The Style Conversational
The Style Conversational
Loser-friendly discussion with The Empress of The Style Invitational

Week 982: Are you ready to parody? If not, add it to the list of annoyances.

By the E, Pat Myers

I lurrrrve good song parodies, ever since I learned all the words to the ones by Frank Jacobs in Mad Magazine when I was in elementary school in the 1960s. It was one of the first recurring genres I added to the Invitational after deposing the Czar, who still has no interest in them.

Since Week 585, when we had songs about politics (around the time of the 2004 election) set to Christmas carols, we’ve had parody contests including (but probably also other than):
— Songs about arcane topics we supplied, such as “sea urchin sushi” (Week 636)
— More Virginia-appropriate lyrics for “Shenandoah,” which was being considered as the new state song (it never was adopted) (Week 649)
— Jingles for a company or organization, set to a Beatles song (Week 681)
— “Carols” for holidays other than Christmas or Hanukkah (Week 737)
— Songs relating to the 2008 campaign (Week 785)
— Lyrics for music that had no lyrics (Week 825)
— Songs about the BP spill or other natural disasters (Week 876)
— Lyrics set to “The Star-Spangled Banner (Week 922)
— Songs describing TV shows, a la the theme songs for “The Beverly Hillbillies” or “The Brady Bunch” (Week 929)

EVERY one of these contests yielded a number of classic Invitational entries. While some veteran Losers really have detested the Invite song parody contests — Biggest Loser Ever Russell Beland used to complain bitterly of my incompetence in judging them, even though he got a fair amount of ink himself — for others, it’s the high point of the Loser year. Barbara Sarshik, who enters the parody contests almost exclusively, and a number of other Losers would probably count parodies among their very best Invite work: among them (I know I’m forgetting people — forgive me) Chris Doyle, Mae Scanlan, Beverley Sharp, Brendan Beary, Kathy Hardis Fraeman, Phyllis Reinhard, Nan Reiner, Barry Koch and our newest phenom, 20-year-old Matt Monitto, who suggested this week's contest.

Song parodies that work on the page as text — without the help given by the vowel-bending and rhythm-pulling that a voice and a band can supply — have to rhyme very well, often even better than the original (but always at least as well). They also, as humor, can’t fill up the page with a refrain that doesn’t build to a strong ending, as could, say, a song by Weird Al Yankovic; it comes of as anticlimactic, a letdown, if there’s no punch line.

Lyrics that play on the original lyrics are often especially witty, but it’s not a requirement. With this week’s contest — in which you’re including an actual line of the original — it might be useful to take a different angle entirely. Let’s say you use the first line of “Surrey With the Fringe on Top” from “Oklahoma!,” “Chicks and ducks and geese better scurry”: You could play on the original by making it about, say, a Hummer rather than the original horse-and-buggy, but you could also make it about hunting or pollution.

In recent years, since I’ve been able in the online Invite to include a YouTube link to the original song, I’ve felt more comfortable running parodies of lesser-known songs, since people can hear the melodies as they read the lyrics. (Face it, song lyrics without a tune to “hear” them to aren’t much fun.) But obviously, we can’t supply music for the readers of the print Invite in the Sunday Style section, and so the dozen or so songs I pick for the print page are almost always very widely known — children’s songs, patriotic songs, holiday songs, pop songs of the past 40 years or so, and what I hope are the most familiar show tunes. Fortunately, the Empress is so benevolent that she permits you to submit a healthy mix of 25 warhorses and possibly more interesting songs. I love to post a wide variety.

Feel free to submit a video along with your entry; I’ll link to it if I think it’s great. Just post it on YouTube — click on Edit and change the privacy setting to Unlisted, then send me the link until I post the results, at which time you can change it back to Public ). The only problem is that sometimes the entries get tweaked a bit; the parody contest is one when I sometimes get back to the entrant to work out a little problem. Also, if you’re posting your lyrics within the video, spell them correctly! And that means you, [person who didn’t last time]..

More questions? Post them on the Style Invitational Devotees page on Facebook and I’ll see them fastest and the most people will see my response; you can also post them here in the comments field below.


In a total contrast with Week 982 — what I call a “craft” contest — was our challenge for novel ideas of “how to tick people off”: a kind of what Big-Time Loser David Genser calls a “ba-da-bing” contest, a chance to post laugh-out-loud observational humor by naturally funny people. Subjectivity is a much greater factor in a joke contest; whether a particular situation resonates with you and makes you laugh depends a lot on your own life and experiences; it's not a case of scan or rhyme or ingenious wordplay, in which some entries are simply more accomplished than others.

Still, believe me, be glad the Invite isn’t a democracy — you wouldn’t have wanted to slog through the 1,000-plus entries of practical jokes, weird personal behavior, and screeds against the irritating Mitt Romney or Barack Obama. Trust me: The 30 or so entries I’m sharing with you are way funnier than the vast majority of what I read.

Not surprisingly, a number of entrants sent in anecdotes about irritating things that people have done to them. Rather more surprisingly, some entrants seemingly proudly shared irritating things they have done to other people; “I guess I’m one of the mean girls,” one entrant piped up, then proceeded to list “If someone calls your house and it is a wrong number, start sobbing and tell them the person they were calling died tragically,” and “Compose a really mean e-mail about someone and ‘accidentally’ send it to them.” Ha ha ha, I’m busting a gut here.

I did have to undergo gut reconstruction, though, with this week’s winners (and Losers). John Shea captured zingily the excruciating irritation of the sanctimonious co-worker combined with the twinge of guilt for saying something that unintentionally deeply offends someone. It’s John’s 53rd blot of ink — and his first Inkin’ Memorial to add to four Inkers. John, who’s been threatening for several years to come down from Philadelphia and meet the Losers, almost made it to this year’s Flushies “banquet” but had a last-minute work conflict. We’re still waiting, John.

I got a second laugh-out-loud moment from the second-place entry when I discovered that it was by Dion Black, the beloved/notorious griper/bragger/arguer/pseudo-naif who was a leading light of the Style Invitational Devotees page on Facebook, before he withdrew and then joined again under a pseudonym (I don’t know which one). Dion, who is a genuinely funny guy, is on record as having actually given his wife — the adorable and very petite Jen — a present of a pair of athletic shoes that promised to tone the butt. But I’m suuuuure he would never have been so boorish to do this cup move to her. It’s Dion’s 45th (and 46th) blots of ink, and his sixth “above the fold.”

Their choices of mug, T-shirt or Grossery Bag go to Amanda Yanovitch, mother of three young boys and evidently someone who thinks of ways to drive HERSELF crazy, and to the abovementioned ba-da-bingster David Genser. Amanda’s a relative newbie, and this week she gets her 31st ink blot and second above the fold; while David is a veritable vat of Invite ink. Since he moved from Virginia to California just before I became acquainted with the Loser Community, I’m especially looking forward to meeting him on Sept. 23 when we’re scheduling a special Loser brunch.

I’m afraid that I didn’t note anything in Week 979 that was really hilariously unprintable, or at least unprintably hilarious. And Sunday Style Editor Lynn Medford hasn’t HAWed at me yet with her personal faves. I’ll share it on the Devotees page when she does.

Read what others are saying