10 times stand-up comedians made brilliant references to heavy metal

Stewart Lee, Ed Gamble and Andrew O'Neill
(Image credit: BBC)

Stand-up can be stultifyingly glib and often retreads familiar ideas, yet the general public lap it up. The fact that Michael McIntyre's Magnificent tour will be doing multiple nights at arenas in the UK is testament to this. But if you're a stand-up and casually reference metal in any shape or form during your set, you will have our attention. And if it's done with sincerity, then you may have our blackened hearts too.

Here are 10 moments where comedians made some excellent observations about the worlds of metal and rock. 

Metal Hammer line break

Ed Gamble on his teenage metal band

In his Comedy Central special Blood Sugar, diabetic comedian Ed Gamble – dressed in a red outfit which screams early Slipknot – confesses his love of all things heavy despite having "a Coldplay face" and describes his short tenure in a school band Tethered Priest, where he was fired for smiling too much and waving at his friends during his one and only gig.  Check out his album You May Struggle To Hear Me Above The Crunch Of My Enemies' Skulls, which was recorded at London's Black Heart in 2019 and available only on jet black and blood red vinyl

Andrew O'Neill on Slayer

Award-winning nonbinary stand-up Andrew O'Neill loves metal. Can't get enough of the stuff. So much so, they wrote the thoroughly brilliant book A History Of Heavy Metal and then toured the arse of it. In this clip, filmed at The Underworld in London, Andrew – and an elite band of riffologists – imagines what a Slayer band practice might go like after playing Angel of Death for the first time, and how the first word on the whole album might be "a bit much".

Todd Barry on Fugazi

Taken from his 2001 album Medium Energy, the New York City born comic ponders whether Fugazi's revolutionary stance on low ticket pricing may have ruffled some feathers in the Washington DC quartet's line-up. 

"I saw this documentary on the band Fugazi," he begins. "You guys know about them right? They're what's called a punk rock band and they have a lot of integrity; they won't charge more than five bucks for their concerts. Five bucks! You know, there's gotta be at least one guy in the band who ain't happy about this. The drummer is gonna snap at rehearsals like, 'Hey fellas, can we stop a second? I had the craziest idea. How about six bucks? I was thinking that extra dollar times 800 people a night times five shows a week equals... I don't have a roommate when I'm 47."

Mitch Hedberg on being in a death metal band

All death metal bands are intense  Well, most. In this Comedy Central clip, the late, great stand-up Mitch Hedberg explains that naming your band appropriately is everything. 

"I played in a death metal band," he begins. "People either loved us or they hated us, or they thought we were OK. A lot of death metal bands have intense names, like Rigor Mortis, or Mortuary, or Obituary. We weren't that intense. We just went with Injured. Later on, we changed it to A Cappella... as we were walking out of the pawn shop."

Winslow Dumaine on black metal

Chicago based comedian and illustrator Winslow Dumaine presents his specials like metal releases, including his triptych evergrief, know surrender and agelast. His 2016 album Whimper and Bang is "the product of three years of refining pain and grief into stand up comedy", so it comes as no surprise that he's into the more extreme end of the metal genre. 

Says Dumaine: "Black metal songs are described like this: 'This is a song about the October Revolution. It's 14 minutes long. It's in three languages and there's a bibliography in the liner notes. Heavy metal songs are described like this: 'This is a song about train which is crazy."


♬ original sound - Winslow Dumaine

Patton Oswalt on a wheezing Axl Rose

Patton Oswalt has many many references to rock and metal throughout his career: labelling System of a Down as "Armenian geniuses", missing out on seeing Fugazi, and Jackyl ("with a Y). In this bit from his 2011 special Finest Hour, Oswalt recounts what happened when he saw Guns N' Roses perform Welcome To The Jungle after Axl Rose ran up to the microphone with a little too much verve. 

Jim Breuer on AC/DC

Jim Breuer, comedian and host of The Metal In Me podcast, delivers accurate impressions of James Hetfield, Ronnie James Dio and Ozzy Osbourne in this bit from his Hardcore special from 2002. Flat caps off, however, to Breuer for his take on Brian Johnson singing the nursery rhyme Row, Row, Row Your Boat in the Dunston-born's unmistakable timbre.

Bill Bailey on death metal

Bill Bailey is a confirmed metaller. His shows are littered with rock and metal references, he's performed Enter Sandman on a rack of old-fashioned car horns and headlined the second stage at Sonisphere in Knebworth in 2011. As part of his 2014 show Limboland, Bailey posits the view that the visceral power of death metal can be diminished by regional accents and subtly uses badgers as a visual metaphor for proponents of black metal.

Blake Hammond on pop punk

Cincinnati comic Blake Hammond examined the often problematic nature of pop punk's lyrics imbued with wistful nostalgia during his North Carolina Comedy Festival set in 2021. "Clap if you guys know what 'pop punk' or 'emo' music is," says Hammond, sporting a Behemoth t-shirt. "If you don't know, it's basically just a bunch of 26-year-old dudes crying about how hard it is to be 15. That's the whole genre." Hammond then proceeds to deliver some near-the-knuckle parodies of the genre's most uncomfortable cliches. 

Stewart Lee on Napalm Death

In the fourth series of his show Comedy Vehicle, Lee draws upon his time at Solihull School – whose notable alumni include The Human League's Phil Oakey and the late Genesis P-Orridge – and reveals that he went orienteering with the original line-up of Napalm Death, namely drummer Miles Ratledge. "It wasn't square, middle class watching BBC 2 orienteering, like you would do," he tells the crowd, before delivering one of the "best three" punchlines from that particular set. "It was second-wave, anarcho-punk orienteering. We had maps, but all the boundaries were crossed out."

Simon Young

Born in 1976 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Simon Young has been a music journalist for over twenty years. His fanzine, Hit A Guy With Glasses, enjoyed a one-issue run before he secured a job at Kerrang! in 1999. His writing has also appeared in Classic RockMetal HammerProg, and Planet Rock. His first book, So Much For The 30 Year Plan: Therapy? — The Authorised Biography is available via Jawbone Press.