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
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
5 Jay Mohr
4 Dane Cook
3 Carlos Mencia
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.