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Sampling and trading jokes are a common occurrence that famous comedians have to deal with; they also deal with the annoying hassle of their jokes being stolen. Joke stealing appears to be occurring more frequently and lately it is happening in Chicago.
“It’s survival of the fittest,” says South Side Comedian Kevin White, who has had several jokes stolen and later used on national TV.
It may be survival of the fittest; but also stealing jokes can affect a comedian’s own creditability as well as their professionalism. Some comedians who are victims of theft can shrug it off and continue writing new and even better jokes, while others suffer setbacks.
Comedians may spend months writing jokes and perfecting them, but to later have them stolen can be emotionally upsetting, professionally frustrating, and offensive.
Chicago Stand-Up Comedian Damon Williams referred to theft in the comedy world as great minds thinking alike and having the same joke is just a coincidence.
But Williams adds, “There is a fine line between stealing and sampling. As a comedian you often run into a situation where you have the idea but another comedian has already fleshed that idea into a joke.”
Radio host and stand-up comedian Brian Babylon disagrees. He says he seen his fair share of “Carlos Mencia’s” in the Chicago comedy world, referring to the largely publicized accusations of Mencia plagiarizing jokes from other comedians.
Most famously, popular stand-up comedian and UFC announcer Joe Rogan confronted Mencia on stage about his alleged plagiarism. George Lopez, of “The George Lopez Show,” has also made accusations of Mencia stealing his material.
What does this say about the world of comedy? About Chicago Comedians? Does joke stealing prevent local comedians from making it big?
“This is a business,” says Babylon who believes a comedian’s jokes is their property. He feels that it is not unreasonable to assume that a comedian can become financially affected when theft occurs.
For comedians who steal, “They don’t really think about the integrity side of it, because they just don’t feel like they are stealing anything. They just feel like they are doing the joke better than the comic who first put it out there,” says Mary Lindsey, Bronzeville comedy club owner of Joke and Notes. “It happens all the time,” say Lindsey.
Lindsey says ninety percent of the time the audience do not recognize the joke is stolen unless they are heavily involved in the comedy business. Lindsey attributes joking stealing in Chicago, to the over saturation of comedy in the city and every person believing they can easily become comedians.
Burt Haas, comedy club owner of Zaines, attributes some of the theft to the demands of the entertainment industry. Celebrity comedians are under constant pressure to produce jokes faster than they can handle and sometimes the only recourse is stealing.
When asked directly about their thoughts on joking stealing the Chicago Comedians responded with mixed feelings.
“It’s desperation and I’m aggressively going after that person. You’re an intellectual thief.” and “You will become notorious for stealing,” says Babylon.
Williams adds, if a comedian has their material stolen they should not, “dwell on it.” He believes one stolen joke does not affect comedians from making it out of Chicago or establishing a name in the comedy business, he advises local comedians who are victims of theft to keep writing.
White initially felt upset when his jokes were stolen and also felt he could not make it big if his jokes were making it to TV before he did. Later he was flattered by the theft of his jokes, because it shows he is a good writer and his jokes are good enough to make it on to national TV.
Many comedians reach a point in their career where they are desperate, under pressure or are on stage performing and need a joke to save them from getting heckled. In the culture of comedy, many concepts like grasping, reaching, and stealing seems to be a natural occurrence.
Are there rules in the comedy world? What can be done about joking stealing?
Williams says the universal rule in comedy is if two comedians have the same joke then the first person to perform the joke on TV is the one that validates the joke.
Timing is most important in the comedy culture because comedians have to constantly write material that is funny enough to perform and funny enough to make it on national TV. Sometimes the best way to protect their material from being stolen is to perform it live on TV, and even that is not always good enough.
“Getting the strongest protection possible is the first step toward getting their work protected,” says Exavier Pope, Chicago Entertainment Attorney.
Pope says there are many steps a comedian can take to protect their material, which first includes getting all work copyrighted by the U.S Copyright Office.
Copyright law protects any expressible forms of ideas or information that are substantive, discrete, and fixed in a medium which includes jokes and other written material. Once a copyright has been obtained, the next step would be an order to “cease and desist” to the party committing the infringement, then move towards establishing the extent of the infringement and seeking monetary damages.
“The entertainment industry can be cutthroat at times” but Pope says the rule of thumb is, “First in time, first in line.”
What’s the iPod/MP3 Shuffle? It’s just a way to get people to share music and foster some discussion. I started doing this on my Facebook page a while back and it’s been great seeing friends exchange comments on each others lists. Every Friday, I get out my 120 GB iPod (which has about 24,000 songs now), hit shuffle and write about the first 10 songs that come up. Sometimes the 10 songs are kind of conventional, sometimes there’s a lot of obscure stuff. So check mine out and please add your own shuffle or discuss other people’s shuffles!
Let’s give it up for the man from the University of Mars, the man with the steam coming off his bald dome (bald in an era when real men had big afros), former Oakland Raiders defensive lineman Otis Sistrunk. In honor of Otis, grab your iPod/iTunes/MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 tunes that come up with everyone else.
I’m now over 23,300 tunes on my iPod and this is what I came up with:
Launched merely a week ago, the fund raising campaign that CHIRP set up in conjunction with Kickstarter to cover the first year of CHIRPradio’s web streaming fees has been a great success. In 6 short days we’ve gotten almost halfway to our goal (As of this writing we’re at 47% of our goal). Can you be the one to put us over the halfway mark? Whether you can donate a dollar or a hundred dollars, we’ve seen this week that it all adds up extremely quickly. Let’s keep the momentum going strong into this weekend and perhaps we can not just break the halfway mark today, but by this time next week I’ll be following up with a post about succesfully shattering our entire fund raising goal!
Make your Kickstarter pledge now to show your support and read more about the campaign right here.
I feel like I’m living in a really strange era of music right now. I also feel like I’m living in a really strange period in pop culture/time right now. The 80s are retro and I’m not that old, you know? I feel like so many things that happened when I was a kid are coming back around or something … basically, they are probably coming back to people who are a little older than I was then, but because I was so aware and precocious* at even 6, 8, 10 years old, it doesn’t matter. I still thought then like I do now and remember them like it was yesterday.
I was driving to a friend’s photography show a year or so ago and heard this song (I didn’t know the name) — Welcome To The Black Parade. Because of how the chorus kicked in, I knew it was a modern band that was probably popular with the kids. but as the song continued to progress, I just pulled back and heard all the guitars and whatnot, and I thought … this was our Poison, cause it was pretty metal. And what I mean by that is not “It was pretty metal,” as in fairly metal, but it was “pretty” metal, as in shiny metal. Fluffy. Wanker lite. When I was a kid, I thought that Poison and Winger and Cinderella and Warrant and all those bands were metal. They weren’t. They were pop. But I didn’t know that then. And that’s what this song is — pop. With lots of guitars and posturing.
As I continued home, I heard this song — Sweet Escape. Let me tell you. I had NO CLUE who this was. Not one single clue until I looked it up when I got home. I heard this one and I thought, this could have come straight out of 1985. Seriously. I would have been all over this song then. It would have been a Top 40 #1. I nearly fell down when I saw it was Gwen Stefani. (Sidenote: is she going to lose those harajuku girls or what?) It just seemed so unlike her. No bad girl here. Straight popalicious. Not a hard edge to be found. I guess it features Akon, but I didn’t catch any of that on the radio.
(I love that I can type “bad girl escape sweet” and “carry on marching band” into google and get the names of these two songs, and then go to you tube and find the videos.)
Then, as if i needed the 80’s deal sealed, they went into With or Without You, for an authentic 80s classic. It’s funny. There was so much different stuff on Top 40 radio back in the 80s, and the things that lasted are now our classic rock. This would be one of them, I suppose.
The whole night kicked off with hearing Johnny Mars back on the air for the first time in over five years, which was really a treat. What comes around goes around.
*To illustrate: I’ve always remembered that one of my favorite songs was Separate Lives, a song by Phil Collins with Marilyn Martin from the movie White Nights. Before you roll up with peals of hysterical laughter, let me at least tell the story. I always loved love songs and songs of romance and all that stuff. Whitney Houston, Phil Collins, Chicago featuring the lovely Peter Cetera, you name it, I was there.
But the reason I use “Separate Lives” to illustrate my point is this — “White Nights” came out in 1985. I was ELEVEN years old. Never kissed, much less had any sort of romantic relationship. Yet, I distinctly and VERY clearly remember loving that song and KNOWING what the words meant. Singing along with heartfelt emotion as Phil Collins sings: “ooh, so typical, love leads to isolation/so you build that wall (build that wall)/and you make it stronger…”
WHAT? How can an 11 yr. old comprehend that? But I loved the song and I loved the crescendos and the key change and the whole feel of it. That they were together and now apart, and how dare they look at each other like that now that they couldn’t have each other, but … maybe… someday, but for now, they’d go on living separate lives… and… CUT.
Wow. So dramatic and emotional for a pre-teen. Obviously worth pulling out the boombox to tape it on.
This originally appeared at Smussyolay in March ’07, but is still completely relevant 2 and a half years later.
In 1990, a friend of mine walked into my high school cafeteria, in his ratty unbuttoned flannel shirt and matching ratty hair wearing a Mudhoney shirt. He looked like a combination of Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes and a moodier, dirtier Steve Albini. I was never sure where I stood with him, but no else really did either. He was either slightly just less than happy to see you, or entirely indifferent to your existence. That day, he was a bit more pleasant than usual and was enthused to tell me all about this great band he saw over the weekend. He demanded that I do myself the favor of finding the Superfuzz/BigMuff record. I did just that, mostly because I generally found his music taste agreeable with mine.