Humour can be a difficult creature to catalogue, especially when the laughter is at the expense of people, institutions or creative works that would be familiar to the intended audience. While I was writing Dead Heat which, by the way, was my very first attempt at anything that could be vaguely classed as comedy, I had to think long and hard about whether it was a parody, a satire or a spoof and set the tone accordingly.
I had only a vague idea of what the differences were and later found I had been using the words in the right context anyway, and I am sure most people do. Do you know what they are and do you use them in the right context? I considered making this a Wrong Word Wednesday Special, but I have never seen them used wrongly so bang went that idea.
Satire: It must be noted that satire need not necessarily be funny though it will often illicit laughs because of the use of understatement, hyperbole and irony. A satire uses these methods as essential tools to make political points or as social commentary. A great example of this in film is Scream which takes all of the slasher tropes and rubs our noses in them so we can laugh at them while watching a near-conventional slasher film. The point of Scream is to show us the cliches we should already recognise and to use them anyway. Whether we love or hate it, it is an iconic piece of celluloid for bringing to our attention the well-worn cliches of the horror genre.
Parody: A parody chooses a specific work and lampoons it almost to the letter, taking key scenes (often the most iconic) and creating amusing versions that are similar to the original but where the key reason for using it is humour. Where Scream is the satire, Scary Movie is that film’s parody. It takes the backbone of the story and pokes fun at practically every aspect of the source material. It doesn’t always work and later on references other films, but the point of Scary Movie is to lampoon specific works.
Spoof: This is where things get a little blurry because a spoof had elements of both of the above. It is a satire of a genre, but it makes no political or social points. It uses well known tropes purely as plot devices, often making them sillier for the sake of humour in itself rather than to poke fun at any single source. The Airplane and Naked Gun are spoof films. We recognise they are making fun of the genres under which they are classified, but there is no clear or obvious source material and no serious message underlying.