There is more content available to consumers than ever before. Thousands of hours of unique content are available at the fingertips of anyone who chooses to find it. To be a truly original creator is near impossible. After all, the human brain cannot come up with something that it has not experienced before in some way or another. Modern TV sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory owe their brand of humour to shows like Seinfeld or the I Love Lucy show before it. However, with the rise of comedy comes the topical issue of ‘joke stealing’. Several mainstream people and groups have been savagely accused of ‘idea theft’ making the comedy world look more like Wall Street than a laugh factory. But what is intellectual property anyway? Can you truly steal an idea or is everyone inspired by something that came before us?
The most famous case of ‘joke theft’ was American comedian Carlos Mencia. Fellow comic, UFC commentator and Podcast superpower Joe Rogan notoriously accused Mencia of joke stealing live on stage. This derailed Mencia permanently and single-handedly destroyed his career. Recently, Amy Schumer has been in the firing lines. Her recent Netflix special received so many one star reviews that the company was forced to overhaul their rating system all together. Critics point to Schumer’s unoriginality in several cases. Her alleged plagiarism has occurred in both her stand-up routines and in her sketch shows. Comedians such as Louis CK, Dave Chappelle, Daniel Tosh, Kathleen Madigan and Dave Attell have all claimed infringements on their intellectual property. Schumer’s sketch show Inside Amy Schumer has also copied ideas from other shows like College Humor and MAD TV. Schumer has defended herself by stating that she, ‘would never steal jokes from someone’ and that she ‘never has’.
Joe Rogan commented on the witch-hunt on Schumer stating that it might be true that some of these instances could be cases of accidental ‘parallel thinking’ as Schumer says. However, he says some of the jokes are far too close to be mere accidents. For instance, Kathleen Madigan had a bit in her stand-up routine about Oprah. She questioned how she could be so fat when she is so rich that she could literally hire someone to slap the food out of her mouth or exercise her unconscious body while she slept. Enter Amy Schumer who had a sketch in her show that was near identical in set up and delivery. The joke can actually be traced back to The Flintstones on an episode where Fred is trying to lose some weight for Wilma. Madigan could get away with parallel thinking here, or borrowing an idea, but Schumer’s example is far too close.
This has happened on a large scale also. Youtuber Akilah Obviously recently accused BuzzFeed of stealing her and other smaller Youtube creator’s content. She stated that BuzzFeed overwork their staff so hard by expecting them to deliver daily, original content. She provides examples of shot-for-shot rip offs of other channel’s videos. It is true that when placed side by side, the similarities are shocking.
So who is to blame? Surprisingly, I do not blame Schumer and I do not blame the actors at BuzzFeed. I blame their writers and their bosses. The growing need for daily content has proved far too much for some. This has led to obvious joke stealing, whether on purpose or not. Schumer may play innocent, but plagiarism is plagiarism. If I ‘accidently’ run someone over with my car, that is still manslaughter whether I meant to or not. As the Internet grows larger and larger it is time for content providers like YouTube to put into place some system for smaller creators to call out obvious creative fraud. I personally do not want to live in an Orwellian society where the only source of entertainment comes from media superpowers. At the moment, it is near impossible for anyone to touch giants such as BuzzFeed. As ironic as it sounds, the desperate need of original ideas is killing our creativity.