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Using Parody to Get Laughs
What is parody? It is a literary or artistic work that imitates the characteristics or style of another author or an artistic work for comic effect or ridicule. It is used to comment on or poke fun at an original work, the artist, or artistic style. It is a humour device used in all types of comedy—-from stand-up comedy to comedy films. Parody is also called a “send-up” or “spoof.”
In literature, the writer uses parody as a form of comic mockery or satirical criticism. The writer imitates the style and conventions of a particular writer to expose the weaknesses of the writer’s style or content. A writer can also use parody to mock or ridicule a particular school of writers.
The screenwriter can use parody to satirize other film genres or films. This is called a parody film. Conventions used include stereotyping, jokes, mockery, and sarcasm. The film “Scary Movie” parodied the horror genre. The film “Blazing Saddles” parodied the western genre. The British comedy group Monty Python parodied King Arthur in “The Holy Grail.”
The screenwriter for a sitcom can also use parody, often as a form of social and political criticism. Parody has been used in “The Simpson’s” episodes. The popular show, “The Daily Show”, is a parody of the news broadcast. The Colbert Show is a parody of a talk show. Throughout its history, “Saturday Night Live” has parodied popular culture, current events, and politics.
Parody has been used in music videos to mock the musical style of a performer. Weird Al Yankovic parodied the performance of Michael Jackson in the 80s.
In summary, a writer uses parody to imitate an artist or artistic work, in order to produce a comic effect or mock or ridicule the artist or artistic work. Parody is a popular humour device that writers use in sitcoms, comedy films, sketch comedy, and stand-up comedy.
What is sketch comedy? It is a short comedy scene or vignette, often less than ten minutes. It is performed in front of a live audience in a studio or on stage.
It can be performed by a group, comedy duo, or solo performer.
Usually, the comedy writer creates the sketch using the three-act structure. In the Act I, the sketch is set up. In Act 2, complications are added to the sketch. In Act 3, the punchline is delivered.
There are several formats. The sketch can be based on a “comic premise”, which is based on a funny idea. The idea can be an absurd or something more realistic, such as a social or political topic that is in the news. The idea must be strong enough to carry the sketch. Another sketch format is the character-based sketch. It is based on a funny character, such as The Church Lady in Saturday Night Live. The other popular format is the situation-based sketch. The basis of the funny sketch is the location, place, or situation.
A sketch is often topical or timeless. A topical sketch is based on something making news. For instance, in 2008, Saturday Night Live did a sketch on political figure Sarah Palin. In a year or so, people might not find it funny, because they don’t understand its context. A timeless sketch is something that will be funny forever, such as Saturday Night Live’s The Blues Brothers or The Church Lady.
Comedy Devices and Techniques
Some sketch comedy involves improve or improvisation. It involves creating a sketch in front of a live audience without rehearsal and requires on-the-spot humour.
Parody is frequently used. Saturday Night live often mocks commercials and TV shows. For instance, the Mr. Bill Show was a parody of children’s shows that was on Saturday Night Live during the late 70s. In the show, the animated clay figure always dies a gory death at the end.
Lampoon is often used. For instance, many sketches on Saturday Night Live use the comic device of lampoon to ridicule politics, TV, film, celebrities, and other elements of pop culture.
The comedy sketch often involves sight gags, pratfalls, sexual innuendo, props, costumes, and stereotyping.
Exaggeration is a humour device that is frequently used. Many sketches use caricature to get laughs. The comics wear make-up, wigs, and costumes to perform the skit.
Satire is also used. Watch a memorable show of Saturday Night Live, and you will see that the sketch satirize a political figure, celebrity, or person making news.
Popular Sketch Comedy
Sketch comedy is usually performed in front of a live audience, often for TV. Popular sketch comedy TV shows include:
- Kids in the Hall
- Saturday Night Live
- The Red Skelton Show
- The Daily Show
Other memorable sketch comedy includes:
- Mel Brooks
- Monty Python
To find out more about these popular sketch comedy shows, do a Google search. You can also watch good comedy sketches on YouTube.
Tips for Writing Sketch Comedy
Here are a few tips on how to write a comedy sketch:
- Enrol in a comedy writing course or sketch writing course.
- Learn by watching and studying the great sketch comedy shows. A good place to start is by watching Saturday Night Live.
- Learn how to use the comic devices of parody, satire, lampoon, exaggeration, and physical comedy.
- Write your comedy sketch using the Three-Act Structure.
- Seek out constructive criticism. Ask for the opinions of others. If they don`t think your writing is funny, then it probably isn`t.
- Use original ideas. Use the creative thinking technique of brainstorming, mind-mapping, and by asking what-if questions. Do not copy the work of others. That being said, it is acceptable to parody the work of others.
- Keep your comedy sketch short. If you are writing for a live audience , your sketch ought to be less than 10 minutes. If you are writing for the Web, the sketch ought to be less than one minute.
- Make it funny. When writing a sketch, use the THREES formula (Target, Hostility, Realism, Emotion, Exaggeration, Surprise) For a detailed explanation, read the book, Comedy Writing Secrets, by Mel Helitzer. If people don`t laugh, your sketch isn`t funny.
Resources for Writing Sketch Comedy
- Comedy Writing Secrets by Mel Helitzer
- The Comedy Bible by Judy Carter
- The Art of Comedy: Getting Serious about Being Funny by Paul Ryan
Next, I will write about using humour when writing creative nonfiction, such as an article, essay, or memoir.
What is shock humour? It is a style of humour that is intended to shock and offend the audience.
Some stand-up comics use shock humour to create a comic effect, relying on profanity, vulgarisms, even material that some might consider obscene. The topics of shock humour are frequently based on taboo subjects. As well, the humour device of lampoon and absurdity are often used.
Shock humour is often called “blue comedy.” It is comedy that is profane, risqué, indecent, and obscene. In the current pop culture, blue humour is very popular. Some popular blue comics include Robin Williams, Andrew Dice Clay, and the late Rodney Dangerfield. Many considered Lenny Bruce a great blue comic, and he considered all subjects to be the basis of a joke.
“Religion to me is like a sanitary napkin—if it fits, wear it.”—Whoopi Goldberg
“I know more about Bill Clinton’s penis now than I do my own, which says something about the media or just something really sad about me.”—-Jon Stewart
“At my age, I’m lucky to get an erection. I’d be happy if a flag came out with a sign that said, “Hey, thanks for the opportunity.”—Richard Lewis
Popular comedian and author, Jim Norton, uses shock humour in his bestselling book, “I Hate Your Guts.” He frequently uses shock and lampoon and absurdity to get laughs. Some of the topics he lampoons include Hilary Clinton, The Oscars, and The New York Yankees. Moreover, his language that is vulgar and profane.
Shock humour can also involve “black comedy”, in which disturbing, sinister, sensitive, or taboo subjects, such as death, disease, war, are treated with amusement. The intention of the comic is to offend and shock the audience. The film, Dr. Strangelove, is a good example of black comedy.
Popular stand-up comics use blue comedy. Their main comic device is the joke—and offensive, dirty, or even racist joke.
What do you call a rape victim who doesn’t call the police?
A good sport.
Be careful when writing shock humour. Some will find it offensive. It is important that you know your audience and that your audience has some knowledge of your targets—such as authority figure, social group, celebrity, or topic. Write about what the audience can identify with.
If you are going to write shock humour, be cognizant of social taboos. Your material might be obscene or in poor taste.
Tips for Writing Jokes
Writing a good joke requires that you use your imagination and creative thinking. It also requires that you stay informed about what is going on in the world. Here are a few suggestions on how to go about writing a good joke:
- Learn from blue comics. You can attend a comedy club, watch a blue comedy DVD or YouTube video. Read books on how to write comedy, such as The Comedy Bible by Judy Carter.
- Find your ideas. You can brainstorm for topics. Popular topics include current events, celebrity scandal, and vice and folly of political figures.
- Use exaggeration. Essentially, you can tell a joke that is based on truth by exaggerating the truth.
- Write about the absurdities of everyday life. What did you see or hear or experience that was amusing to you?
- Write about your own vices and follies. This is a safe way to get laughs.
- Write your joke using the setup and punchline formula. Basically, the setup explains what the joke is about. The setup is often a question or observation. The punchline is an unexpected or humorous response to the setup. It is what gets the laughs.
Next, I will write about sketch comedy and how to write sketch comedy.
Writing Material for a Live Audience
What is a stand-up comic? A stand-up comic is someone who writes jokes, one-liners, and funny anecdotes, and then tells them in front of a live audience.
The comedic act is called a routine or monologue.
Most comics perform in a comedy club or night club.
Sometimes the comic uses props as part of the act.
Often, the stand-up creates a character or a persona—such as the political satirist, sad sack, or jester—to get laughs.
The jester uses one-liners and short commentary.
The sad sack is the comic of plays the insecure guy who seeks approval and who is confused about the opposite sex. (Example is Rodney Dangerfield.)
The political satirist mocks or ridicules political figures and makes commentary on political topics of interest.
The stand-up can use physical comedy, relying on facial expressions, sound effects, and props to get laughs. He/she can use slapstick. That is physical comedy, such as “horseplay” and farcical behaviour and make-believe violence.
The stand-up comic also rely on deadpan—using an expressionless face to tell a joke.
The old style stand-up comedy relied on one-liners and jokes. The current school of comedy uses social commentary and rants and political satire to get laughs.
Popular stand-up comics include Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Richard Pryor and George Carlin.
Tips for Writing Jokes
The stand-up comic gets laughs by telling jokes and one-liners. Here are a few tips on how to write comedy for a stand-up routine:
- Use a simile to describe something. The simile makes a comparison between two things by using “like” or “as.”
- Create jokes from what you observe in your daily life. Write about everyday absurdities.
- Write about differences. Point out the differences between things.
- Find a way to use satire. For instance, mock or ridicule a celebrity or political figure.
- Learn how to write funny anecdotes. These are short stories with a funny ending.
- Create list jokes, such as a top-ten list.
- Learn how to write a joke. A joke requires a setup, which explains the joke. And it requires the punchline, which delivers the funny line.
- Learn from the best. Watch performances from your favourite stand-up comics.
- Learn the technique of the callback. It is a reference to something said earlier in the routine.
If you want to write comedy for a stand-up routine, here are three useful books:
- “Stand-Up Comedy: The Book” by Judy Carter
- “The Comedy Bible” by Judy Carter
- “Zen and the Art of Stand-Up Comedy” by Jay Sankey
A good website to checkout is www.theseriouscomedysite.com .
Next, I will write about shock humour, often called blue comedy, which is frequently used by the stand-up comic.
If you have any question or comments, please post them to this blog.