A Brilliant Comic Lyric Writer

Stephen Sondheim compiled a list called “Songs I Wish I’d Written (at Least in Part)” and he included an Irving Berlin number on that list. In the concert that included some of those songs he made some opening remarks, and here is what he had to say about Berlin:

One, “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun,” because most people, I think, don’t appreciate how brilliant Irving Berlin was as a comic lyric writer. People think of him as sort of four-square and very simple, but he was right up there with Cole Porter, or any of the rest of them. There are, I think, sixteen jokes in “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun”, all on the same subject, and every single one is a surprise, and every single one has a fresh rhyme that you don’t see coming. It’s remarkable.

In his book of lyrics Sondheim expanded on this and added that Berlin knew how “to inflect words melodically and rhythmically so they seem to flow organically”.

Here is Lauren van Kempen making the most of those sixteen jokes:

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