On Writing – Parody, Satire, & Absurdism

It may seem counter-intuitive to put something like comedy into a structure, but the fact of the matter is, there is as much science to good comedy as there is art. The greatest stand up comedians have quick wits and the ability to spontaneously quip and joke, but they are also tireless at rehearsing and practicing their routines so that timing, cadence, wordplay- all of it- is precisely formulated to get the laughs they want.

Patton Oswalt is a great example of this,  there’s a bit where he’s interrupted by a heckler, tears into the guy a bit, continues with the bit where he left off, then proceeds to rip into the heckler even more for ruining the cadence and tone he had built for the joke to really land.

So, what seems like an honest, or genuine moment of revelation is a carefully crafted performance piece, meant to draw in the audience with its tone, pacing, emotionality and then the turn for the punchline to really land.

Obviously, I’m not doing this up on a stage, but there’s a similar intentionality I apply to my comedic writing like Five Talents and Drawful.

Especially within the fantasy-comedy space, I break out my humor and jokes into three points: Parody, Satire, and Absurdism. Part of comedy is surprise, but the other part of it is is a balance between the unexpected but the identifiable.

When I recognize that an element is one of parody, like making fun of tropes of Princes being handsome heroes enthusiastically pursuing a Princess, I make sure the parody is clear. When Prince Chauncey first arrives, I make a point of showing that he looks like a gallant Prince, (the bit about his hair) so that the spin on him being a lazy millennial Prince who just wants to bum around is that much more of a contrast that really (hopefully) sticks. If it does stick, it’s because I’m playing off a general image we can all recall from the general zeitgeist of the Prince rescuing the Princess.

Satire is something that takes the reader’s knowledge of the real world itself into account. In this case, my best example was a joke I reworked into the Princess’ discussion around her father’s kingdom. At first, I had a throwaway line about the Kingdom being the top rated city for raising a family, but decided instead to bring in a real world political topic in the Princess’ admiration for her father’s healthcare system (Kingdom-Care?).

As for the third element, one of my favorite films ever, The Prestige, describes the three acts of a good magic trick: The Pledge (you show the audience an ordinary object, that isn’t ordinary), the Turn (make the ordinary object do something extraordinary), and the Prestige (making something disappear isn’t enough, you have to bring it back). The Prestige is notable for being a very metaphorical take on all performance art, but in the same regard, I try to bring a third element into the mix that is neither Parody nor Satire. Little mixes and dashes of my own absurdity.

Like Drawful living in a house because he needs an oven for baking, or the small coincidence that he and the Princess Brooke take the same improv classes on separate nights. The point is, a lot of this comes out naturally onto the page when I outline and dive into a scene (I’m a bit of a “pantser” in that regard, I start each scene with a goal, and just let my characters patter through to it), but then I go back and examine each element, turn, statement and reveal, and seek out whether they can fit into one of the three frameworks above.

I’m here in front of my metaphorical mirror, taking my jokes and making my routine as tight as possible, and trying to get the laughs from you, and I hope it feels natural and fun when the routine is completely put together.

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