Friday, August 24, 2007

Parody Pariah


If you are a writer of one of my shows and you bring in a television, film or song parody, you're going to have a tough time convincing me it should be in the show. (I can be swayed, however. It usually involves gift baskets and massages.) My reluctance is two-fold. Most parodies that come across my imaginary comedy desk simply take something well known and add profanity or sexual behavior. I'm really not interested in putting Mr. Brady on stage beating his wife and screwing his daughters. I also believe parody is best served in the medium it's having fun with. TV and film parodies work best on video. Song parodies work best when the song sounds as much as possible like the original. There's a reason Weird Al has been able to sustain a career based on parodies. He's a brilliant producer and surrounds himself with top-notch musicians. (I haven't seen him live in concert in over ten years, but if you ever get the chance, go. His band rocks and he puts on a good show.)

Better suited for the stage are theater and literature parodies and good on ya' if you tackle one of those.

The assignment for this week is to write a short parody of a TV show or a film. The following exercises can be useful for any kind of parody you're up for, however.

First - Pick your target. I think it's best to write parodies based on shows you really do enjoy. It's important that you are able to emulate the language and feel of the material. I also think it works best NOT to pick a current comedy. You could imitate the style of The Office but I think doing a parody would likely fall flat. You're just not going to be as funny as the original. There's more comedy gold in focusing on something that takes itself a more seriously.

I'm picking Lost. I'm a huge fan and I have a few frustrations with the show. I'll flesh out some defining elements with a trusty brainstorming list of ten

1) mysterious island
2) flashbacks
3) love triangle
4) mysterious corporation
5) mysterious "others"
6) secret hatches
7) doctor
8) philosopher
9) bad boy/ con man
10) fat dude

The key to writing a successful parody is to distill all the elements that define that particular show or genre. It's like doing a caricature of someone. You make it look as much like the person as possible and exaggerate the hell out of one of the features. Using the above list, I could craft a scene where everything is over-the-top mysterious and nothing gets solved.

Another parody technique is to simply change one key element. This can also be worthy of a list of ten.

1) instead of an island, they are lost at CostCo
2) the mysterious corporation is Starbucks
3) the others on the island are illegal aliens
4) Hurley is Jared from Subway
5) the love triangle is a love octagon
6) they follow a bunny down a hatch
7) a boat washes ashore - it's the S. S. Minnow
8) swap the cast with characters from Gilligan's Island
9) Neo from The Matrix is the real bad guy
10) it's done in the style a 1960's Beach Blanket movie

Now, I think most of these ideas are crap. That's the beauty of a list of ten. I don't need all ten ideas, I only need one. I could see myself writing a scene about a group of people lost at CostCo. I also really like Lost as a Beach Blanket Bingo-type movie. Jack as Frankie, Kate as Annette, Sawyer as some muscle-bound super surfer stud. Ben as Eric Von Zipper and the others as his gang.

Can't stress enough to keep it simple. Stick to what's familiar with the show except for that one thing. Some comedy writers might take two or three things from that list of ten and try to squeeze them all in. It usually ends up muddying the effort.

Also, keep in mind that you are writing for the stage. There are no close-ups. Props and costumes are limited. If you find that too much of a constraint, then go ahead and write it for video. Thanks to digital technology, it's a lot easier these days to cobble together a finished product.

When someone does pitch a parody to me and I see some potential in it for more, I usually push for a rewrite that makes it less parody and more scene. Bob Chinn wrote a parody of To Catch A Predator for a show I directed that was fine. The "predator" coming in was just a guy under the belief that the garage was for rent. I asked Bob to drop the parody of the actual program and beef up the relationships. He came back dropping the news anchor and replacing him with a vigilante suburban father running his own predator sting and using his daughter for bait. The mistaken garage renter remained the same. It was a very funny scene, arguably now more satirical in nature, and, because he dropped the parody aspect, it has a longer shelf life. That's the other thing about parody, if it's imitating a very specific subject, it only works well as long as that subject is in the spotlight.

So, after you write your parody, take a closer look at it. There might be a damn good scene hiding in there. Be willing to strip away the parody aspects to find out.

Here's some Weird Al taking a parody whack at Bob Dylan.


I'm performing in it tonight. 8pm. iO. B. Y. O. C. P. (Bring your own cod piece)


Yesterday, I asked...

"Portsmouth, New Hampshire police were able to quickly find a reported drug dealer because of the accused's what?"

A whopping 66% picked "Lack of arms and legs"
- "Quick! Get him! He's rolling away!" No, that's not it.

8% chose "Orange tuxedo and matching fuzzy hat"
- No and please stop making fun of my prom tux.

NOBODY picked "Shark fin hairdo"
- Apparently, no one thought that would stand out in New Hampshire.

26% figured out the correct answer "Heavily tattooed face"

According to the Associated Press, police found it pretty easy to spot Eric Hardcastle because of the row of tattooed arrows over each of his eye brows, a tattoo on his forehead and scalp and matching markings on each cheek. Maybe he could find work on Pequod hunting Moby Dick.