Satire is a word that we hear used in relation to fiction, plays, and screenplays all the time, but what does it actually mean?
Satire doesn’t just mean funny. In fact satire doesn’t technically need to be funny at all, depending on who you ask.
Satire really refers to the act of holding anything up to ridicule, which frequently evokes laughter from an audience.
Historically satire has been regarded as a great source of good in the world, as an effective weapon with which to criticise hypocrisy, or the evils of society, in a way that is incisive, engaging, and entertaining.
The ancient Greek philosopher Plato was reportedly asked for advice about a book that could teach the reader about Athenian society, and he referred the person to the works of Aristophanes, who was a noted comedic and satirical playwright.
Political satire is a favourite mode of satire, in which we see politicians and political policies held up to ridicule.
Political satire is often the first form of creative expression to be suppressed by non-democratic leaders because it is so devastatingly effective at highlighting hypocrisy and the failures of those it subjects to scrutiny.
Think of the Fool in Shakespeare’s plays. The Fool is the only character who is allowed to speak the truth, because he does it in a funny way, often through the use of satire or ridicule.
Using satire is a way of making a political or intellectual point in a way that people eagerly engage with, as opposed to lecturing them.
An audience may grow bored or irritated if they are lectured to, but be more inclined to join in the ridicule of a subject if the ridicule is presented in an amusing way.
Can you think of any novels, plays, or screenplays that use satire? What is your favourite tale that ridicules in a funny way? Think of Gulliver’s Travels. Or The Thick Of It.
Remember that many people draw a distinction between satire and gentle mocking. Satire is work that goes for the jugular. That makes a biting comment that is almost painful to behold. That eviscerates its subject is a way that is lasting. Everything else is arguably mocking.
When writing your next comedy, think of making it a satire. Pick a person or a subject that irks you, and hold it up to the ridicule it deserves!
Of course, make sure to be aware of legal concerns like defamation! As an author it’s very important to make yourself aware of the common legal issues that authors must navigate.