It generated a lot of comments; some agreeing, some disagreeing with my post, some attacked, some complimented. Some people sent private emails to avoid getting into it in the comment thread.
The piece was written in a heightened way to draw attention to a dilemma we always face as writers and comedians; intellectual property theft.
Whether it’s a joke or a movie script or a television pilot idea, I’ve experienced it personally at several levels. And I expect to experience it more.
But the questions remain:
What do you do about it when it happens to you?
How do you keep from doing it yourself?
Who cares if I use someone else’s material?
I think the best advice I got on joke-stealing is from Jay Leno. He said, “Just write faster than everyone else and your reputation will precede you.”
He also says to people that accuse him of stealing a joke, “You keep it. I’ll write more.” Great advice. I highly recommend not only following it, but making it your code.
My Irish temper sometimes impedes my ability to make sound and reasonable decisions in a lot of situations. It can especially get in the way when someone steals a joke.
Temper can manifest itself in many ways. It once manifested in the Comedy Store parking lot with another comedian’s bloody head bouncing off the hood of a Trans Am.
Some of you might be saying, “Oh my God, Jerry! I can’t believe you would do such a thing to a Trans Am!”
Why not? It was the nineties and Trans Ams were so previous decade!
Despite the fact that I’m no longer the guy who reacts like that, I still like to defer to people who are smarter when it comes to trying to sort out an answer to a popular problem…
Patton Oswalt is smart, funny involved and completely dedicated to the business of comedy. I follow his tweets (when I can) and read his “Spew.”
I think it’s always a good idea to follow people who are smarter than you, funnier than you and ultimately more successful than you so that you can continue your journey to be the best you can be.
One of the suggestions he gives in his “Closed Letter To Myself about Thievery, Heckling and Rape Jokes,” is to let the joke thief steal. Eventually he’ll reach that point of no return, where the thief will—with the help of other comedians’ material—reach the level of network T.V. as a performer or a writer, then crash and burn because they didn’t get to that level by developing their own creativity.
Because at that level when it’s all on them to ‘create,’ their creative well is a dust bowl. They become the reason for their own demise.
So take some time (it’s a long piece so grab some coffee), and give Patton’s article a read. I think he’s got a better solution to understanding the thievery dilemma than I.
Fresh from the wire over at Technology Tell’s entertainment blog:
Tenacious D is planning the Festival Supreme, a music and comedy festival of the like Los Angeles has never seen. It’s the first of it’s kind in my memory. It will be featuring top comedians and performers like Zach Galifianakis, Adam Sandler, The Mr. Show Experience (featuring David Cross and Bob Odenkirk), and Reggie Watts.
Sarah Silverman is also slated to perform.
The great news is that this is a real comedy festival with real stars!
It’ll be interesting to see how L.A. supports an event like this. Considering you can usually get a pretty decent lineup of top comics almost any night of the week at any one of the top comedy clubs in L.A. But it’s usually a surprise, as opposed to a scheduled festival.
What’s the schedule? Glad you asked! Keep Saturday, October 19th open and save your pennies; ninety-nine thousand of them to be exact, because the tickets to this bad boy are starting at $99.
Not too bad a price considering there are going to be four stages all at, or around, the Santa Monica pier.
Sounds like fun! In fact I’m gonna head over to the festival’s website right now and get a couple of tix!
You know it’s a beautiful Memorial Day weekend in Burbank, California when the smell of barbecue overpowers and masks the usual combined Burbank stench of of smog and Glendale.
And while most people were enjoying food and drink in their backyards, (or stuck in traffic on the nearby I-5 because of a car fire in the center lane), comedians at Flappers Comedy Club were engaged in the battle of funny.
It wasn’t your usual fare of comedians; bitter, mostly white men sporting jackets on their torsos and five-o’clocks on their cheeks, flinging jokes about their ex’s, smoking too much weed or being broke.
This was a special breed of comic; a women’s-only club of comics, all competing for the prize of “California’s Funniest Female.”
I’ve argued that I think women can be feminine while still being funny in this business.
That’s why I am so proud to announce that one of my top students—Pauline Yasuda—just won the California’s Funniest Female Comedy Competition (www.funniestfemale.com) last night at Flappers Comedy Club in Burbank, CA!
California’s Funniest Female Competition is produced by Bill Word, a veteran comedian and comedy producer in Orange County and boasts a line up of over 90 female comedians who compete for cash and prizes.
Even though the competition has the word “California” in it, there are no residential requirements so comedians have come from as far away as Ireland and Australia to compete.
One of the mantras I express in my classes is “Do the work.” I say that a lot.
If you have a grasp of the concept of structure and an understanding of the psychological laughter triggers, you can fill your writing—whether it be jokes, stories or your entire set—with triggered laugh points and engaging content, thus making your act not only laugh-filled but memorable as well.
And most of these competitions, where real judges are present, (as with this one), are not only about funny, but also about memorability.
If you’re a smart comic (and I know you are if you’re one of the 4 people who read my blog), then you will write that down, (“funny and memorability”).
Because, in her act, Pauline applies both.
Pauline is one of those comedians that gets it. She writes, re-writes, tests and re-writes again. Her work paid off and she took this competition by storm.
One of the judges commented to Pauline afterward and said, “To me, you were the clear winner! Great job!” Then he said to me, “Her comedy is unique, risky and memorable, without being crass or relying on profanity or pure shock to get laughs.”
That’s because Pauline understands that comedy is about surprise and recognition. She applies that in her writing while still staying true to herself and the ultimate understanding of the concept that the audience needs to identify and empathize with the comedian and his or HER comedic persona.
Those of you who have followed my blog and have been in my seminars, you know that I’m a big fan of women in comedy. This business craves funny women and the trend has proved that to be true with funny females now being scooped up to star in sitcoms and movies.
Bridesmaids is a perfect example of this as being one of the first all-female cast comedy hits to hit the big screen and have enduring allure in video and streaming video.
The business is ripe.
So ladies, if you’ve been sitting on the sidelines because you don’t think you’re cut out for comedy or that women are not accepted in comedy, think again and jump in.
Pauline did and she’s now the Funniest Female in California!
If you’ve thought about doing comedy or are interested in investigating the concepts of comedy and human laughter with a smarter and completely unique approach, then sign up for my free newsletter. You’ll receive free tips and lessons on creating material that gets response and hell, may even help you to win your next competition.
The Greg Wilson is Accused of Stealing Another Comedian’s Material while recording America’s Got Talent
According to the story that I first read on Slashfilm.com, comedian-contestant, The Greg Wilson, was performing on “America’s Got Talent.” He went to his closing bit which was an act-out of a mimed argument of a couple arguing in a car.
The crowd loved it, the first two judges loved it. When they got to Howie, he asked the contestant, (The Greg Wilson), “Did you write this, or are you performing someone else’s material?”
Right there in front of the audience and the cameras at the Pantages in Los Angeles, he gets asked if he stole material!
To top it all off, Howie says that he knows the comic that does the bit in question. Then he reveals the name of the comic: “Frank Nicotero.” Some of you may say, “Who the hell is Frank Nicotero?” Well, Frank is a comic who has been around for quite a while. He’s smart and funny… and he also just happens to be the warm-up comedian for… (drum-roll please)…
AMERICA’S GOT TALENT!
So The Greg Wilson is being accused of stealing a bit from a comedian who (unbeknownst to him) is in the SAME ROOM!
DOUBLE OUCH with an “OH SNAP!”
Being accused of stealing material is a big deal in this business. It’s scummy. It’s pathetic. And it can ruin a reputation and possibly a career… isn’t that right Carlos Mencia?
But to be snagged while doing it for a television show that gets to broadcast out to tens of millions is epic!
Here’s where it gets a little gritty:
I watched both comedians performing the bit:
Here’s Frank Nicotero:
Here’s The Greg Wilson: (The Bit starts at 3:43)
See The Differences?
When I watched both of the videos my initial reaction was this:
This bit is a high concept bit that could easily be performed by two different comedians. We’ve all seen couples fighting in a car and I could see that two comedians could come up with similar bits on that concept.
Based on the two versions, I thought that Greg Wilson did a more concise job defining the different characters and acting them out, but…
Jay Leno said to me: “There are no ethics in this business. You have to write faster than everyone else and your reputation will precede you.”
Your reputation will precede you…
That’s where this conflict begins to sort itself out; and we can begin to answer the question of if the idea was stolen.
If we consider the fact that Frank Nicotero is a seasoned professional who has hosted a television show called “Street Smarts” for 5 years and has had additional success and has a reputation that is super solid in this business, the origination of the bit in question starts to become clear.
But this is what settled it for me…
According to people who know both guys, It’s said that The Greg Wilson KNOWS Frank and Greg has SEEN FRANK PERFORM THAT BIT for years. I mean the bit goes back to 1993 for Frank Nicotero. It has been Frank’s closing piece for a very long time.
That’s where it’s No Bueno.
It boils down to this: Having a reputation for being a solid writer and comedian with fresh ideas by actually doing the work and writing on a regular basis is crucial in developing your reputation.
By doing a comedy bit that is known to be a signature bit of another comedian, The Greg Wilson has created a dilemma for himself that he now needs to overcome. He has seriously tainted his reputation and that is now being spread via the internet and social media.
If this story continues to have legs, it could really have an impact on his career and what other people in this business think of him.
Also consider this: America’s Got Talent is a reality show. It stays on the air as long as the ratings stay high. Much of the ratings are driven by conflict and drama on the show and although Frank was told that The Greg Wilson’s bit will never be aired…
A decision might be made by the show’s producers to air the segment just for the sheer drama and conflict. It’s bound to drive ratings and new blog posts, shares on Facebook and tweets on Twitter.
This story doesn’t die here. It reanimates when the show airs in about 6 weeks for potentially tens of millions of viewers watching on T.V. and potentially millions in the blogosphere and social media all pointing to the headline of The Greg Wilson allegedly stealing Frank Nicotero’s routine and performing it on Television.
Your reputation precedes you, indeed.
Love to hear your thoughts on this situation pro or con…