Writing a JibJab Year In Review song is a strange blend of excitement and pain. Excitement because there’s a ton of fresh topical material just waiting to be transformed into hilarious gags. Pain because you somehow have to wrestle it all into the rhythms and rhymes of a two-minute song.
It starts with a list of topics, which keeps growing throughout the year. Along about August, it’s time to compile a master list, ranking each item by how important, memorable, or just plain funny it is. The biggest events (the credit downgrade, bin Laden’s demise) are must-haves. Others are smaller but still funny enough to make the cut. Schweddy Balls, anyone?
By early September, it’s time to select a song. We always prefer one that’s in the public domain, because (a) we like writing funny lyrics to familiar tunes and (b) we don’t like getting sued! This year, after considering about fifteen possible tunes, we discovered that the chorus of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” had a perfect structure for a funny list. As soon as we heard ourselves sing, “Lohan / Strauss-Kahn,” we knew we had our song. The only thing missing was a repeated “hook” to sum up the overall attitude. For a year marked by natural disasters, political dysfunction, and economic near-collapse, we thought the most appropriate message was an enthusiastic “2011, Buh-Bye!”
Once we’ve nailed down the tune and the hook, it’s time to write the script. Then rewrite it. Then rewrite it again and again and again. This process forces us to make painful choices, deciding which jokes to keep and which ones we have to drop, even if we really love them. Charlie Sheen rant? A definite keeper. Alex Trebek chasing a would-be robber? Funny, but not quite big enough.
Rewriting goes on and on until early December, when the song is finally recorded. By now the artists and animators have already gotten to work on some of the scenes. Then we cross our fingers and hope nothing huge happens before the debut. If a big change does happen (like a cop pepper-spraying a crowd of student protesters), a last-minute sight gag can be added to keep the piece up to date. At this point the writers can finally heave a sigh of relief and hand the heavy lifting off to the production team.