Monday, July 15, 2013

on the difficulty of writing parodies

In a recent post I presented the lyrics (as best as I remember them, anyway) of the one parody song I ever wrote.

I was talking about parodies with a co-worker (whom I will call Aryeh because I feel like it) who thinks writing a song parody is easier than writing an original song. I disagree. Aryeh says that writing a parody provides structure. I think it's more accurate to say that it imposes structure.

A good parody is more than just a song written to the tune of another song. For a parody to be any good, there have to be other elements elements that evoke the original, be they parallel structures or words that sound similar to words in the original -- particularly in the title. Part of what makes Allan Sherman's "Harvey and Sheila," "Won't You Come Home, Disraeli" and "My Zelda" work is that the titles sound similar to "Hava Nagila," "Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey" and "Matilda." And I think the parts that work best in my "Game of Pac Man" parody are the ones that clearly remind the listener of the original song. For example, "And the sign said the score that is highest is written on the Pac Man screen" which is similar to "And the sign said the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls."

But while a good parody should be similar to and evocative of the original, it can't be too similar. If a parody has too few words changed, then there's not enough payoff. I remember once hearing some performer in a comedy club doing what she introduced as a parody of Cyndi Lauper's ""Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." But it just consisted of replacing the word "fun" everytime that title line appeared. The first time it was "Girls just want to have sex." Then "Girls just want to have cock." Then...well, you get the idea. There just asn't enough to make it funny. I suppose if she had ended it with "Girls just want to have a chance to be taken seriously and paid the same as a man would be paid for doing the same job in the same circumstances and with the same experience," then it may have been funny in a kind of anti-funny way.

So it's a tight rope to walk. And it's never been my thing. I much prefer the freedom of writing something original. I can vary the melody as needed, or put in just the right number of verses. And if one verse is shorter, then I have the freedom to be clever with it and just make that part of the song.

But my hat is off to Allan Sherman and Weird Al Yankovic who could write damn good parodies.

I sign off with one video of each.

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