The Oxford Book of Parodies, edited by John Gross (Oxford, 416 pp., $29.95)
When Ross Perot was running for president an age ago, I became addicted to Dana Carvey’s imitations of him on Saturday Night Live. Concentrating all the staccato zaniness of the billionaire candidate into the short time-span of a sketch, the imitations seemed much more like Perot than Perot himself. Whole minutes of a genuine Perot speech would roll by without the candidate’s saying anything particularly characteristic; but almost every sentence uttered by Carvey was a howlingly funny Perotism. Perot himself was Perot with soda water; Carvey was Perot neat. I couldn’t get enough of the stuff.
Carvey’s sketches were a dramatic equivalent of the literary parody, which is defined in the first sentence of John Gross’s new anthology as “an imitation which exaggerates the characteristics of a work or a style for comic effect.” Few politicians are distinctive enough to invite a parody; they generally deserve the grosser and more abusive forms of satire or burlesque. But one felt that Carvey rather liked Ross Perot, found his verbal tics and mannerisms really engaging, and took the trouble to get his mockery of them just right.