Is Parody Dead?
May 8, 2013
(Shortened version of the opening)
NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic, I remember it so you don't have to. Well, I think since this last weekend we all know what the big blockbuster to beat this year is. (voice turns sarcastic) That's right, Scary Movie 5.
(Clips from said film are shown)
NC (vo): The fifth in the record-breaking saga that seems to bring in less and less money every single time one's released.
NC: Wait a minute, how can that be when other spoof movies have been doing so well? Like...
(Posters of the following movies are shown...)
NC (vo): ...Haunted House, and Vampires Suck, and Stan Helsing, and–
NC: By God! What the hell happened? What the hell happened to good spoof movies?!
(Clips from Spaceballs, Airplane, and Hot Shots are shown)
NC (vo): Some of our best jokes, satires, and even characters used to go into them.
(Cut to a shot of Mel Brooks)
NC (vo): Even legendary comedian Mel Brooks made some of his biggest hits with spoof movies.
(Clips of more spoof movies are shown)
NC (vo): But now, it seems like every time someone even hears the words "spoof", "satire", or "parody", the first thing that pops into their heads aren't classics like Airplane or Spaceballs. It's films that have almost become bad words like Epic Movie or Meet the Spartans.
NC: (resignedly) Which is why I have to ask the painfully sad question... is parody dead?
NC (vo): It certainly seems that way. I'm noticing more and more that when people even see parodies attempted, there's this big resistance to them, like they're afraid all the satirist is going to do is just make references to other things and not actually do anything comedic with it; just make the reference.
NC: So, I guess the best way to understand faults in parodies nowadays is to take a good close look at what exactly they're doing wrong.
NC (vo): What makes films like Hot Shots or Robin Hood: Men in Tights work, and a film like Disaster Movie or Dance Flick not.
(Cut to a clip of Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator)
NC (vo): There have certainly been satires of film in the past, dating all the way back to Chaplin days, if not further.
(Cut first to the poster for Young Frankenstein and then to clips of that movie)
NC (vo): But the first movie specifically to satirize one film throughout most of it and created the spoof formula we're all most familiar with, is Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein.
Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder): That's "Fronkensteen".
NC (vo): The comedy came from the idea of taking something that was so massive, so scary, and so dramatic, but instead looking at it from a different point of view, that asked: "What if the little mistakes and funny flaws of humanity were much more prominent in the story?" "What if the blind man made a few accidents during his scene?" "What if Igor was in such denial he didn't even know that he had a hump?" These are ideas that all stem from the original source material, but instead gave them a comedic edge.
(Cut to footage of films by Jim Abrams and the Zucker Brothers)
NC (vo): Other filmmakers would take their shot at doing feature length spoofs as well. The Zucker Brothers and Jim Abrams were following suit, satirizing Airport with Airplane, Top Gun with Hot Shots, Rambo with Hot Shots: Part Deux, and so forth. All these movies were big hits, and it seemed like parodies were only coming out bigger, funnier and faster. But maybe they were starting to come out too fast. When the movie Spy Hard came out, less qualified filmmakers suddenly realized how easy it is to make a parody look funny, even if the humor was lacking. Let's see: here's some slapstick, a few puns...
Miss Cheevus (Marcia Gay Harden): (pointing a gun at Dick Steele's head) You're going to look like Swiss cheese when they find you.
Dick Steele (Leslie Nielsen): That's no Gouda.
NC (vo): ...scenes in this movie that look like other scenes from movies, and, of course, a touch of gross-out humor. There also seemed to be an emphasis on shoving as many movie parodies as possible. Not because they had anything clever to say about it, or do with the material, but because... "Hey, if Hot Shots just satirized one movie, imagine what a flick satirizing tons of movies can do!"
NC: Well, I'll tell you exactly what it can do: it can be a piece of shit.
NC (vo): Becoming too crowded and too unfocused. And you put less time into creating good jokes and characters, and instead try to make more time cramming in as many movie references as you can. But the advertising seemed to work. People went to this movie because they thought it was done by the people who did Hot Shots and Naked Gun, but when they got in, they were sadly disappointed. But... (scoffs) who cares? This was new Hollywood! Once they had your ticket that opening weekend, nothing else mattered. That's the way things are done now! So they didn't need a movie to actually be funny, they just needed it to look funny.
(Showcase of posters: Repossessed, The Silence of the Hams, Wrongfully Accused, and 2001: A Space Travesty)
NC (vo): Because of this, incredibly low-grade parodies were made, as fast as possible and as cheap as possible, hopefully fooling you into thinking you were seeing material from the great spoof masters.
(Cut to clips from High School High and Jane Austen's Mafia)
NC (vo): And to make things worse, even the great spoof masters were starting to lose their touch. The Zuckers-Abrams team split up, and they all went on their separate ways to do their own parodies. And all of them were slow, lame, and pretty weak.
(Cut to footage of Dracula: Dead and Loving It)
NC (vo): Even Mel Brooks seemed to be slowing down with a really awkward satire of the Dracula movies. And yeah, none of these were doing Leslie Nielsen any favors either. So, for a while, the movie parody seemed to slowly be dying, with nobody trying to do anything new or inventive.
(Cut to footage of Scary Movie)
NC (vo): That is, until Keenen Ivory Wayans came along to direct Scary Movie. A very specific kind of satire, as it didn't just make fun of scary films as a genre, it made fun of scary films of only the past few years. So it didn't wait to see if these movies would withstand the passage of time and therefore be worth satirizing. They instead took the zeitgeist route and mocked whatever was popular at the time.
Cindy Campbell (Anna Faris): What are you waiting for, huh? WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!
NC (vo): Yeah, how many people under 25 even remember what that's satirizing?
NC: It also was, shall we say, a bit more obvious with its humor.
NC (vo): If there was a character they thought was dumb from another movie, they'd make him a retard in this version! And it didn't hint that a movie character was going to make the wrong move, they literally put up signs saying that they've made the wrong move. And the gross-out humor wasn't just over the top, it was off the fucking hook!
Bobby Prinze (Jon Abrams): SHIT!!!
(Cindy is launched into the air after a sexual climax as "Censored" bar censors the rest of the scene)
NC: (smiling) God, that's disgusting.
NC (vo): And it was a monster hit. Suddenly, flicks like Airplane and Spaceballs weren't the films to mimic anymore. It was Scary Movie. And the irony was that the film everyone thought would save parody flicks actually made the situation worse. That's right, hastily-rushed knockoff after hastily-rushed knockoff soon followed. And if Scary Movie did obvious humor, well, logically, theirs would have to be more obvious to be even more outrageous. So much so, that even Scary Movie hastily shoved out a lame-ass knockoff with its own sequel. And just like everyone was doing, it was even more obvious and more gross.
(Cut to footage of "the X movie" genre)
NC (vo): Thus, this gave birth to the new norm of God-awful entertainment, usually referred to as the "Movie movie". The film series that focused on satirizing not a film series or even really a genre of film, but just whatever's popular at the time, more concerned about getting the movie out fast than getting it out smart or good. Films like Epic Movie, Disaster Movie, Date Movie, all trying to simulate the Scary Movie formula, mixing what's popular with what's totally disgusting. There were rumors that the makers of these films didn't even see the films that they were mocking. They just saw early production pictures from the set and shouted, "Make it look like that!" And you know what? I really wouldn't be shocked if that was the truth. The need for their movie to put in references to other movies got so bad that they didn't even need to have anything in common with it.
(Cut to footage of Meet the Spartans)
NC (vo): I shit you not: Meet the Spartans combines 300 and Meet the Parents! What the fuck do those two things have in common?!
NC: Again, the zeitgeist must flow!
NC (vo): Now, there's nothing wrong with cashing in on the zeitgeist every once in awhile, but when you make it your main focus and try to work it into every single solitary thing you create, you get....
(TMZ, which NC gives the middle finger)
NC (vo): Now, granted, none of these movies were as big a hit as Scary Movie or the Hot Shot films, but obviously, there must be an audience for them if they keep getting made. So why are there still people continuing to be duped? Well, you know the phrase "A sucker's born every minute"? There's a lot of truth to that. There's always somebody who's going to come across a spoof film for the first time and like the idea that something that they enjoyed is being satirized. So, the more references to other films a parody can fit in; the more likely you are to connect with something you recognize, and therefore will possibly go see it. And the spoof movies now are so easy and so fast to make because of that reason that there's no point to try and make a film that's funny, or even a big hit. All it has to do is make enough to be a profit. And as long as there's dumbasses out there saying, "Ooh, I recognize that! They're going to make fun of something I like, and do it in a clever way!", they will always be putting no effort into them. What spoof films nowadays are missing is that the humor doesn't come from just turning something popular into something silly, or...blindly making references.
(Cut to footage of Airplane)
NC (vo): It comes from a very focused and smart analysis of why we like what we like, and ultimately making fun of it.
(Cut to footage of Young Frankenstein)
NC (vo): The jokes in Young Frankenstein work because it tries hard to create the environment and atmosphere the original Frankenstein created. That way, scenes like the blind man work because you recognize and feel the weight of the original. And the contrast of putting something as silly as lighting his finger on fire is now hilarious because it makes you realize how funny it would be if that did happen in the original. On top of that, I would argue that many of them created funny characters.
(Cut to footage of Spaceballs)
NC (vo): Spaceballs doesn't work because it's just acknowledging Star Wars existed. It works because an intimidating strategist is now replaced with a pathetic dweeb in the same role. James Earl Jones being switched out with Rick Moranis, both given the same amount of power and supposedly fear, is what makes so much of this film so funny. As well as the other timeless characters that this satire created.
(Cut to footage of the Looney Tunes cartoon What's Opera, Doc?)
NC (vo): Even the Warner Brothers cartoons figured this out. In What's Opera, Doc?, the weight and genius of Wagner's music is still there, but it's made funny when the main characters are replaced with Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. It's the contrast of character and situation that makes it humorous, not acknowledging something that's popular is still popular.
(Cut to footage of Weird Al Yankovic's "Eat It" video, parodying Michael Jackson's "Beat It")
NC (vo): Weird Al Yankovic has made a living, inserting himself into some iconic roles. And the closer he can mimic the size and scope of what you enjoy so much, the funnier he can make it when he reduces something so serious to something so not serious, like food.
Weird Al: (singing) Eat it / Eat it...
NC (vo): Good parody comes from a true understanding of what you're satirizing, capturing its strengths while playfully acknowledging its flaws. And you can't do that if your concern is squeezing in reference after reference. Because you don't have time to let the environment or the characters you create and/or mock sink in. So, with such an emphasis on getting people in theater seats and... nothing else, is parody truly dead?
NC: Not necessarily. It may be dead in theaters for the time, but it is still alive and well online.
NC (vo): Comedic groups like College Humor, How It Should Have Ended, Animation Domination High Def, Funny or Die, these are all great satirists, who know how to quickly establish the tone of what they're satirizing, make clever jokes about it, and keep it focused. In just a few minutes, they set up the environment and characters, so that they instantly are recognizable, and know what elements to move around or switch out, in order for it to be funny.
(Cut to a montage of programming on Comedy Central, which the NC talks about)
NC (vo): On top of that, there's also good satire on TV. Comedy Central still brings us their fake news with The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert, and, of course, South Park always knows the best way to mock everything, whether it be movies or anything else in media.
(Cut to footage of the Onion news site)
NC (vo): And how about The Onion? They're still funny as hell and going strong, in papers, online, and in video form.
(A parody film is shown, before cutting to parody online and on TV)
NC (vo): So, while it does look like good parody in movies is down and out for awhile, I don't think parody will ever truly die. It just takes on different shapes and different art forms.
NC: And while I do miss looking forward to cinematic greats like....
NC (vo): ...Airplane or Spaceballs, there's still new satires being made, and many of them are just as funny. Because for every person who just wants to use comedy as a means to make a quick buck, there's hundreds more out there who know good humor, and more importantly, how to display it. And for those who still think something like Epic Movie is along the same lines as Young Frankenstein...
(The picture of a business suit smiling and counting the money is shown briefly)
NC (vo): ...you will always be a prime example of someone who will never get the joke.
NC: I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to.
(He gets up and leaves. The credits roll)