is a little frustrating,' Novak said of comedic composers getting less recognition than dramatic composers. 'I'd like to get my name out there. But it is part of the genre. With drama, especially someone like Christopher Nolan, he pushes the music louder than anyone else. I think his scores are mixed so loud, and are so in the forefront, and that's the way he likes it. So it doesn't surprise me that those types of scores get more recognition, especially with John Williams and Hans Zimmer, I mean those guys are the best. Their music would live well as just concert music. And it does, outside of the films. So it's maybe a little frustrating, but it's not unsurprising. And hopefully some day I'll get to that level and do some concert tours of my own.'

'Drama and comedy composing have different challenges. Comedy can be tough because you have to make sure that you're not stepping on jokes. You're just supporting the joke and staying out of the way.'


'And drama is the same challenge, but in drama you have to key a lot more into the emotion of what's happening on screen. So if the emotion of the score isn't matching what's happening on screen, or playing against it if necessary, then it kind of falls flat.'

'Comedic actors are often very good at drama when they make the leap. And I think that's true of composers as well.'


'With comedy, you have to focus so much on not only storyline, but the specific beats of the punchlines and everything. So I think that helps tremendously with scoring drama and sci-fi. It's helped me develop a sense of storytelling that is so key for not only composers, but anyone that works in film and TV. You have to know how to tell a story.'

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