Parody is a well tried and tested form of humour used in many comedy sketch shows, films and indeed advertising. It is an artistic form within its self, sometimes called a spoof and has elements similar to pastiche.
Parody in Advertising
Parody is ‘A literary or artistic work that imitates the characteristic style of an author or a work for comic effect or ridicule. In certain terms a caricature’.
We can parody almost anything artistic such as Art, TV programmes, documentary, politics, films, film styles, western, historical romance, war films, musicals, Hollywood and even advertisements themselves.
Having written parody for many sketch shows, sit-com and indeed commercials there are some writing and creative principals that need to be applied.
1. What are we actually parodying?
We need to decide what aspect of the art form are we going to be parodying. The form or genre of the work? The language or style of speech? The costumes of the work? Or attitudes in that genre?
There normally would be more than one attribute that is ridiculed but it can be just one as in ‘Bleak Expectations’ a BBC radio parody of Dickens which is restricted to the parody of language.
Unless we fully understand this concept and place into our script… The parody will just not work. This also means thinking of the characters, language, dialogue.
2. Contrast Against Real Art Forms
To make parody work effectively we need to contrast the parody against the real art form. Something of the original art form remains.
Therefore, in the Holsten Pills adverts below Griff Rhys Jones character was not in the original film it is the comic exploitation using the original clips and language from the film which people recognize that brings about amusement
3. Must Be Recognisable Immediately
When developing a parody, it needs to be immediate to our target audience. Creating a parody our audience will not recognise or too young or old to appreciate the work will ultimately lead to failure. It is no good sending up, spoofing or parodying a genre that very few people know. It needs to be very generic or understandable to our target audience.
A comic impression performed by a comedian doing impressions is not necessarily parody. It is an interpretation of a particular person. However, putting that person into a recognizable art form makes it a parody and a comedic parody if the attitudes collide.
Example: Someone, such as Alistair McGowan or Rory Bremner impersonating the Prime Minister or President is not in itself a parody. Putting those playful impressions into a recognizable genre such as ‘The Big Brother’ house where we least expect to see them containing the attitudes they may have could make it funny. But we a parodying ‘Big Brother’ and putting in officials to violate our expectations of that genre. The comedy would come from the contrasts of attitudes of the characters set against the values of the TV programme. For example, the potential tasks they might be asked to carry out in the house as in mates.
4. Humour in Advertising
Making people laugh is a strong way of getting their attention. Once we have firmly committed to a genre we then need to violate our audience expectations and go against that form with surprise.
5. Image Rights in Ads
One other complication in the development of Parody / spoof are image rights, with the digital technical process growing all the time, the ability to produce work like our two examples Holsten Pills & Galaxy is getting easier but exploiting the image rights law and understanding what one can do and can’t is not easy. More celebrities are protecting their image rights.
Actor / Producer Mel Brookes is the king of Parody. A study of his films show the comic details and written subversive script which makes for a successful genre spoof
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He’s lectured at University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences. He has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.
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