Here’s an example. The first “joke” (and let’s not go too crazy bandying that word about) in The Starving Games goes like this: Kantmiss Evershot (get it!?) is out hunting in the woods. She spies an owl, and pulls out her trusty bow and arrow. But just before she fires, her boyfriend pops into her sightline, forcing her to shoot the arrow straight up. Cut to a guy who kinda-sorta looks like James Franco in a hot air balloon, announcing, “I am the great and powerful—” before the arrow lands in his chest and sends him overboard.
This is the entire bit. There’s no commentary on The Great and Powerful Oz, no joke beyond the mere incongruousness of its reference within a Hunger Games parody; even the notion of taking some sort of shot at the eternally ridicule-able James Franco is beyond these comedy-makers’ grasp. We’re just supposed to laugh because they mention another movie, and know that we’ve heard of it too, and that’s funny, I guess? A few minutes later, the focal trio of the Harry Potter movies is seen attempting to avoid going to the Starving Games selection ceremony, only to have a guard snap Harry’s wand in half and scold, “Your franchise is over. Get in line!” Once again, that’s the whole gag — Harry and Ron and Hermione in The Hunger Games! Isn’t it hilarious?!
The great spoof movies, like Airplane and Blazing Saddles and Hot Shots! and The Naked Gun and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, didn’t just ingest tropes and spew them back at the screen, Exorcist-style. In fact, they were funny even if you didn’t know the movies they were sending up, because they had a wit and style of their own. The classic “I speak jive” bit in Airplane!, for example,works on about four different levels. First (and most obviously), disaster movies like the Airport movies frequently had a passenger or passengers who spoke in their subtitled native tongue. So the first spin is the idea of passengers speaking black slang English, which would be totally impenetrable to the white people around them and would thus require subtitles. And then the second spin is the idea of a sweet little old lady who “speaks jive” and volunteers to communicate with them, hilariously. And then the third crank on the knob is that said little old lady would be Barbara Billingsley, mother ofLeave It to Beaver and maybe the whitest woman in America.
“The states dominated by Deep South, Greater Appalachia, Tidewater, and the Far West have had a virtual monopoly on capital punishment. They account for more than ninety-five percent of the 1,343 executions in the United States since 1976. In the same period, the twelve states definitively controlled by Yankeedom and New Netherland—states that account for almost a quarter of the U.S. population—have executed just one person.”