If the old saw “laughter is the best medicine,” is true, then a Lou and Peter Berryman concert ought to cure everything that ails you. The pair write and sing some of the funniest songs, with the highest LPM (laughs per minute) ratios, you’re ever likely to chuckle and belly laugh your way through. (Caveat: I don’t recommend attending one of their shows if you’ve recently had abdominal surgery–they’ll keep you out of stitches.)

This year the Berrymans are celebrating fifty years of singing together. They’ve released eighteen recordings and still write prolifically–their songbook contains, so far, 197 songs–on perhaps the widest, and wildest, range of subjects of any songwriters. Years after we first saw them in concert, my family and I still crack each other up quoting the chorus of their song about an inept ventriloquist, “Kleedonklidee …” Who writes memorable songs about inept ventriloquists?

If you feel the need for categories, then label them folk musicians. But the multilayered complexity and craftsmanship of their songs owe as much to Tin Pan Alley and Broadway as they do to the folk tradition. Peter writes the lyrics–some of the smartest, most clever, startling, yet inevitable juxtapositions of words of any wordsmith out there. “Fourth Most Visited State,” the opening song on their most recent CD, starts with “We’re Wisconsinites, we don’t care if / You have great big purplish mountains.” After detailing the famous and spectacular landmarks, historical sites, and notable qualities of the other forty-nine states, the song ends with some hilariously self-deprecating lines about their home state: “We have bowling shoe rental germicide spray / For customer health / And we’re the Fourth Most Visited State by automobile.”

Lou writes the melodies–deceptively simple-sounding, until you listen closer and see how marvelously they fit the words. And then there is her trademark ability to create chord progressions and melodies that, as in the best Broadway duet tunes, allow two distinct melodic and rhythmic lines to sound simultaneously, with both being understandable. No mean trick, yet she’s managed it spectacularly on a number of their songs.

And it’s not only the frivolous that tickles their funny bones. Their topics include homelessness, nuclear war, aging, the one-percenters (“How We Can Sleep At Night”), and songs that categorically defy categories. “Quarter After Blues” is a late-night stream of consciousness tour de force: “I overloaded something / in the brain no doubt / I went ‘n’ blew the section / where it sorts things out / I musta reached the point / where the circuitry melts / and everything reminds you of / everything else.”

The Berrymans return to the Ark on Saturday, October 12 (see Nightspots).