The Difference Between Parody and Spoof
It’s quite alarming how often people confuse a parody with a spoof, and vice versa. Every so often, some may even make the mistake of conflating the two by assuming they are the same thing. Well, let me be the bearer of bad news—parodies and spoofs are not identical and they should be distinguished. It’s high time it was pointed out the difference between parody and spoof so people can learn to tell them apart.
What is Parody?
If a book, film or TV show mocks a specific piece of work by imitation, or by humorously deriding a particular writer’s style and exaggerating their use of language, it is a parody. Parodies more than always take a direct kind of source material as its inspiration, for example in how Michael Gerber’s Barry Trotter series took on JK Rowling’s Harry Potter saga. A good parody should make itself easy to identify what it is trying to mock.
Parodies evoke humour by seeking recognisable works of fiction and deliberately subverting their original intent by means of irony and exaggeration. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was subjected to parody in Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. We can therefore see how infusing absurdity into its staid source material allows the writer to explore it in a humorous way.
We have also seen Enid Blyton’s Famous Five parodied in Ladybird’s recent series of books, such as Five on Brexit Island and Five Go Gluten Free. Not to mention the endless slew of much-deserved EL James parodies following the success of Fifty Shades of Grey. In short, if a work of humorous fiction strongly reminds you of something else, or another writer, then it is likely to be a parody—ultimately, it’s a weapon writers use to make its target more explicit.
What is Spoof?
A spoof is a work of humorous fiction which focuses on specific genre conventions and exaggerates them for comic effect. A good spoof should concern itself less with parodying anything specific or identifiable, focusing instead on taking noticeable generic hallmarks and poking fun at them. In this sense, Douglas Adams’ The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy spoofed science fiction tropes without becoming a carbon copy of its sci-fi antecedents. It became its own story.
Spoofs have been given a bad name because writers seem to forget how unbeholden they should be to the seminal works of fiction which characterise the genres they’re spoofing. The Scary Movie film franchise may seem like a horror genre spoof (which it is), but given that it jam-packs movie references and parodies into every scene as part of its story, it’s no wonder people get confused. The best spoofs should focus themselves on the bigger picture by focusing on genre convention rather than diegesis.
You can see this in how Malcolm Pryce’s Aberystwyth Noir novels spoof the hard-boiled detective genre, but avoids the need for Pryce’s parodic tendencies to become central to the plot. Any use of parody should merely be incidental. Notably, Terry Pratchett’s first two books in his Discworld series—The Colour Of Magic and The Light Fantastic—started off spoofing the early-’80s swords and sorcery fantasy genre, before he grew to become a far more ambitious satirist in his own right. In short, a spoof finds humour by satirising a specific genre through exaggeration and irony—it can, of course, have parodic elements, but these should be secondary to its overall objective of picking apart genre conventions and making you laugh.
Hopefully these definitions will help you to discern the difference between parody and spoof. Admittedly, there are some similarities between them in that they are analogous, so this may be why some people refer to them in the same breath. In some instances, after all, a spoof can contain multiple parodies as part of its story. However, the best way to distinguish them is to remember that a spoof is not limited to mimicking a specific text or person, whereas a parody most certainly is. If you keep this in mind, it will change the way you look at comedy in general.
© 2018 Luke Edley
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Humorous fiction writer, poet and novelist. Fond of satire. Interested in comic novels, black comedy and tales of satirical derring-do.