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How to Write a Funny Song Parody: Ideas for for the Poetically Challenged

Updated on December 27, 2012

Ok, so I have never written a song in my life before about two weeks ago. I freely admit to being the last person you should ask about how to write a song. I did, however, have a flash of inspiration and ended up writing some pretty funny lyrics so I thought I’d pass along what I’ve learned to you, my devoted following (smile).

Anyway, two seemingly random events spurred the flash of inspiration that caused me to write a super-awesome song spoof. First, when the people of Libya decided to be Egypt wannabes and throw off the shackles of their WAY WORSE dictator, my husband and I, as is our way, discussed it with an intensity and for a length of time that would drive normal folks to run screaming from our presence. Our conversation finally devolved into guffaws and giggles as we noted that there seems to be no consensus on how to spell the name of the Libyan dictator in question. This was one of our funnier conversations, and one that stood out in my mind.

Very soon after that, in the same day, I think, a friend on Facebook made a comment about the same thing. I jokingly commented that somebody should do a song: “Fifty Ways to spell Qaddafi.” So I did it, myself. Here’s how you can do it too. For a treat, maybe I’ll put the whole song at the bottom of this article.

First, recognize serendipity when it happens. Did someone say something funny about a current event? Did you notice some funny coincidence between someone or something famous and a popular song?

Second, do not discount any ideas you may have. When I came up with my admittedly preposterous idea, I could have just said “Naaahhh…It’s a waste of my time.” No idea is a waste of time if it can possibly lead to something good.

Third, write those ideas down ASAP! If you come up with a few great lines, don’t trust yourself to remember them for any length of time. Find a pen and paper, get to a computer, put it into a text message to yourself. However you do it, record your ideas. You’ll kick yourself if you came up with a great idea, then forgot it.

Once you know which tune you will use (mine was “Fifty Ways to Leave your Lover” by Paul Simon), explore the structural themes of the song. In the Paul Simon song, the “fifty ways” were all paired with rhyming men’s names (just slip out the back, Jack). I did the same with all of the letters that could be used to spell Qaddafi (Just start with a Q, Lou). This is an important pattern that makes the song memorable, and without it you really don’t have a spoof. Find those recognizable patterns in the song you’re spoofing.

Next, try to echo the wording of some of the verses of the song. For instance, there is a line that features a request made by a character that involves both characters in the song: “She said why don’t we BOTH just sleep on it tonight” becomes, in my spoof, “I said let’s BOTH sit down and think of all the ways.” This way, the spoof verse reminds listeners of the corresponding verse in the real song.

Make very judicious use of actual snippets of lines from the original song. Use them only when they are applicable to the topic of the spoof. For instance, I turned the line “but I’ll repeat myself, at the risk of being rude” to “but I’ll repeat myself, and you’d better listen dude.” Do this sparingly! If you don’t, it becomes too close to the original song, and is not all that funny. Do not use entire verses…that will put you in dangerous copyright territory, my friend!

Basically, what you want to do is evoke the original song while making it clear that this is NOT the original song. That sounds confusing, but if you stick to the structure and allude to the wording (meaning that you shouldn’t copy it) you will have good parody.

Don’t forget the rhymes! A good parody will have roughly the same rhyming structure as the original song. This doesn’t mean you have to have a degree in iambic pentameter or anything like that, just that it’s nice to have verses that rhyme and go well with the tune. Do not obsess on this too much however. You can mix up the rhyme structure if it makes for a funny verse.

Run it by friends. See if they laugh. Ask for suggestions for improvement. Enjoy all of the admiration you’ll get from friends who didn’t think you had it in you!

DISCLAIMER! I am not a lawyer. Do not construe anything I say to be legal advice. While song parodies are generally protected from copyright by the Fair Use Doctrine, don’t assume that yours is. Do your homework and make sure yours is legit before performing it publicly.

And now…here’s my awesome song parody!

“Fifty Ways to Spell Qaddafi”

I saw a news reporter wand'ring around town.

I asked him what sad state had gotten him so down.

He said "I have to write a piece on that Qadaffi clown.

There must be fifty ways to spell Khadafy. "

Just start with a Q, Lou,

Or tack on a K, Ray,

Forget 'bout the B Lee

But you can use E.

Use more than one F, Jeff.

Use a Y or an I, Cy

Don't leave out the A, Jay

There's two As in play.

I said you know it’s not my habit to intrude

And I don't want to LOL and thus be rude,

But I'll repeat myself,

And you'd better listen dude,

There must be fifty ways to spell Ghadafie .

There must be fifty ways to spell khaddaffeeee...

Just start with a Q, Lou,

Or tack on a K, Ray,

Forget 'bout the B Lee

But you can use E.

Use more than one F, Jeff.

Use a Y or an I, Cy

Don't leave out the A, Jay

There's two As in play.

He looked at me as if I'd just flown in from Mars

But then he realized my words would take him far.

He said "I appreciate that. But could you tell me more

About the fifty ways?"

I said it grieves me so to see you so confused.

Although I must admit I'm just a bit amused.

I wish there was something I could do

To help you spell it well.

There must be fifty ways to spell Gadaffy.

I said let's both sit down and think of all the ways.

He said "But that would take, oh, six or seven days."

And I said, probably, but you know what Simon says...

There must be fifty ways to spell Gaddafi.

Fifty ways to spell Kadaffy.

Wendy S. Wilmoth, MLIS is a librarian, independent researcher and doctoral student.


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