Satire, as it exists today in the popular arts, is often held in higher regard than parody. Satire exists as a social mechanism; it should be funny, but it should also make one think. Parody, on the other hand, seeks only to poke fun, to take something well-known within a culture and, basically, goof on it.
In the world of film, for example, we have the genre parodies of the Zucker brothers—Airplane!, Top Secret!, The Naked Gun—and their heirs apparent, the Scary Movie franchise and its attendant spin-offs. The humor in these films is generally broad, and it calls upon the viewer’s knowledge of many specific cultural referents, which is something this writer likes to think of as the “humor of recognition”: the viewer catches the reference, says to him or herself, “Oh yeah, I know that song/movie/TV show,” and laughs accordingly. There is not much more to it than that, really, and so parody is often considered easier to achieve and thereby less fulfilling—the sloppier, lazier cousin of satire.
But to distance these two forms is to ignore how well they can play off of each other. The below video clip is from the HBO comedy series Mr. Show, which aired from 1995 until 1998. The sketch is an obvious send-up of the famous Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night, and the stars of Mr. Show, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, mug it up for the camera, utilizing the same sort of silliness and stop-motion effects director Richard Lester utilized in the original film in 1964. The accompanying song is an ultra-simplified parody of the already simple early Beatles’ style, the only lyric being, “Yeah, yeah, yeah!”
A fairly simple parody indeed, and not an unsuccessful one. But without this parodic groundwork, the satiric twist to the sketch would be much less resonant. In the original film, the Fab Four are chased through the streets of Liverpool by legions of adoring teenage girls. Bob and David, on the other hand, are being chased by a band of angry militant feminists, enraged by the sexism depicted on the show. So here we have a bare-bones Beatles parody neatly entwined with a satirical comment on the cult of celebrity and how fine a line there is between adoration and abhorrence.
Parody and satire: working hand in hand to produce comedy gold.