Jul 20 2009
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.