No Ethics in Comedy

Students often ask me if they should protect their material or if they should the worry about other comics stealing their material. I usually regurgitate a quote told to me by Jay Leno. He said, “There are no ethics in comedy. You just have to write faster than everyone else and your reputation will precede you.”

This point couldn’t be more true. I try to encourage all my students to write non-stop and write they do. The more time a comedian spends writing, the better a comedian gets over time. A comedian should look at writing and performing the way an athlete looks at training. Each day in the gym whether it be a good day or a bad day is still viewed as money in the bank. Each and every time a comedian writes whether he/she is working current event jokes or cliche workouts or other exercises taught in my comedy classes, he gets better and better.

The more unique your comedy point of view is, the harder it is to steal. Problem is the funnier the comedy is, the more it will be stolen. But if you write everyday and perform as much as you can people will begin to identify YOU as a consistent joke writer. I had this problem numerous times. There was a comedian, I won’t mention his name…screw it. I’ll mention it: His name is Rick Kunkler. He’s a very talented comedian/musician. He stole some of my material. Word traveled fast and it got back to me. I saw the guy at an event at the Friar’s club in Beverly Hills and he was with his agents. He came up to me and said, “Jerry, my man!”  Then he introduced me to his agents. He told them that he learned more from me touring on the road with me for two weeks than he learned in four years. I said to him, “Hey Rick, good to see you. I have a gift for you.” I pulled a pen out of my jacket and gave it to him. He said, “What’s this.” I said, “It’s a pen…maybe you can start writing your own damn jokes.”

With that, everyone knew that Rick stole material. It’ll take him a while to shake that reputation. So write your butts off. I’d like to say that no one will steal from you, but I can’t. They will, but you will have more material ready.

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