Parody

Web of Laughs: Young Frankenstein

Young Frankenstein “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” is one of those clichéd quotes you usually hear from your mom, but also sometimes it’s true in movies. Parody has held a prevalent spot in Hollywood since Abbott and Costello crossovers, but it wasn’t really mastered until Mel Brooks came along and decided to try his hand at several different genres. In 1974, Mel Brooks made Blazing Saddles, which was a parody of western films, then followed it up with Young Frankenstein, Silent Movie, and High Anxiety. Parodies allow you to look at a style or genre from a different viewpoint and often provide commentary on the original by way of comedy. Comedic parodies point out what may be so ridiculous about the original work and take it over the top and add absurdity to it.

Young Frankenstein parodies the 1930’s era horror movies made by Universal, specifically the Frankenstein films. One of the key characteristics to Young Frankenstein that sets it apart from other parodies is way the plot is set up. Instead of just making an exact replica of Frankenstein that uses comedy as commentary, Young Frankenstein continues the storyline that runs through the Frankenstein films and plays out almost like another sequel. In the film, Gene Wilder plays the grandson of the original’s Dr. Frankenstein, but he is embarrassed of his grandfather’s work and reputation. He inherits his grandfather’s castle and then is doomed to repeat the family experiments. Young Frankenstein plays with the relationships in the original films by having the same characters for the most part, but making the characters themselves absurd versions of themselves and changing the nature of the relationships the original established.

Parody films are usually characterized by taking another piece of work and copying some part of it, whether that be the style, relationships, or any other defining characteristic, so closely that it’s obvious where it derives from. The re-working of the style then allows the parody to run amok and have fun with the content. While Young Frankenstein looks like a serious Universal-era horror film in black-and-white, it’s juxtaposed with several jubilant musical moments, such as one where Dr. Frankenstein and The Monster perform the Broadway number,“Puttin’ on the Ritz.”

Parody films have gained in popularity since the 1980s after Mel Brook’s success with his lot. There is a lot of crossover between absurdist comedy and parody, probably because the structure of parody is already set, so the film is really free to do whatever it wants, because its main purpose is to do something different than the original. The Naked Gun is one of the most notable and recognizable parodies that also ventured into the realm of the absurd. Most notably influenced by Young Frankenstein would be the entire Scary Movie franchise, which uses the same formula for parodying horror movies of a certain era, but Scary Movie moves on to more modern horror movies.

While not all parody films are created equal, their box office successes would make the audience believe otherwise. Mel Brooks’ parodies continue to be my favorite of the parody genre, because they work on so many levels. There are plenty of physical gags along with a brilliantly tight script, that like a lot of my favorite absurdist works, I can re-watch endlessly and find new jokes that I never noticed before. It seems that the modern parody has died out a little bit lately, since there hasn’t really been a successful one in a while. Parody can be a difficult genre to succeed in, because since the nature of the genre is essentially reworking something that’s already been done before, it can sometimes feel stale and unoriginal if you don’t nail it. I think that’s been the problem with parody in recent years, they’re almost becoming parodies of parodies instead of relying on quality material. We’ll just have to settle for Scary Movie 26: Electric Boo-galoo until someone steps up.

Jessica Dorrell is a graduate of the DCH improv program, and is currently enrolled in the sketch writing program. Her one wish is that some day she can have a Mogwai as a pet. You can see her perform every Thursday at 9:30 p.m. in the current Ewing show.

What We're Loving: Man-Phone Love, The 1st Amendment, Self-Fulfillment, Reconfigured Shakespeare, and Eternal Presidents

dch_what we're loving_02_14_2014Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week Ashley Bright becomes a better person,  David Allison demands that you drop everything, Julia Cotton ponders what it means to be an adult, Nick Scott suggests a new take on a classic play, and Ryan Callahan takes a trip above the 38th parallel.

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I will admit that before I saw Her, the plot did not at all interest me. But with the lure of an afternoon movie with an old friend and the cushion of the name Spike Jonze, I went to see it. And I'm grateful that I did. Some may call it hyperbole to say things like, "it changed me" or "it made me a better person" to describe a movie experience, and maybe it is. But this movie certainly stuck to my ribs. About halfway through watching it, I thought to myself that it was one of my new favorites. I didn't care about the plot or how it ended; it was beautiful and that was enough. Afterward, I was comforted to hear my friend express all of the goofy thoughts that I was having. We were both in great moods and spouting off nutty phrases like how we felt more alive and refreshed. Her made me think about how I experience the world and the people in it. Our encounters make us who we are. If you're not into gorgeous cinematography or all of the hippy dippy mumbo jumbo I threw up above, there's a sassy video game character that'll make you laugh enough to make watching Her worthwhile. - Ashley Bright

imagesThis past week, you might’ve heard about a stunt in LA known as Dumb Starbucks.  Someone went through and created a carbon copy of a Starbucks, complete with the exact same drinks options, sizing, signage, everything.  The only difference?  They put the word “dumb” in front of every word so that they would be protected under the laws of parody.  It was pretty great. When I first heard about it, I just thought it was a fun idea.  Then, news quickly broke that it was perpetrated by Nathan Fielder.  Fielder was the mastermind of Nathan for You, one of my favorite shows of last year and created Dumb Starbucks for a segment we’ll see in season two.  If you haven’t checked out the first season of Nathan for You, then drop everything you have planned this evening (Unless you’re going to a show at the Dallas Comedy House!) and check it out for free on Comedy Central’s website. Nathan For You takes the standard concept of highlighting a struggling small business and bringing in a savior to fix everything, and puts a comedic twist on it.  Fielder’s ideas are the perfect combination of absurd, but still kinda sorta not bad and his commitment to them is astounding. - David Allison

judd-apatow-hints-at-girls-season-3-renewalContrary to what you may read or hear about HBO’s Girls, it is not a show about Lena Dunham walking around naked in the name of “girl power”. To me, it’s a show about four “girls” trying to understand what it means to be an adult. Lena is indeed sometimes naked, but I never found it an effort to tackle the whole body image issue as much as an artistic way to express the raw vulnerability that comes with youth and inexperience. I relate to this show because, I, even as a 32-year-old mother of two, always feel like I’m trying to know how to be a grown up. I’ve never felt like I’ve ever made the full adult transformation. In this series about early-20-somethings, I see a lot of late-20-early-30-something Julia.

In the pilot, we meet 24-year-old Hannah (Lena Dunham) living the life I assumed I would be living right out of college: NYC apartment with best friend. Internship that will surely lead to the dream career. Frequent sex with a dude who could have sex with ANYONE, but chooses to have sex with me. Parties with a cool friend who has a british accent. You know-- being a young adult. It is also in this pilot, however, that Hannah’s parents hit her with the all too familiar phrase of impetus: “We are cutting you off.” That phrase that makes one realize that all of these years you thought you were ascending towards becoming a human being all on your own, you’ve actually been dangling from an invisible umbilical cord yet to be severed. Sure being able to financially support yourself is the most obvious thing we have to deal with, but adulthood cannot be summed up to paying bills. Throughout the series, we watch Hannah and her friends try to understand what life is when you are in charge of yourself for-realzies. Along the way, they irrationally destroy relationships, fumble with career goals, mishandle health issues, “inappropriately” cope with death, and of course, deal with boys. "Another Man’s Trash" (S2) is probably my favorite episode because Hannah gets a look at what she thought adulthood meant only to realize how much her own self fulfillment is important to her.

In the level 5 class I TA at DCH, a student brought up that he was watching shows and realized that there are seasoned performers who sometimes don’t do all of the things that he’s been taught in class. He then rationalized, “... everyone is always learning, I guess.” There is no true adult transformation that happens. You don’t graduate college and *poof* get, maintain and excel at a job. You don’t have a baby and *poof* know all it takes to be a parent. You don’t go through an improv training program, perform in troupes and *poof* never an improv blunder make. This show presents the idea that the real goal is not simply to be an adult, but more to become a complete person, and that that is an ongoing effort. Perhaps understanding that concept... is what makes you an adult. - Julia Cotton

51zhJDXzNXLThis week I started making plans to see one of my top five favorite authors, Christopher Moore, speak on his new book, The Serpent of Venice, when it releases in April. The Serpent of Venice is the sequel to what is generally agreed as Moore's best work, Fool, which I am making my "What We're Loving" pick for this week. Every other book Moore writes is a work of historical fantasy. He famously filled in the lost years of Jesus Christ's life in Lamb and more recently revealed what was "really" happening behind the scenes in the late 1800's French art scene in Sacre Bleu. With Fool, Moore takes readers in the world of King Lear, Shakespeare's famous king that is slowly losing his mind, and tells the story from the perspective of King Lear's court jester, Pocket. The book is incredibly well-researched, and Moore expertly blends in other Shakespeare stories and characters. The book is Moore firing on all cylinders: historical references, literature references, vivid characters, and emotional core (Pocket is a jester because he had a terrible life), and dick jokes. So many dick jokes. Also, there are fuck-stockings, which were turned into a real-life product for purchase on his website. - Nick Scott 

Pyongyang-CoverI moved this week. One of the many joys of moving from one apartment to a slightly larger apartment in the same complex is rediscovering favorite but forgotten books, or books that I couldn't live without but haven't read, or books that I had no idea that I owned. Okay, packing and unpacking the books was the only joy of moving. Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea is a graphic novel from 2005 by Québécois illustrator Guy Delisle, and one of those favorite but forgotten books. I picked up Pyongyang years ago at Comic-Con, based entirely on its cover and subject matter. I am fascinated by all things North Korean. That that a country that sounds like the home of a supervillian from a rejected Matt Helm script commands so much power on the world stage, that such a county even exists, fills me with a combination of joy and terror. This book came about after Delisle traveled to North Korea to supervise an animation project  for a French television station. From the moment he steps off the plane and into an airport so dark that he can't see his guide's face (there is barely any light in North Korea, and no bulbs over 40 watts,) Delisle is brisked away to "admire" the highest point in the city, a 22 meter bronze statue of Kim il-Sung, Hero of the People, Father of the Nation, and, despite being dead for 20 years,  Eternal President for Life. From there, the absurdities and contradictions pile on for Delisle: the mandatory photos of Kim il-Sung and Kim Jung-il in every room on every floor of every building, the mandatory Kim Il-Sung pins every citizen is required to wear, the inability to go anywhere without a guide or translator, the ban on outsiders taking pictures of garbage, which would damage the image of North Korea as the most beautiful place on Earth. Pyongyang is a perfect example of truth in comedy. Delisle doesn't have to make any wacky choices, or tell silly jokes, or create bizarre situations. He just has to be present and observe.  The book could have easily been preachy or pandering, but Delisle's touch makes the absurdities of life in the most isolated country in the world all the more amusing, and the atrocities and oppression that exist right beneath the surface all the more chilling. - Ryan Callahan