Parody. Lampoon. Satire. Poking fun. Whatever you call it, we all like to see the good name of a brand or genre pointed and laughed it, even if we're a fan of the straight genre itself.
And yet while we all love a good parody, it's probably the type of movie with the worst good-movie to bad-movie ratio. For every Naked Gun or Airplane you have half a dozen Scary Movies (excepting the first one). We all know a bad parody when we see one, and yet what separates these from the good parodies? Is it just a case of 'not being funny' or is there something more going on here? To dig deeper, we a prime example of the parody genre. And what better than Deadpool?
Now before you jump down my throat and remind me that no, Deadpool isn't a parody movie, that's it's a proper superhero move and Deadpool is just self-aware, yes I totally get where you're coming from, but if you look at the definition of a parody - that it is 'a humorous or satirical imitation of a serious piece of literature or writing' - then we find that yes, Deadpool falls well within those parameters. And let's be honest here Deadpool fans, I think we all know how Deadpool would feel about pedantic definitions!
Besides, Deadpool has all the hallmarks of a good parody. Of course it's funny, but why is it funny? A great deal of the humor wouldn't have been half as effective if Deadpool had been released ten or even five years ago. It needed that (pardon the pun) deep pool of existing Superhero genre movies to draw upon, as well as enough source material of the tropes and cliches of that genre that, by sheer mass of the number of Marvel and D.C. Movies out these days, are already beginning to smell stale, making them ripe for mockery. Deadpool's remark about how there were so few X-Men in the movie because the studio couldn't afford it wouldn't have worked as a joke if it had been released in 2006, when the Marvel Expanded Universe was but a twinkle in Stan Lee's eye.
This is also true of the original Scary Movie, which came out when the 90s teen slasher-horror movies like Scream were at their peak. Same with Naked Gun in answer to the buddy cop shows of the 80s.
But what makes these moves work? What sets them apart from bad parodies like, say, Epic Movie? A parody's ultimate goal is to make you laugh, right? Well...yes and no. I'd argue that while a bad parody just aims for laughs, a good parody not only makes you laugh but also think. Good parodies are smart. Bad parodies feel kitschy and cheap, not because of lack of budget but because it seems to aim lower than the movie it is attempting to make fun of. Gags that work less like tweezers as it picks apart the genre and more like a mallet filled with cream pies.
Put it this way: a parody is like observational humor. It points out the mundane tropes of the everyday, with a slight twist for humorous effect. A good comedian will offer a fresh slant on the observation, maybe subvert it so you don't know where it's going, or point out a tiny little observation that you think is so niche you swore it was only you who thought that way until you hear a stadium of 50,000 other people roar at the same joke. A bad comedian just regurgitates that everyday trope, spun nothing more than adding a funny voice or over-the top gestures. And it's on an observation we all know and heard a hundred better jokes about it before. And when that bad comedian gets a poor response he'll repeat the joke again, louder and with more exaggeration.
Parody movies work that way, and the very best of them don't just make you laugh, but surprise you, and make you think "that's a good point, I've never noticed that!" In that sense the good parody outwits the thing it is trying to mock, pointing out the not-so-obvious tropes as much as the obvious. I mean, how many of us ever considered the concept of the 'superhero landing' before Deadpool mentioned it?
But most of all, Deadpool works because it tells a proper story. This is at the heart of all successful parodies. Think about it: all the weak parody movies out there eschew the plot for just riffing on the tropes, while the vague ghost of a plot sulks around the edges. Having a solid structure of a story in a parody allows the humor to bounce off of something first hand, giving the joke a foundation so it is clear exactly what it is lampooning. This is why Deadpool very deliberately tells a rather basic origin story: if it tried to do something overly complex or original then the material wouldn't be there for the parodying of the superhero genre. Having a thin plot or no plot at all would make it the film equivalent of a blooper reel: funny, but weightless and quickly growing tiresome.
Successful parodies like Deadpool may look effortless in execution and freewheeling in attitude but make no mistake, more thought goes into them than the movies they poke fun at. And that's something all creators of parody and satire should heed lest they become the butt of the joke.
Off the Shelf
Here I share my ideas, musings and advice on the writing process. I also analyse some of my own writing for examples to show how I work.
Here I will show off of some of my favorite good and great stories, gushing lovingly over why I adore them and why you should too. I will also show you the other side of the spectrum: bad examples of stories and what we can learn from them.