Amy Schumer has had an amazing year, going from Saturday Night Live regular her own sketch show to the Hollywood A-list (and just generally one of our favourite people).
But recently she found herself in a spot of controversy, when it was alleged that she stole several jokes from the late Patrice O’Neal, as well as from Wendy Liebman, Tammy Pescatelli, and Kathleen Madigan.
There were claims that jokes they’d made in the past had appeared in material used by Schumer in stand-up, sketches and her comedy film Trainwreck.
Schumer has since refuted the claims, and has even offered to take a lie detector test:
Whether you think Schumer is a joke thief or is merely being targeted by others who are jealous of the way her career has taken off, it’s definitely not the first time that the issue of plagiarism has divided the notoriously ego-centric comedy circuit.
1. Milton Berle v Bob Hope
The Joke: Too many to mention
One of oldest feuds in showbiz, and a cut-and-dried case. Milton Berle was notoriously unapologetic to the comedy industry for his joke thefts, and is known to have said:
“I don’t steal people’s jokes. I just find them before they’re lost.”
Legend says the wounded Hope was once so angry that it compelled him to get on stage before Berle’s show and recite all his planned gags.
Verdict: Guilty. We have a confession.
2. Bill Cosby v Carlos Mencia
Push aside Bill Cosby’s recent history for a second, because that’s not why we’re here.
The video shows that the copying of this father-son joke is pretty blatant – but it’s also proof that there’s no need to go screaming into a mic to get your point across.
Verdict: This is only Mencia’s first offence. Let him off with a warning. And Bill Cosby isn’t exactly the most sympathetic victim.
3. David Brenner v Robin Williams
The Joke: No one really knows.
Robin Williams: Prince of Thieves? The much-loved comedian got his start as a regular in David Brenner’s comedy club. To steal jokes would mean it was right under Brenner’s nose. We don’t think Robin had that in him.
The guy was an impressionist so doesn’t that make all his jokes rip-offs?
Unfortunately for both comedians their feud eclipsed whatever laughs we might have got out of the situation and was lost to time.
“Tell Robin if he ever takes one more line from me, I’ll rip his leg off and shove it up his ass!” Brenner warned Williams’ reps.
It just proves why the bully’s more popular than the class clown. An unfunny truth.
Verdict: Innocent. The late great Robin Williams could steal every joke and we wouldn’t care.
4. Peter Kay vs Lee Evans and Michael McIntyre
The Joke: Something energetic
It’s a little hard to believe this if you’ve ever seen either Lee Evans or Peter Kay’s acts. Evans loses a stone in sweat each show! To copy him is a lot more work than it’s really worth.
On a lesser scale that can be said about Michael McIntyre too. On his show First World Problems, Jason Manford did an impression of him where he skipped once and said he thought he was going to have a stroke.
Plus there’s the general nice-guy act Kay has going on. Can you see him stealing those jokes? But then what else would get you the name “The Gagpie” in comedy circles?
Being the British equivalent, no one’s really screaming about this and in fact there have been a few co-ed TV appearances. Apparently our comedians shake hands rather than fists.
Verdict: No one pressed charges.
5. Bill Hicks v Denis Leary
The Joke: The entire act!
“He wants to make the warning on the packs bigger. He wants the whole front of the pack to be the warning. Like the problem is we just haven’t noticed yet. Like all of a sudden smokers around the world are going to be going “Yeah, I’ve got some cigarettes–HOLY SHIT! These things are bad for you! Shit, I thought they were good for you, I thought they had vitamin C in them and stuff!”
Friends turned enemies Hicks and Leary were doing well, although Hicks better than Leary. The story goes Hicks had a persona on stage that had served him well but he was breaking from it for the time being, leading the way for Leary to release No Cure For Cancer, featuring Leary as the Hicks persona, complete with the same jokes and the uptaking of smoking that Hicks had just dropped.
Although the friendship ended due to the show, Hicks is still a comedian after all…
“I have a scoop for you. I stole his act. I camouflaged it with punchlines, and to really throw people off, I did it before he did.”
Verdict: Guilty. Most crimes are committed by those closest to you.
6. Louis C.K. v Dane Cook and David Cross
“I’d like to have a kid because you can name your kid anything you want. I like that part. I’d like to give my kid an interesting name like a name with no vowels, maybe? Just like 40 F’s. That’s his name.” – Louis C.K.
“First kid, boy, girl, I don’t care. First one that comes out is gonna be called ‘Rrrrrrr’. I think it’s beautiful. It’s feminine but strong. ‘Time for bed, Rrrrrrr’.” – Dane Cook
And a few others.
Unpopular opinion: I think Dane Cook improved on the originals.
Nowadays the two comedians laugh about it, thinking it was funny enough for a cameo appearance in Louis’s TV show, which was a surreal experience. Did they laugh after? Shake hands? Road House-style kick the other in the jaw?
But then, among all the research, a video accusing Louis C.K. of stealing jokes from David Cross can be found…
…which calls into question the idea that simply ALL jokes are stolen. Maybe there are no original jokes. Then again, maybe Family Guy was right and they all come from one big castle.
But we’re not here for that.
Verdict: Guilty, but lesser charge for improvement.
7. George Lopez v Carlos Mencia & Ted Sarnowski
The Joke: Getting up to change the TV
“Kids don’t remember getting up to change the TV. What about us? *smack* ‘Hey, get up and change it to channel 5. Stay right there in case I don’t like it.'”
This one’s all messy due to the fact that before we can say if the joke is stolen, we have to determine who wrote the joke.
Mencia is obviously saying he wrote the joke.
Lopez says he wrote the joke.
Sarnowski says he wrote the joke and gave it to Mencia to use.
Anyone else banging their heads against a wall?
Verdict: Case dismissed due to lack of evidence.
8. Carlos Mencia v Joe Rogan
The Joke: Apparently hundreds.
Urgh. This guy again?
Another complainant is Joe Rogan, who screams online:
“Carlos Mencia is a Weak Minded Joke Thief”
In a blog post where he accuses Mencia of faking being Mexican as a hook, he also spilled his guts out for everyone to see.
Watch Mencia defend being a “thief” and plug his new thing, “Stereotype Olympics”, which the radio host then reveals he knows is not his idea.
In an industry where your friends get you your next job and “networking” is as vital as a reference, Mencia’s sure raking in a lot of enemies.
Verdict: Double term for re-offending.
9. Daniele Luttazzi v Just About Everyone
The Joke: countless
According to Luttazzi, his copying of various comedians such as George Carlin, Mitch Hedberg, Eddie Izzard, Chris Rock, Bill Hicks and Robert Schimmel, was in fact a legal safety blanket. By peppering stolen jokes throughout his act he hoped to avoid lawsuits for such satire.
So instead of getting done for offending he’d get done for plagiarism. Smart.
A Reddit user has the theory that being Italian, Luttazzi probably thought he could go around listening to comedians and combine all their different jokes into one show for an Italian audience and they wouldn’t even notice.
Verdict: Overwhelming evidence says guilty.
10. Lee Mack & Geoff Keith v Jordan Paris
“I have three requirements when it comes to girls. 1. Are you a girl? 2. Have you always been a girl? And, if not, can you keep a secret?” – Geoff Keith
“‘Come on, Glastonbury, you know this one.’ ‘Yeah, we know this one, Robbie. It was £150 to get in. Any chance you could sing it for us?'”
In a story that hits a little closer to home, Australia’s Got Talent comedian Jordan Paris apparently assumed he wasn’t going to get anywhere with his own material and decided to use Lee Mack’s and Geoff Keith’s.
The weirdest part is when he’s imitating the way Mack walks across the stage… Creepy.
The judges at his first audition ate it up and allowed him to go through before it emerged the jokes were stolen.
When it did, Paris was offered a place in the semi-final as long as he performed his own material.
He did not.
He did however try to redeem himself by saying he got through because of his delivery, which doesn’t seem likely. Laughing at your own jokes and adding “mate” isn’t stand-up comedy, mate.
Verdict: Guilty. Mainly for the walk, and those teeth!
11. Stewart Lee v Just About Anyone and Anything
“It’s just a joke.”
Ironic, isn’t it, Lee?
Very loud and clearly, Stewart Lee has pointed the finger and yelled “J’accuse!” at (among others) Frankie Boyle, by means of highlighting a routine of Boyle’s on his website under “Plagiarists’ Corner“, where he posts the offending feature alongside his own.
This isn’t just jokes. Posters, routines, names, anything goes. Most importantly “Subject matter”. He fingers Dara O’Brien with the title “Jokes about Islam” and Louis CK for “Explaining why fart jokes are funny”.
So does that mean anything you mention is off-limits, Lee? Is the PM going to be sued for saying ISIS is bad? Can we ever use the Yellow Pages again?
Verdict: Innocent. Most of the claims are too tenuous to amount to joke theft.
12. Amy Schumer v Just About Anyone
Back to where we started…
“I’m very old school. I think the guy should always pay on the first date. For sex.”
The tweet that started it all has since been taken down and remedied…
I never said @amyschumer stole my joke.I just said it was the same.It's possible we both wrote it.I just wanted you to know I wrote it 1st.
— Wendy Liebman (@WendyLiebman) January 20, 2016
But that can of worms was opened and people started accusing. First there was Kathleen Madigan:
— Chuck Martin (@MrChuckMartin) January 18, 2016
Then Tammy Pescatelli waded in…
And then there was the Patrice O’Neal gorilla mask joke but, we’re not gonna… just… Nah.
Defending herself, Schumer told The Jim Norton Advice Show:
“Kathleen and Wendy know me and don’t believe I would do that – I think that Tammy is trying to get something going, I don’t know … I think she is upset … people get upset by success.”
But being Amy Schumer is about being more than the jokes. Female sexuality is finally getting a voice. If we shut down Schumer now, the loudest voice in that leap forward is silenced.
Verdict: The world needs an Amy Schumer, especially since the loss of Joan Rivers. Don’t mess that up now. Innocent, but on probation.
Main image via Getty