Homage or Theft?

24 08 2009

“He who is most creative conceals his sources the best.” – Anonymous

As I continue to write for Transylvania Television I’ve run into the problem of homage. The whole underlying twist of the show is that these monsters can reanimate dead TV shows and movies. Hell, the whole show is an homage to other great shows like News Radio, WKRP, and SCTV (and to a lesser extend The Muppet Show and Mystery Science Theater 3000).

The show is spoof. It’s parody. It’s homage.

But at what point is a writer just plain stealing from someone else?

I don’t mean line-by-line plagerism, of course, but if I was to parody The Deadliest Warrior, for instance (which is tits, by the way) and turn it into The Deadliest Monster, how do I keep it homage.

It’s all parody, I think, on a technical level. Search for Deadliest Warrior on YouTube and you’ll see a lot of riffs on it. People like these guys.

I suppose some would say it’s a parody if it’s funny, but I don’t think that’s always the case. First of all, funny is subjective. And second, sometimes parodies are so straight-faced and in character, just by playing it right down the middle, you get parody gold. This is sort of the Andy Kauffman approach to parody. Be one thing–something that’s not in and of itself funny–but do it so balls-out that it just magically becomes parody to people who realize (or at least believe) that it’s a parody. It’s strange, but I wonder if you could take someone who didn’t know who the president was, and you played them one of Obama’s speeches, or Bush’s speeches, with all their mannerisms and quirks, and you told them it was a parody, would they think it was hilarious?

I tend to think they would. Things become funny when people expect them to be funny. It’s a state of mind.

That’s all well and good, but getting back to the topic, does one ever cross the line into theft. Or, if not theft, creative laziness? I think there is a line, and it’s a good writer’s job to know when he’s crossed it.

Some of it is about frequency. How often are you leaning on other people’s humor as oppossed to your own?

Some of it is about motive. Are you doing this because it makes you laugh, or because you think it will be entertaining?

There’s a certain purity that comes with comedy, and is why it can’t be written by people without a sense of humor. Of course, there are other reasons that people without a sense of humor can’t write comedy. Mostly, it’s because they’re not funny.

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