Seven Golden Rules for the writing of Satire

My name is Gregor Stronach, and I am a satirist. It's not a full time occupation – I doubt that anyone, aside from George Carlin and perhaps George Bush, is making a living out of full time satire in the world today.

But that doesn't mean that you, gentle reader, should baulk at the idea of becoming a satirist yourself. I've decided to help you in this endeavour, should the mood ever take you and your desire to make fun of other people from behind a shield of smug conceit overwhelm what is otherwise a personality based on good taste and pleasant humour.

For the ease of remembrance, I will divide this lesson into seven easy sections – rules to live by, should you become a satirist, or just simply rules by which you can see the 'magic' of the satirist explained.

1. Making fun of individual people. This is perhaps the easiest of all satire, and is usually the least rewarding, unless done very, very well. There are two ways of approaching this, and the method through which it is achieved depends on the nature of the person you're attacking – I mean, lampooning. Should the person upon whom you have decided to heap your scorn be quite clearly a total buffoon, ie Michael Jackson, George Bush (Sr or Jr, it matters not for the purposes of the exercise) or a woeful sportsperson such as Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards, the methodology is simple. Merely quote them, or describe their exploits, and wonder to your readers in phrases such as "How on earth am I supposed to sleep at night?", or "It's little wonder children are afraid of birthday clowns."

The harder targets are the smarter ones, people such as Colin Powell, Margaret Thatcher or The Pope. In cases like this, it's often best to descend into puerile or infantile ramblings: "Colin Powell likes to eat his own snot!!!" or "The Pope tried to touch me. In a special place."

2. Making fun of groups of people. This is slightly more difficult than making fun of a smart person, and there are several pitfalls to be avoided. First of all, before you rush out and begin making gags based on racial stereotypes, make sure you can claim some sort of connection to the group you're talking about, however tangential that connection might be. The only people who can get up on stage, or put pen to paper and talk about how all Italians are like the Sopranos, or how all Asian folks know Kung Fu but can't drive, are members of those communities. For a middle class white man, such as myself, to make those remarks, it's racism. But if you're a member of a minority, it ceases to be racism, and becomes 'holding up a mirror to the world', or 'telling it like it is. In the 'hood. Yo.' Important stuff indeed.

3. Lampooning Politics. It's easy to do so from a right wing position, and beyond difficult from anywhere left of moderate. PJ O'Rourke, lifelong Republican and one of the greatest living satirists has it easy. Making a gag that has a reader laughing guiltily, blushing furiously and thinking quietly to themselves 'if my pseudo-intellectual friends catch me laughing about the plight of the Haitian people, I'll never sip chardonnay with them again' is very easy. But approaching the same problem (using Haiti as an example again) from the leftist view, it verges on the impossible to complete the task without resorting to iconoclastic ramblings. Of course, you'll need to add the occasional 'but it's OK, because I gave Reuben, my guide, every penny I earned for writing this story' feel good phrase thrown in for good measure. It's funny, because we all know that there isn't a leftist on the planet who likes paying for anything, let alone the $25 they generally get paid per article in their limp little newsletters. Plus, leftists tend to be dope fiends or drunks, and as a rule they have no money.

4. The Facts. How you treat the 'facts' of any matter is vitally important, and there's a scale that needs to be memorised. When dealing with 'facts', it's obviously best to have your facts 100% correct. Next best, surprisingly, is to have them 100% wrong, in case you ever get called on what you've written, and need to fall back on the satirist's best retort: 'It's satire, you moron, and I didn't mean a word of it'. Any mix of facts, right and wrong, means disaster. You're better off claiming that George Bush has personally drowned better than 160 kittens in the White House swimming pool than suggesting he's responsible for thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens losing their lives through his attempts to 'liberate' them. The former example is ludicrous, and bound to raise a wry chuckle at the very least. The latter smacks of effort and earnestness – two things to be avoided at all costs. The satirist should always appear aloof and sophisticated, saving angry rants for polite dinner conversation and ensuring that the reader feels included in the writer's air of callous conceit.

5. Making fun of a tragic event. This is a tricky one, but there's a rule of thumb that I have developed that makes the art of lampooning bad news, without fear of overtly offending large slabs of the population. A satirist should skate close to the edge, but never, ever cross the line into truly tasteless humour.

So when assessing a calamitous event to see whether it is fit to be lampooned, one must simply look to the last word in the title of that event. Anything that ends in 'Tragedy' is verboten, such as 'The Diana Spencer Tragedy'. Anything that ends with 'Disaster' is fair game, for example 'The Challenger Disaster'. Anything that ends with 'Bombing' or 'Attack' should be left alone for at least three months, before testing the waters with a few genteel, sombre jokes. 'Killings' should never be touched, but 'Slayings' or 'Shootings' are generally ripe for the satirists attention within a week of the final burial. Naturally, 'Scandal' should be leapt upon within seconds and devoured like ice cream on a scalding hot day, except for anything that ends in '-gate', in which case the satire should best be left to the mainstream press and their hamfisted attempts to 'expose the truth'.

6. Religion. It's the modern satirist's minefield, so beware – the laughs could land you some serious karmic retribution, in jail, on the wrong end of a Holy War or an eternity in a fiery afterlife, depending on who you manage to annoy. It's best, when attempting religious satire, to go all out on your own 'people' first, paving the way for some bone-crushingly insensitive comments concerning other people's beliefs. A few religions are quite tolerant of satire – the Moonees know how silly they are, the Amish will never, ever hit you, no matter what you do and Catholics have shown uncharacteristic kindness towards Mel Gibson's latest satirical efforts, so they have clearly stopped caring. Middle Eastern religions are generally easy going, except for a fringe element that is notoriously intolerant of ridicule – unless you covet the notion of waking up one morning strapped to a bomb, it's best to steer clear altogether. Avoid conflict with the Scientologists too – they, along with the Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons, will subscribe you to every mailing list known to man, and will visit you, at home, at six in the morning, every day for the rest of your life. Leave satirising the Jewish people to the Jews – no one does it better, and you'll just end up looking foolish. Of course, for those that have tried and failed and are feeling down upon themselves, you could always look to the pseudo-spiritual teachings of cult leader Anthony Robbins. Even though the idea of 'Awakening the Giant Within' actually sounds pretty painful, I'm assured by Anthony himself that whatever doesn't kill us makes us stronger.

7. Yourself. The most important weapon in the arsenal of the satirist is a rifle made entirely of self-deprecation. The knack is to beat the reader – and, more importantly, the object of your satire – to the punch. "Mother Theresa was an old whore with no morals! But I have a small dick – how funny is that?' is a shining example. Be prepared to debase yourself on a million levels, and in the instance of satirising yourself, comical overstatement is paramount. Not only will it provide your audience with an instant sense of relief should you inadvertently offend them, but it's also a relatively cheap form of therapy. You can also use this arena to admit your 'sins' before the eyes of God, safe from the long arm of the law – after all, it's satire, isn't it? None of it, no matter how truthful, will stand up in court.

I trust that this document will assist you in your efforts to bring your own warped view of the world into the public arena. (I should note that during the typing of that sentence, my scrotum was attacked and, apparently, punctured by my pet kitten. It's this sort of emotional availability that separates the wheat from the satirical chaff.) I am available for private tuition in the art of satire, should you feel that these lessons aren't enough. The fees are steep, but remember – the mark of a good satirist is someone who knows where to start. The mark of a brilliant satirist is someone who knows when to stop. So I'll stop. Now.

What do you think, did we get it right? Comment here...