In the world of comedy, there is nothing worse than stealing another comedian’s joke. Joke stealing is when a comedian performs or takes credit for a joke or material written by another comic. This is a form of plagiarism but unlike other mediums, such as film, TV and music, there is no legal recourse or action an individual can take. In the days of vaudeville, it was very common for comedians to take or borrow from another comedian. At the time, most of the jokes were one-liners. However, throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s, comedy became more personal. Instead of telling one-liners, comics would tell personal stories and bits. For example, iconic stand up comedian Richard Pryor has been praised for the honest and personal comedy bit about the time he set himself on fire while freebasing.
Regardless if it’s stand up comedy, sketch comedy or a sitcom, comedians are very protective of their material and jokes. Comedians who have been stolen from describe it as “feeling violated”. However, proving joke theft can be a very tricky situation. It’s very possible that two or more people may come up with the same joke or material. It’s possible that a comic might absorb another comedian’s joke sub-consciously and not purposely steal the joke. Of course, it’s also likely that the joke was outright stolen. It’s difficult to prove if the jokes were stolen or if it was simply a coincidence, but here is a look at 10 successful comedians accused of stealing jokes.
10) Josh “The Fat Jew” Ostrovsky
Technically, Josh “The Fat Jew” Ostrovsky isn’t actually a comedian. He’s more of an Instagram celebrity. He has 5.7 million followers and gets paid $2,500 for promoting brands such as Stella Artois, Burger King and Virgin Mobile. He’s best known for re-posting jokes and Internet memes to his Instagram account that he finds on the Internet. However, many comedians accuse him of stealing jokes from social media sites and purposely removing the name of the original source to suggest that he wrote the joke. He has many defenders who claim he “aggregates” jokes and doesn’t steal them. He’s re-posted jokes and Internet memes done by Patrick Walsh, Ben Rosen, Davon Magwood and many more. He initially didn’t give any of them credit and only did so after the controversy erupted. Josh denies all allegations of joke stealing and said that he simply didn’t know that he had to source the original creator. Comedy Central cancelled Josh “The Fat Jew” Ostrovsky’s pilot, which was in development at the time.
9) Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah is a South African stand up comedian and soon will be the new host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central. He will be replacing the much beloved former host Jon Stewart. Controversy erupted when he was announced as the new host. Old Tweets that Noah had made a while ago were brought up and he was accused of being anti-Semitic and sexist. Many criticized Trevor Noah as the choice for the new host but Jon Stewart and The Daily Show defended him. He’s also been accused of stealing jokes by stand up comedian Russell Peters.
8) Conan O’Brien
Conan O’Brien is a talk show host and comedian. He started his career as a writer on Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons. He hosted Late Night from 1993 to 2009, The Tonight Show from 2009 to 2010 and currently host’s Conan on TBS. Conan and his staff have been accused of stealing jokes from Robert Kaseberg. Kaseberg is suing Conan, members of his staff and TBS. He claims that Conan performed four jokes in a monologue that were taken from Robert’s Twitter page. The jokes were about Tom Brady, The Washington Monument, airlines and Caitlyn Jenner. Conan and his staff released a statement saying that there was “no merit” to the lawsuit and deny all allegations of plagiarism.
7) Milton Berle
Milton Berle was a stand up comedian and actor. He is widely regarded as TV’s first big superstar. He started his career in vaudeville and later moved on to radio. He made his TV debut on September 22, 1948, as the host of the Texaco Star Theatre on ABC. It later moved to NBC and would dominate in the ratings. The show was so popular that theaters, stores and restaurants would shut down for an hour during the night so that everyone could watch the show. He was known by several nicknames, such as, “Mr. Television” and “Uncle Miltie”. He had another more infamous nickname, which was “The Thief Of Bad Gags”. Comedian Bob Hope accused Milton of stealing his material and jokes. However, Milton never denied any allegations of joke stealing and even embraced the moniker. He once jokingly said to Larry King, “I don’t steal people’s jokes. I just find them before they’re lost.”
6) Denis Leary
Denis Leary is a stand up comedian, actor and writer. He is best known as the co-creator and star of the series Rescue Me. He also released the stand up comedy album No Cure For Cancer. Leary was very good friends with iconic stand up comic the late Bill Hicks. After the release of No Cure For Cancer, Hicks accused Leary of not only stealing his material but also his attitude, mannerisms, topics and persona, which Leary denied. The two had a falling out and never spoke again. Comedian Louis C.K claims that Leary stole the bit from him after seeing Louie perform it. Louis claims that Leary then expanded on the bit. Leary refutes Louis C.K.’s claim.
5) Jay Mohr
Jay Mohr is a comedian best known for his time as a cast member on Saturday Night Live in the mid 90s, and for his role in the film Jerry Maguire. In his book Gasping For Air, Mohr explains his frustrations working on SNL at the time. He admits to feeling depressed because of his lack of airtime and sketches. He’s admitted to suffering from intense anxiety and panic attacks during his time on SNL. In 1995, a sketch aired on SNL called “The Irish Bartender” that was written by Jay Mohr. Jay had stolen the sketch from comedian Rick Shapiro. On April 19th, during rehearsal, Lorne Michaels brought Jay into his office and showed him the original sketch by Shapiro. Jay denied stealing the sketch or ever seeing Shapiro perform it. Rick Shapiro sued SNL and received an undisclosed settlement. Later, in his memoirs, Jay Mohr would admit to plagiarizing the joke and stealing it.
4) Dane Cook
Dane Cook is a stand up comedian and actor. He has released several successful albums, including Harmful if Swallowed, Retaliation and Isolated Incident. Retaliation went platinum and would go on to be the highest charting comedy album in 28 years. At the peak of his popularity, Dane Cook was accused of stealing jokes from several comedians. Comedy fans noticed that three bits from Cook’s 2005 album Retaliation, were very, very similar to three bits from Louis C.K.’s 2001 album, Live in Houston. Dane Cook denied stealing the material and Louis himself noted that it was possible that Cook accidentally stole the bits from him without realizing it. Dane Cook appeared on Louis C.K’s FX series, Louie. In the episode, Louie is trying to get Lady Gaga tickets for his daughter from Cook. They discuss the issues of plagiarism in both a comedic and honest way.
3) Carlos Mencia
Carlos Mencia is best known for his show Mind Of Mencia on Comedy Central. He rose to fame as a stand up comedian and released the albums, Take A Joke America, Unmerciful and Spanglish. Several comedians have accused Carlos of stealing their material. Joe Rogan famously confronted Carlos about his joke theft on stage at The Comedy Store in a video that went viral. In the video, he’s accused of stealing jokes from Ari Shaffir and George Lopez. Carlos was also accused of stealing a bit from the famous comedy album, Bill Cosby: Himself. Carlos denied even seeing the famous Cosby special or the bit in question. Carlos denies any claims of plagiarism but did note that he’s like a “sponge” and may have accidentally repeated other comic’s jokes. After the allegations, Carlos’ career suffered greatly and his show was cancelled. He noted on the WTF With Marc Maron Podcast that it was a difficult time in his life and that he needed to go to therapy because of the allegations.
2) Saturday Night Live
Saturday Night Live is an American sketch comedy series, which airs on NBC. The series first debuted in 1975 and will soon be starting its 41st season. The series has featured talented comedians such as, Bill Murray, Mike Myers, Tina Fey and Eddie Murphy. 22 Minutes (also known as This Hour Has 22 Minutes) is a Canadian news parody and sketch comedy series, which airs on CBC. It first debuted in 1993 and has featured talented comedians, such as Rick Mercer, Mark Critch, Cathy Jones and Shaun Majumder. On May 9, 2015, SNL aired a sketch that featured a contestant on a Win, Lose or Draw type of game show. The contestant becomes nervous when asked to draw a picture of the Prophet Mohammed. The sketch was nearly identical to a sketch that 22 Minutes aired in January 2015. Many fans and critics accused SNL of plagiarizing the sketch from 22 Minutes. SNL was also accused of stealing a Tina Turner impersonation sketch from The Groundlings earlier this year, as well. However, SNL denies any allegations of plagiarism.
1) Robin Williams
Robin Williams started his career as a stand up comic and released several great albums, including, Reality…What A Concept, A Night At The Met and Weapons of Self-Destruction. He’s appeared in several critically and commercially acclaimed films, such as Good Morning, Vietnam, Mrs. Doubtfire and Good Will Hunting. For years, Robin had been accused of stealing jokes from several of his fellow stand up comedians. Comic David Brenner claims that he confronted Robin about stealing his jokes. However, Robin Williams denied purposely stealing anyone’s jokes but did admit that because of his manic energy and free form style, he often accidentally would repeat another comedian’s jokes. It got to a point where other comedians refused to go on stage if he was in the room. To avoid the allegation again, he would not watch any other comic’s performance. He would stay outside till it was his time to perform and would leave immediately. Eventually, he would shed the reputation of a joke thief and is widely considered by many to be a comic genius.
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