Jul 20 2009

How to Do Parody Well

Published by at 3:46 am under Tips for Writing Comedy,Writing Articles

A large part of comedy comes from making references to other things, or by spoofing them. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

1.  Know your target audience. A parody of Pride and Prejudice can be funny (even though it’s been done before… with zombies!), but if you’re writing about superheroes there’s a good chance a large chunk of your audience won’t get it because they’ve never read Pride and Prejudice. If you’re writing a superhero story then your best bet is to spoof comics, with a healthy dose of the movie versions. Also, the more famous the target, the better the odds are people will get the joke.

2.  Know what you’re parodying. One common mistake of people making parodies is they don’t know what they’re spoofing.  If you want to make a reference to Lord of the Rings don’t talk about a quest to find the One Ring.  Anyone who knows about Lord of the Rings will be too busy banging their heads against the wall to laugh.


3.  Criticise the bad, compliment the good. Just because you’re doing a parody doesn’t mean you have to rip into it. Some of the best parodies are those of Star Wars, generally considered one of the greatest series of films ever made. One common thing for people spoofing Star Wars to point out is the stupid design of the Death Star, allowing one shot to destroy it, yet that design flaw allowed one of the most iconic scenes in cinema history. Nevertheless, as long as you don’t unfairly attack a work of fiction then you can get away with making fun of the bad things about it.

4.  Make it accessible to people who don’t know what you’re spoofing. Not every person who likes superheroes has ever read Amazing Spider-Man issue #42, so making a reference to a typo in it just won’t be funny, even if your target audience has probably read it. However, if you have characters read a comic and say ‘spider powers? That’s disgusting!’ then people will laugh anyway, since they probably know enough about Spider-Man to get that. In short, you want people who have never seen/read what you’re spoofing to laugh anyway, even if they miss some of the more obscure references.

5.  Decide on how subtle you want it. A spoof of the Matrix could be an entire chapter about your characters trapped in a virtual world. But that’s an entire chapter of story to use on a reference to a series of films. In contrast, if your character has a dream where everyone is wearing black, leather long coats and sunglasses, even when it’s dark, then you’ve just made a funny reference to the Matrix in a few lines. If you want to spend an entire chapter, that’s fine, but you can still achieve a lot in a few lines.

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “How to Do Parody Well”

  1. Lighting Manon 20 Jul 2009 at 2:33 pm

    I think another thing that that deserves mentioning, particularly in light of the number of movies (For instance, any movie with “Movie” in the title…) that have ruined the good names of satire and parody.

    A parody is not the exact same thing as the subject matter, just with a different cast, no matter how funny looking or inappropriate that cast is. It should contain a proper number of allusions so you know what you’re watching a parody of, but it should always be its own story. Contrast the iconic hilarity of Space Balls with Star Wars, you would never confuse the two, but you know that Space Balls could never exist without Star Wars.

    All of your points were great, but I think number 2 is particularly great, and a very important thing to remember. I’d strongly suggest that people intending to write parodies expand on that rule to include not only studying what they intend to parody, but parodies in general.

    They should watch everything that Mel Brooks made before 1995, watch The Great Dictator by Charlie Chaplin, the single greatest parody ever, and every other good parody of note they can. Then watch everything Mel Brooks made after 1995 (It’s one movie, it’s bad, but we forgive him.) and then find a religion they don’t mind losing and start the arduous and painful process of watching every terrible Leslie Nielsen parody that they can. Watch Spy Hard, 2001: A Space Travesty, Wrongfully Accused, Scary Movie 3, Scary Movie 4, and Superhero movie, but they should never, and I repeat, never watch An American Carol, they will not survive. I’m sure others can give examples of good and bad parodies that deserve studying.

    You have to understand the genre before you try to write it or you are doomed to failure. You have to try to understand why Scary Movie 4 is so terrible but Silent Movie made Helen Keller giggle. It all comes back to writing what you know.

  2. B. Macon 21 Jul 2009 at 12:40 pm

    I personally thought that Wrongfully Accused was absolutely hilarious, but I agree that Leslie Nielsen’s movies are typically awful. Superhero Movie was so absurdly bad that I walked out. (Which means it’s only one of three superhero movies to enter into my Hall of Shame, along with Underdog and Superman Returns).

  3. Fitzon 25 Jul 2009 at 11:56 am

    Haha, I agree that many of the Superhero Movie/Epic Movie type parodies are terrible. I work at a movie theater, and the day after Disaster Movie came out, only 20 people wanted to see it.
    Every single person then left and got a refund halfway through. I was impressed.

  4. Gurion Omegaon 25 Jul 2009 at 1:37 pm

    Goody. Comedy is a major genre in literature that I want to be in.

    If this helps: Comedy, no matter how dominant the subject matter, must be the foundation for the concepts, themes, setting, and plot of the story.

  5. Mr. Whiteon 07 Sep 2012 at 7:13 pm

    B.Mac, I have two things to ask you: First, is it possible to use established character from famous novels in a graphic novel (e.g., Sherlock Holmes, Holden Caulfield, Gandalf) similar to what Alan Moore did for “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”? Second, how could you get away with that?

  6. B. McKenzieon 07 Sep 2012 at 8:05 pm

    “First, is it possible to use established character from famous novels in a graphic novel (e.g., Sherlock Holmes, Holden Caulfield, Gandalf) similar to what Alan Moore did for “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”? Second, how could you get away with that?” If the characters are in the public domain (such as Sherlock Holmes), you’re fine and are (as far as I’m aware) legally entitled to use the characters without taking any special precautions. However, I’m pretty sure that Holden Caulfield and Gandalf are still covered by copyright, so you can’t explicitly use them in a work for sale, but you could do ersatz versions as parody.

  7. Nayanon 01 Nov 2012 at 3:15 am

    The worst parody film I have watched was ‘Disaster Movie’.

    ”Leslie Nielsen’s movies are
    typically awful.” I agree. But I liked the first ‘Naked Gun’ movie.

  8. Well Writtenon 17 Jul 2016 at 11:51 am

    My parody is not meant to be comedic but rather a exaggeration of how dark comics have gotten and slightly poor universe building within movies *cough* tasm 2 *cough* Dracula Untold *cough* and with keeping with that theme the main character is a Spider-Man 2099 analog with a tweaked spider-ham origin (he was a spider turned into a human not a pig obviously) I already know how I’m gonna do the first book but in the book that I plan to do afterword I wanted to add a Moon Knight Superman amalgamation/analog to mentor my spiderman analog but I don’t know how to combine the characters in a coherent way, tips?

  9. B. McKenzieon 20 Jul 2016 at 3:31 am

    “My parody is not meant to be comedic…” In your proposal/submission, I don’t recommend using the word “parody” unless you’re going for a comedy. (“Parody” heavily implies that comedic value is critically important to the work).

    Also, the market for superhero parodies is oversaturated in novels and comics. E.g. according to Erik Larsen of Image Comics, “Superhero parody books or ‘funny’ comics about girls with big jugs die pretty quickly in this market.”

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