The sad case of 'joke theft' in comedy

Updated: Jan 14, 2018, 11:00 AM(IST)

The era of stand-up comedy is experiencing a great boom on social media age.

The sad case of 'Joke theft' in comedy shows

The era of stand-up comedy is experiencing a great boom on social media age.

In earlier times stand up comedians were used as a 'fillers' but now it has reached an exalted status with people ready to shell out big bucks just for a one-hour show.

However, as Uncle Ben said, 'With great power comes great responsibility'.

The plagiarism row has now taken hold over this booming trade. A serious allegation which was being whispered earlier has now blown up into a major issue on social media with accusations flying thick and fast.


Abijit Ganguly vs Kapil Sharma

Last year, Indian stand-up comedian Abijit Ganguly accused another famous comedian Kapil Sharma of plagiarism. He said that Kapil and his team had lifted a joke from his video which he uploaded just a few days back from the telecast of Kapil's show.

In his video, he was talking about how an elder brother always makes you ball which leads the younger brother to become a better bowler and that's why all the best bowlers have an older brother.

In response to the allegations of plagiarism, Kiku Sharda, another comedian on the show, said that many times writers of the show during the writing process take jokes from WhatsApp forwards and that's where they found that joke and used it in their script.


Stand up comedy and plagiarism?

When comedians joke on stage, it often ends up becoming a famous meme and floats on social media. This is is not a new thing in the world of comedy but "stealing" from there creates a huge credibility gap and on social media, which loves a controversy, it begins to touch a worldwide audience.
In earlier times it was easy to identify who copied the jokes because then comedians used to make one-line jokes but as art is growing, and more and more comedians are experimenting with art, they take inspiration from their own lives and are beginning to narrate incidents that they have witnessed and use it as a premise, it is, therefore, blurring the lines of plagiarised content

In fact, plagiarism in stand up comedy is not a new thing, many standup comedians have been accused of plagiarism and not just in India but in the West as well.


'Racism Connoisseur'

Comedian and Daily Show host Trevor Noah received a backlash in 2015 after for using a term "racism connoisseur" in a show in Los Angeles, which, according to critics, were first coined by US Comedian Dave Chappelle a decade ago.

Although the term isn't legally protected, comics were debating whether or not this is fair use of content.


'Little tiny hairs'

Even Bill Cosby who already has several allegations against him by now has been accused of joke theft. He also accepted in 2007 that the bit he did "little tiny hairs"  was stolen from one of the greatest comedians of time George Carlin. However, he was never called out by Carlin himself.


Pioneer of stand-up comedy, Joan Rivers

One of the other pioneers of stand-up comedy Joan Rivers has also been accused of reusing Carlin's material which was mentioned by Carlin himself in an interview with the US magazine.


Oscar winner Robin Williams

Oscar winner Robin Williams had also been known as a material thief, he had allegedly used other comedian's material in Johnny Carson's "The Tonight Show".


Amy Schumer gets her face fillers dissolved

Amy Schumer, who made a name for herself over the past couple of years being a comedian and an actress, has been accused of making a career in comedy by allegedly stealing jokes.

Many people have called out Schumer for stealing jokes from the late Patrice O'Neal, as well as from Wendy Liebman, Tammy Pescatelli, and Kathleen Madigan.


So what is plagiarism where should the line be drawn?

According to comics, the term copying joke is subjective. For instance, for the Indian audience topics such as middle-class families, girls vs guys in dating, husband-wife dramas, engineers are quite common among the new comedians that are joining this circle. 

Now to make your jokes around these premises is OK, but to tell identical punchlines without permission or not giving credit to a person a comic is taking from, would be considered 'joke theft' or plagiarism of material.


'Does anybody care?'

But the bigger question here is not for the comedy creators but the audience which feels 'does anybody care?' because Kapil Sharma and Amy Schumer are still doing pretty good in their life. 

In Abhijeet’s case, his co-comedians also did the same but only to get trolled by the watchers of 'The Kapil Sharma Show'. In fact, that controversy also died after few days of debate of Hindi comedy vs English comedy, with each section defending their field.


'Jugaad' (hack) culture

The root cause of this is that we as Indians are quite lenient towards lifting other people's content and marketing it as our own, very casually people are seen using lines by others in our daily conversation or on our social media pages and its reason could be the lack of awareness of the concept of plagiarism.

There are several instances of jokes being copied on WhatsApp which later turn into viral content.

We as an audience have a responsibility to reject such content just for the sake of encouraging original content creators because for a comedian it is hard work.

A comedian takes sometimes up to a year to write a content for an hour-long show.

The "jugaad" (hack) culture should not be allowed to seep into comedy since it would mean more controversies


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