In a recent blog post about joke-thieving, I posted that Howie Mandel allegedly caught a comedian named Greg Wilson “stealing” a joke on America’s Got Talent.
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 willâ€”with the help of other comedians’ materialâ€”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.
I mean, unless you really hate Trans Ams.