Parody: No Laughing Matter

Have You Ever?

You and your friend Mal are walking downtown when you pass a store that’s playing a new top-charting pop song. It, like many other summer jams, is about a Friday night party that gets out of control. After hearing the song so often on the radio, you can easily recognize the tune and remember the lyrics even though you’re too far away to be able to actually hear the words. 

As a spur of the moment decision, you decide to have a bit of fun and make up new lyrics to the pop song. You sing about two friends wandering aimlessly on a hot Saturday afternoon. When Mal cracks a smile, you resolve to make the story more ridiculous. The two party-searchers don’t understand that “da clubz” won’t open for several hours and insist on “hittin up downtown,” which during the daytime looks more like a ghost town. With the hot summer sun and their lack of forethought, it isn’t long before the two friends pass out from dehydration right outside the establishment they visited the previous Friday night. Recalling the original song’s copious use of autotune, you sing this conclusion as off-key as you can manage. By the time you’re finished, Mal is laughing so hard she insists you stop walking so she can catch her breath.

The Explanation

When you imitated the original summer jam song and sang your own amusing version of it, you created a parody.

Definition of Parody

A parody is a work that aims to poke fun at another work or author. The key to parody is imitation. Parodies always imitate their source material, often done by evoking the original style or themes of the piece. It exaggerates an aspect or idea from the original for comedic and entertaining effect.

The History

The term “parody” comes from the Greek “parōidia,” which translates literally as “parallel to ode” but was functionally defined as “a burlesque poem or song”. Parody was first used in the 1400s to refer to the termination of a period of time. However, this definition fell out of use rather quickly. It wasn’t until the early 1600s that the modern meaning of parody as “a comedic imitation” began appearing. The term gained popularity in the following century and began to be used as a verb in the mid-1700s. By the mid-1800s, parody could also be used to refer to a feeble imitation. While this extended use is not in danger of becoming obsolete, it is not as popular as parody’s meaning as a literary device.

Using It

Wherever comedy can be employed, parody can be found. Any kind of artistic expression, from literature to film to music to painting, can be a parody. People tend to think of parodies as somewhat superficial, and they certainly can be. Many parodic works rely on surface level observations of the original. They use expies in similar situations to highlight comedic points. 

The main function of a parody is to entertain, and this can be accomplished in different ways. Parodies can be done cruelly or lovingly. The best parodies tend to be the latter. After all, parodies assume knowledge of the original material, and if consumers of the original are looking for more material in your parody, odds are they like the source work. Furthermore, parodies that can acknowledge the initial charm of their material tend to put more effort and thought into their imitation. Thus, sometimes these parodies end up becoming as popular if not more so than the work they’re poking fun at. Famous parodies include Gulliver’s Travel, Don Quixote, and Shakespeare’s sonnet 130. 

Parodies don’t have to be long or complex or even good, but that’s no reason to judge every parody as a cheap joke made at someone else’s expense. They can be not only humorous but also thought-provoking. A good parody can become a classic, and a classic will certainly inspire more parodies.

Think Further

  1. What was the last parody work you read or viewed? 
  2. Did it pay any homage to its source material or was no joke off-limits? How did this affect your enjoyment of the parody?
  3. How do you think the original creator feels about the parody work?


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Learn More

  1. Chatman, Seymour. “Parody and Style.” Poetics Today, vol 22, issue 1, 2001, pp. 25-39. Doi: 10.1215/03335372-22-1-25.
  2. Hariman, Robert. “Political Parody and Public Culture.” Quarterly Journal of Speech, vol 94, issue 3, 2008, pp. 247-272. Doi: 10.1080/00335630802210369.
  3. Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-Century Art Forms. University of Illinois Press, 2000. ISBN: 0-252-06938-2.
  4. Lelièvre, F. J. “The Basis of Ancient Parody.” Greece & Rome, vol 1, issue 2, June 1954, pp. 66-81. Doi: 10.1017/S0017383500012407.
  5. Rose, Margaret A. Parody: Ancient, Modern and Post-Modern. Cambridge University Press, 1995. ISBN: 0-51-42924-2.