Theft of jokes is as old as comedy itself – and not easy to prove | Comedy


The most notable thing about the raging line of plagiarism between Kae Kurd and Darius Davies is that it heads to the courts.

The theft of jokes is as old as comedy, the vindictive belly of an industry that presents itself as all smiles. The worst crime a comic can commit, and practiced at surprisingly high levels, is also notoriously difficult to legislate – and controlled more by the power of taboo than by the power of law.

Rather than seek redress in court, Kurd can take comfort that with Davies’ accusation, he is joining an illustrious list of so-called imitators. Robin Williams was known to recycle prime-time TV gags he’d heard at flea comedy clubs the night before. Richard Pryor proudly admitted to removing his ancestors’ jokes (“I made a lot of money as Bill Cosby”), and Trevor Noah was singled out for a routine about being a “geek.” racism ”which strongly resembled that of Dave Chappelle.

Amy Schumer’s “proof” video of the theft of a joke is available free on the Internet. But Schumer denies it. “If you steal jokes,” she said, “you are not the best friend of the comics you love and respect. I would be rejected by the community. Her defense, like that of many joke thieves before her, is that great comic minds think the same. Standups fish in the same pool of “what’s funny in our lives right now?” No wonder they sometimes land the same catch.

So it’s a professional risk for a comedian, most of whom have at one point thought, to write a new joke: “Has anyone ever written that?” In the age of social networks and smartphones, comics are more aware than ever of the danger of recycling jokes: many acts now force the public to leave their cell phones at the door. But proving theft remains wickedly difficult, because so many things that make a joke a joke (premise, personality, body language, inflection, context) are copyright-impossible.

Accessories then to those comics which confess and apologize when accused of the crime. “I just fired my two writers, Copy and Paste,” joke thief Jordan Paris joked on Australia’s Got Talent in 2011. In due course he was – of course – accused of stealing that joke as well.


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