Shelli DeRobertis 5:08 p.m., June 19
Comedians Stealing Material
I love talking about comedians with people. It's always strange when someone tells me about a bad comedian they love. Or if I mention a comedian I enjoy, that they hate.
I'm currently having a debate with my girlfriend about Chris Rock. I think he's highly overrated.
We do both agree that Jim Gaffigan is amazing. And, I wanted to wake her up the other night when Denis Leary was on David Letterman, and doing about 6 minutes of material that was very similar to Gaffigan.
It was all about how he turned 50, and his doctor said he should quit smoking and eating bad foods, like bacon.
Well, Gaffigan is known for a few trademark things. One being his jokes about Hot Pockets. Another being his jokes about bacon.
But, I'm never quick to jump on a comedian for stealing material. A perfect example why is this. Gaffigan does a hysterical thing where he says something under his breath that an audience member is thinking. He might be talking about having sex with his wife, and that voice will say "I don't want to picture him naked. He's pale. And chubby. I bet he sweats a lot, too." And he'll immediately go back into the story he was telling.
Well, you could argue that Kevin Nealon did his "subliminal man" character first, and this is similar.
When I was on KOGO being interviewed by Chip Franklin, we started talking about comedians during the commercials. I had seen him do stand-up, and was really impressed.
We talked about what comedians call "Parallel thinking." And it's a lot more common in comedy than you'd think.
When I was a kid, there were probably 10 big name comedians using bits about foreigners running 7-11, Asians being bad drivers, blacks having big boom boxes, and standing in line at the airport or Disneyland. Yet, nobody was accusing another comedian of "stealing" their premise for a joke.
I once joked when I was growing a mustache (come on, what 16-year-old doesn't think it's cool to grow one?). I was telling my brother that nobody can have a short one, or they'd be compared to Hitler. Yet, you could be a lover of Charlie Chaplin, who had the same style mustache, people would still think Hitler.
I never told anyone but my family this little joke/story, yet I saw a comedian a few years later do a bit like that.
So, when I first saw Denis Leary, it was around 1989. He would do these little segments on MTV, where he'd rant about something. One time, it was about how Cindy Crawford was so hot. He smoked the entire time, and I believe he started doing stand-up routines that talked about how he didn't care if he was going to get lung cancer and die. And the comparisons started with Bill Hicks, who is probably one of the Top 20 comedians ever.
I didn't think it was fair that Leary was being compared to him. Sure, both guys did the smoking bits, and talked tough and carried on about not caring that they weren't politically correct. But why does one comedian have a trademark on a style?
Nobody knocks Eddie Murphy or Chris Rock, when they start to sound like Richard Pryor. And they shouldn't.
When Leary released a song called "I'm an A**hole", a few people compared that to a routine or song from another comedian.
There's a scene in the great documentary "Comedian", which follows Jerry Seinfeld and another young comedian around. At a lunch once, with a few other comedians, the subject comes up. Although, I would've liked to hear them delve a lot more into it.
I read that Patton Oswald, a great comedian and comic actor, say that he stopped doing a Hot Pocket joke after Gaffigans routine became so popular. Now, imagine he hadn't done that. Everyone would accuse him of stealing material.
I read another thing that said Judd Apatow (who dabbled in stand-up, before becoming a big-cheese filmmaker) did a routine that Leary seemed to also "borrow" from.
I once argued with comedians before a radio interview on 103.7. They claimed that Robin Williams stole a lot of material, which is a charge you hear often. Yet, I've seen him in a clubs make up things on the spot, and improv from things he sees in the audience. When I told the comedian I don't see why he would risk his reputation or what he would have to gain from doing that, he explained how you can accidentally borrow from another stand-up. He said, "What if Williams saw a comedian in a club do a few jokes. They had to do with a girl not knowing anything about her car. And then, he has a routine that deals with women being bad at directions. He might not even consciously be aware he's doing it, but some joke from the other comedian pop into his mind, so he includes them into his bit."
It was a good point, although I'm not sure I really bought it.
Until someone does what Joe Rogan did when Carlos Mencia was accused of stealing material from older comedians.....
And that was bizarre. Rogan had apparently talked with other comedians, all of which agreed Mencia did this. Mencia started talking smack, and Rogan jumped on stage and called him out. And, Rogan apparently made video that showed Mencias routine, and showed or played the routine from the other comedian for people to compare it with.
Of all the entertainment fields to pursue, it must be hard for someone wanting to be a comedian. A woman once argued with me that she was having trouble making it because male club owners don't book females. I told her she was full of crap.
When I saw her routine that night, it was cute, but not very funny. And I saw two jokes that were Bill Hicks rip-offs, and two from another comedian. Whether she did that on purpose or not, I don't know.
And, if you meet someone that wants to be a singer, actor, or artist...you can talk to them about their craft at a party. They'll usually have interesting stories.
If you meet a comedian at a setting like this, your first instinct is going to be asking them to "Make me laugh. Say something funny."
I'm guessing, after hearing that a few times, they wouldn't be caught off guard and would have a witty response.