I. What is Parody?
A parody is a work that’s created by imitating an existing original work in order to make fun of or comment on an aspect of the original. Parodies can target celebrities, politicians, authors, a style or trend, or any other interesting subject.
The term parody (pronounced par--uh-dee) is derived from the Greek phrase parodia which referred to a type of poem which imitated the style of epic poems but with mockery and light comedy.
II. Examples of Parody
Parody can be used in everyday life as well as by authors, celebrities, politicians, and cultural commentators.
Your little sister puts on your father’s big shoes and stomps around in them, saying, “I need to make a business call. I am a very busy, very important businessman!”
In this example, the girl is parodying her own father who she knows works as a businessman. She is making the comment that the image many businesspeople have is overly serious and self-important.
At the talent show, a group of boys wears matching outfits and prances around singing One Direction’s “Best Song Ever.” They sing very poorly and overly dramatically.
Here, the boys are parodying a popular band by imitating the way they dress, sing, and perform in a comedic way, commenting on the low talent level of many pop stars.
Your friend Kelly is known for chewing gum all the time. Looking at her, you begin stuffing gum in your mouth and chewing very loudly, saying, “Hi! I’m Kelly! Do you have any extra gum? I could really use some more.”
In joking with a friend, you are parodying her gum-chewing habit by imitating and hyperbolizing it in a comedic way.
III. The Importance of Using Parody
Parody is important because it allows us to criticize and question without being aggressive or malicious. Rather, we use comedy. Parody imitates, stresses, and draws attention to certain features, characters, or plot points which are weak, silly, strange, or subject to criticism of any sort. Whereas serious criticism of politicians, artwork, celebrities, or literature can be boring or complicated, parody draws in an audience with a sense of humor and a lighter take on serious issues. Parody allows comedians to take on serious issues while still making us laugh.
IV. Examples of Parody in Literature
Parody has been a common comedic element in literature for centuries.
Pride and Prejudice with Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Grahame-Smith provides readers who enjoy zombie stories with a tweaked parodic version of Austen’s classic.
The Lost Diaries by Craig Brown
Am I merely snobbish in thinking that the lower classes have no aptitude or instinct for great literature or indeed literature of any kind? This morning I went into the kitchen & found Nelly sitting down reading a cookery book. How will you ever improve your lower-class mind if you spend your days simply reading receipts? I asked her, kindly.
In the above excerpt, Brown writes from the perspective of Virginia Woolf, a famous writer, highlighting her snobby and elitist attitude. The Lost Diaries are full of parodic writings by Brown’s versions of people like President Obama, Maya Angelou, and Keith Richards.
V. Examples of Parody in Pop Culture
Parody is a constant player in today’s comedy. There are parodic songs, skits, shows, movies, and advertisements.
Sesame Street is becoming famous for its funny parodies of famous shows and movies. Here, the show parodies the dark drama House of Cards by dramatizing politicians as the wolf and the three little pigs.
Ellen Degeneres is also a prominent parody-maker. In this episode, she inserts herself into Matthew McConaughey’s ad to poke fun at its melodrama and strangeness.
VI. Related Terms
Parody and satire are very similar: both use comedy to criticize or question an original thing or idea. Whereas parody primarily involves mimicry and comedy for entertainment purposes, satire is more often subtle, critical, and serious in its mockery. Satire has a higher goal: political and social change and reform through criticism. Parody is capable of involving satirical elements or more serious goals, but usually, it is more for entertainment than policy making.
For an example of satire versus parody, see The Colbert Show versus Saturday Night Live:
On The Colbert Show, Colbert is comedic, but he is also critical of the presidency and certain political views.
This clip is a clear parody of the movie “The Hobbit” and the show “The Office.” The clear use of imitation and silly humor makes it a parody.