Saturday, 9 July 2011

A Beginner's Guide to Stealing Jokes

Chortle and Twitter have been rife with allegations over the last couple of weeks with some big name comedians becoming embroiled. One case in American is being resolved by lawsuit.

It started with an unknown Australian Comic Jordan Paris who managed to get through the auditions of Australia's Got Talent with some jokes stolen from comedians Geoff Keith and Lee Mack. Paris was as guilty as sin, stealing the jokes word for word, exactly as previously performed by the aforementioned comics on TV. As thefts go it's not exactly the great train robbery in terms of cunning or in terms of what was stolen, but for the two comedians who had their material taken from them and regurgitated by a less talented imposter, it was serious business. (The main joke in question was centred around rock singers getting the crowd to sing and comparing this to what would happen if a comic did the same).

Both comedians came out saying how angry they were and called for him to be disqualified from the competition and not booked by promoters in the future. Instead, the judges chose to let him continue on the condition that he didn't steal any more jokes and as a result, he predictably died on his arse with his own material. A fair outcome all round in the end.

Micky Flanagan didn't do himself any favours by then using the same joke as his own on Mock the Week a few days later! (A joke which he says he used years ago and only used recently because it was relevant to the subject being discussed).

Since then there have been quite a few more comics claiming that they too have had their jokes stolen....

Now, whilst comedians and writers have every right to protect their material, I do think there is a bit of self promotion going on at the same time. They say imitation is the best form of flattery and no-one is going to copy a crap comedian so it follows logically that if your material has been nicked it must be good! Therefore, if you are seen to have comedy material stolen from you, you must be a good comic, so it is in your interest to be seen to have been imitated.

Jim Tavare went one stage further recently and claimed that Sid Bowfin, formerly of the trio "Pluck" stole his whole act. "It's like you've stolen my soul" he proclaimed on Chortle, Twitter and Punchline Magazine. His evidence was a couple of videos showing that they both dressed in a similar manner, they were both bald, they both used musical instruments, they both had a routine around a broken microphone and their websites looked similar.

I had never heard of Jim Tavare, before this episode, I did however recognise Sid Bowfin (real name Adrian Garratt) from watching Pluck back in 2008. Review here. As I said in my review I thought they were great. His range of facial expressions, outstanding musical ability and participation in a very well thought out and planned show means he's got great comic ability regardless. The fact that many of his shows are improvised also tells you he isn't just a script memoriser.

However, my respect for him has jumped to a whole new level with his detailed and passionate defence of himself and his act, where he refutes all the allegations against himself. In the rebuttal, which reads like an essay on the history of the type of comedy he performs, complete with video references, he explains that comedians can sometimes come up with similar ideas, can dress the same, can both be bald and can also both use the same computer software for building websites.

As a result, Jim Tavare, not to put it to lightly, now appears to have make a complete and utter c*** of himself and is very lucky that he is not being sued, especially since he encouraged other comedians to retweet his claims. To his credit though, he does now appear to have apologised.

In my experience, comedians do come up with the same material a lot. I have been lucky enough to have been invited to judge quite a few new act competitions and if I had to count the number of times I've heard the same jokes about sat nav and 9/11 happening on November 9th etc I would need all my fingers and toes! As a result, I don;t think Micky Flanagan is guilty of copying anything. At worst, all you can call him is a little bit hack!

So if you are a comic and you hear a joke similar to your own, my advice would be to stop and think about it, realise the world is a finite place and have a think about whether it COULD be a co-incidence. If you're sure it can't be, approach said comedian and tell him to stop performing your material or you will post videos of you performing the material before said plagiarist. If he/she still does not recant, post your material and let people judge for themselves. If it's that obvious, you will be backed up by others. If they still don't stop then talk to your lawyer.

Allegations can get out very quickly and mushroom in the age of Twitter so make sure they are 100% correct before you put it out there.

Alternatively, you could just take some advice from joke thief victim Milton Jones who simply said "A punch in the face in a comedy club green room is generally more effective than court".


Duffy said...

or you can turn it into one of my favourite jokes of all time like Stewart Lee did.
Has there ever been a more unlikely punch line than "even though your home lacks even the most rudimentary brewing facilities"

Richard Stamp said...

Sadly, Jim Tavare's latest statement as carried on Chortle is a classic non-apology apology - he was misled by incomplete information, people didn't understand the nuances in what he was saying, he's very sorry about the things some of his supporters did, and so forth. The contrast with "Sid Bowfin"'s letter - which you rightly say deserves stratospheric levels of respect - couldn't be more marked.

I think the lesson everyone should take from this is that before you accuse anyone of ripping off your entire stage persona, it is obligatory to do more research than watching a one-and-a-half-minute video on YouTube.

A very sad affair. I have to admit I hadn't heard of Jim Tavare either, and I now rather hope I never hear of him again. I'm a little surprised at Chortle too - though at least they're now splashing the retraction on their front page.

Colin Scott said...

I agree Richard. It was a half-arsed apology. Despite this, Sid/Adrian has been gracious enough to accept it so anyone defending him needs to as well.

I didn't see both videos until after the apology came out but I would like to think that I would have come to the same conclusion that it was two different and unrelated acts that have some similarities.

How anyone could watch the two videos and think that one copied the other is a mystery to me. I was waiting for Sid Bowfin to do something remotely similar and he just didn't.