Recently in the world of comedy we have been hearing a lot about what constitutes joke theft. The most recent culprit is none other than the most popular comedian in the world right now, Amy Schumer. A video came out comparing Schumer’s jokes to the jokes of comedians Wendy Lieberman, Patrice O’Neal, Kathleen Madigan, and Tammy Pescatelli. Pescatelli specifically called stealing from other female comedians. She claimed it is something that should not be done in the in a medium that is impossibly difficult for women to navigate through.
This brings up the question of what exactly defines a “stolen joke.” Plagarism is defined as the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own. I watched the videos, and there is no point where Schumer uses the exact sentences that the aforementioned comics used. They have similar premises, but to relate to audiences, there is often premises that will be reused. And although the premises are reused, it is the comedian’s duty to craft the joke in a way that portrays their unique view. Amy Schumer is amongst the most unique of comedians, and the jokes that are being shown in the video are uniquely her. It is unfair to call her a joke theif just because of how successful she is. Of course when you get to the top, everyone wants a piece, and that can involve joke thief accusations.
The most similar of the jokes that I saw were between the late, great Patrice O’Neal and Schumer’s sexual activity names. Although Schumer had different names for her activities, they were the same ones O’Neal used in his set years ago. The actions and descriptions were exactly the same while the name of the sexual activities were different. Can this be defined as stealing a joke? It is impossible to truly say whether this was stolen or not. Sexual positions and sexual activates have been around for 100’s of years and are not unique at all to O’Neal. Sure the name is funny and the activity is even funnier, but I’m sure it was around before O’Neal. So then this raises the question, was O’Neal stealing the joke initially? Overall, I think we should look down upon stealing jokes that are unique to the comedian, not general premises and ideas that have been around forever. And even if Schumer’s joke was the same as O’Neals, sometimes jokes are inadvertently similar. There are so many comedians doing so many jokes that it is impossible to know if someone else is doing the same joke. In that regard, it should not be frowned upon or chastised but rather made aware and ultimately changed for the better. Let’s not destroy Amy for making a mistake; it is clear she would never steal a joke on purpose.
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