Parody requires funny, and your sense of humor is the first thing you need to assess before undertaking the task of writing the next big hit.
If you feel confident enough to proceed, these three steps are essential in the creation of any good parody:
Choose a Subject
In order to have a successful parody you must determine what it is you will be writing about. That means choosing a subject that is familiar to audiences.
In the 1960’s, an appropriate parody subject may have been Perry Mason, a show that was very popular and straight-laced. Seeing Perry stumble through witness examinations and call the judge “judgee-wudgee” would have been a curve ball in what audiences had come to expect from the character.
In the seventies, Airplane scored big with audiences and critics alike with its take on the then-popular disaster movie genre. Today, movies such as Date Movie and the Scary Movie franchise have enjoyed their successes at the expense of teen romantic comedies and horror films, respectively.
Build Your Characters
While some of this was touched on in the Perry Mason example above, it deserves further attention. Look at the Mel Brooks film Spaceballs.
Spaceballs was a hit when it first arrived in theaters on June 24, 1987, and it has continued in its popularity over 20 years later. The film endures because it so masterfully spoofs the characters from Star Wars, one of the most successful film franchises of all time.
Dark Helmet, the Darth Vader knockoff, is an evil nerdy dictator. He wears the imposing garb of Vader, but it looks too big on him, and of course, there is the open face in contrast to Vader’s mask.
Because Helmet wears glasses, and he needs to be able to see.
Other familiar characters…Lone Starr, a Luke Skywalker/Han Solo hybrid; Barf, the half-man/half-dog Chewbacca fill-in; Dot Matrix, the dainty C3PO clone; and Princess Vespa, the tough but sexy Princess Leia stand-in.
Each of these characters are familiar enough for audiences to realize their origin in the source material, yet each also possesses exaggerated qualities unexpected enough to induce laughter. Give it a look and take notes on how Brooks dramatizes these qualities.
Exaggerating the Story
Once you’ve chosen a subject that will resonate with your audiences, and you’ve come up with original reinterpretations of familiar characters, turn to the story itself. It’s true that some of the work has already been done for you, but audiences will not be happy with a rehash of the same material.
As with your characters, there must be exaggerated qualities to help your work stand apart while also staying familiar enough to the source material for audiences to connect. In Top Secret, a spoof of hard-nosed war and spy films, one character fires his machine gun wildly into a crowded roomful of Nazis without hitting one of his own men, despite the close proximity.
This is a clever poke at a familiar genre, handled broadly enough that the audience has no trouble getting the joke.
And ultimately, the audience is who you’re writing for. Because if they’re not laughing, it’s not funny; and if it’s not funny, it’s no parody.