30 Sep Parody – What is it? How do you perform or write it?
Who should read this: Professional and Student – Actors, Directors, Singers and Dancers. Writers for Screen and Stage, Novelists and Journalists. Producers of Film, Television and live theatre including Dance Theatre, Music Theatre and Web productions.
Students and professionals often ask me about… Parody.
What is parody?
How do I handle parody?
How do I write parody?
Well for the last thirty years I have tried to make all performers, directors and producers understand that anyone can do comedy well in at least some of its forms and parody is the general place to start. Some comic forms are complex, but some are simple. If you want to be a dancer and you think you have two left feet, but you really want to learn, you don’t start with something complicated, you start with something simple.
Parody is that simple starting place for anyone who wants to try comedy. Parody is the bottom rung of the comedy ladder. It is considered a cheap form of comedy by some but it is a place to start and it is a good place to start and it has always and will always be popular. Anyone can do Parody because its skill needs are simple and with a little bit of practice anyone can do parody well.
Parody is something we have an instinct for as kids because Parody is mockery done in the form of often simple and sometimes even bad mimicry. Even as kids, if you didn’t do it one of your siblings or friends or even parents did and got a laugh easily. You get an easy laugh with Parody, even when it is done with little skill, because Parody works on the fact that we all know the subject it is pointed at and as a group we can compare the mimic offered to our knowledge of the target. It is not the skill of the mimic that starts the basic parody response, it is our familiarity with the focus of the parody.
That is why parody is most effective when aimed at a heavily ‘shared’ target. The more shared the target the more resonant the parody performance can be. Parody has been the bedrock getting started in comic television for years in the form of skit comedy that is most often ‘parody’ based.
The target could be a famous person who is the flavour of the month that we all know like say Donald Trump, Queen Elizabeth or a rock star or sports star. Or it can focus on a well-known type of person like say Air Hostesses or Headmasters or Bankers or Tradespeople or Protestors or Cheerleaders or Sportspeople… you get the idea.
The more familiar the traits are to your audience, the less detail the parody needs to get a response. As a result, even a poor quality mimic of a parody target can get a decent response. Particularly if your audience is relaxed and ‘they all agree the target is valid’.
For this last element you should understand the profile of who you’re playing the parody to. I wouldn’t necessarily expect a Trump parody to go down well at a Trump rally (not meaning to specifically pick on Trump by the way, he’s just handy at present).
The beauty of parody for a green performer or director is that on a skill level, parody just asks the performer to generally magnify/exaggerate some chosen traits of the target as the main event to work. With Trump it will be his hair, his lips, his finger in the air, his fake tan and goggles look or the peculiar rhythm/tone of his speech. The more idiosyncratic the target the easier it is for the audience to identify the elements being magnified.
We start as kids doing parodies of each other and stuff. It’s easy. Anyone will try a parody at a party after a few drinks, it is the least scary form of comedy and that is why it is a great place to start. Yes, you can get it wrong, of course. But no risk no reward and parody is easier to get right than wrong even if it’s not done very skilfully? Yes, mis-judge your audience relationship to the target and yes, you can get it wrong. Should I parody the anguish of a victim of a tragedy to the public days after it happened? Good luck with that career choice. OK it might be a way to get a ‘reaction’ but that is not really in the spirit of parody. I would call that something else.
All performers and directors and producers should be able to handle basic comedy. Parody is a great place to start. Skit shows based on simple parody skills have launched the careers of most of the greatest television comedians of our time. It is a genuine career path starter in comedy and at the Australian Performing Arts Conservatory we are all about training that leads to careers.
Get your entertainment career on track sooner rather than later.
Founder – Australian Conservatory of Performing Arts