Been Caught Stealing

This week comedian and actor Patton Oswalt used his blog to publicly name-and-shame fellow ‘stand-up’ Nick Madson for stealing his material. These stories crop up every now and then, a comic spots some similarities between a gag or two and gets ticked off. But this is a little different, in this instance we’re not talking about the odd line being lifted, these are entire word-for-word routines.

How to deal with joke theft is a tricky issue. Recently I watched two open-mic acts (who shall remain nameless) descend into a heated Facebook argument over the use of material after one act had accused the other of using both Demetri Martin and Bill Hicks jokes in their set. My initial feelings were that if you’re going to accuse someone of joke theft then an e-mail or quiet, tactful word in their ear would probably have sufficed and solved the issue.

But maybe not? After seeing someone like Madson stealing entire acts maybe the name-and-shame route is the best approach to take? Stewart Lee has been highly vocal in naming joke thieves – he listed several on his website who he felt had produced work incredibly similar to his own. Both Lee and Frank Skinner have specifically attacked Joe Pasquale for lifting material, US comic Joe Rogan took stand-up Carlos Mencia to task about joke theft face-to-face, while the classic Bill Hicks/Denis Leary fallout is well documented.

Fans, promoters and other comics should be made aware if acts are stealing the works of others. Comedy is a form of artistic expression, you spend time writing, honing and performing, finding what works, finding your voice and then you find someone else has taken your work verbatim? It wouldn’t be acceptable in any other working arena and it shouldn’t be acceptable in comedy. To take a joke is one thing but to plagiarise entire routines, like Madson, is utterly unforgivable. The sad thing is there may be have been a decent performer in there but by ripping off others (and doing it so badly) he’s essentially ended his own comedy career before it’s even begun.

Watch the Oswalt/Madson videos and read the full story on Chortle.

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