Common Traits of Parodies

Parody is a type of work designed to comment on, trivialize or mock another work by means of comic imitation. As a form of expression, parody is as old as ancient Greek drama, when Aristophanes used the form to poke fun at the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles. Parody, however, is not limited to literature and theater. Parodies also exist in music, film and even commercial advertising. Regardless of the medium, parodies share certain characteristics.


A key trait in parody is imitation of the subject or work being referenced. For a parody to be effective, it must evoke the original work enough for the audience to recognize it, but in such a way that enables the author of performer of the parody to exaggerate the style, tone or other characteristics of the original work, making it appear ridiculous. Miguel Cervantes' novel "Don Quixote" is a classic example of parody, with its satirizing of the style and tone of epic tales, such as Homer's "The Odyssey."

Genre Satire

Some parodies poke fun at broader literary or artistic genres while still referencing specific works. The history of film, for example, contains many instances of comic films that parody entire genres. Filmmaker Mel Brooks, for example, parodied American Westerns in "Blazing Saddles" and Hitchcockian thrillers in "High Anxiety." Both films contain references to specific Westerns and thrillers while simultaneously satirizing the broader genres.

Social and Political Commentary

Many writers, filmmakers and other artists use parody as a form of satire to comment on broader political and social trends. Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" is an example, with Steven Colbert adopting the persona of an bombastic broadcast commentator to parody conservative talking heads such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly. In an earlier example, American columnist and humorist H.L. Mencken lampooned Americans' style of speech by casting the words of the Declaration of Independence in an American vernacular, using such lines as, "When things get so balled up that the people... got to cut loose from some other country."

Expert Insight

John Gross, author of "The Oxford Book of Parodies," wrote that parody exists between pastiche, which adopts another artist's style without satirical motive, and burlesque, which adopts high literature "to low ends." Parody in classical music, for example, adheres closer to pastiche, with various composers, including J.S. Bach, quoting passages from earlier works.

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