Hey there ‘Redheads… I hope everyone got through the 4th of July weekend with all of their extremities intact. Nothing says American freedom like setting off enough Chinese fireworks to have won the goddamn Revolutionary War in the first place. I think it’s kinda poetic, because in 100 years, we’ll declare financial independence from the Chinese by dumping a payload of sparklers into the Yangtze. Oh, the sense that could make. Speaking of the future of our American history textbooks, I hope everyone has set aside the time to watch the big LeBron James one-hour television extravaganza on ESPN tomorrow night. I know I can’t wait to find out where a 25 year-old will be making $100 million. Unless he chooses the winning city by throwing darts at a map, or he says that his Nike puppet will play his away games, or he reveals that he’s signing with the Washington Redskins, there isn’t a pie chart in the world that could accurately display just how little I care. Go where you will, win something, and shut the fuck up. I’m also glad the World Cup is just about done. It’s the wooden shoes and tulips versus empanadas and rain that stays mainly on the plain. Whoever wins, you can be assured their celebrations will be drowned out by the locust mating call of the vuvuzelas…
Over the weekend, I had to settle a small matter of comedy unpleasantness that came to my attention when I was driving home from the show in Maine. That Sunday was the night of the big TBS comedy special that featured the writers of the new Conan O’Brien Show. As it turns out, one of the writers, a comic named Josh Comers, does a joke about removing the analogies from the SATs that is identical to my joke about removing the analogies from the SATs. I went through my old VHS tapes of my early open mic sets and found an instance of me telling the joke from October of 2002…
Obviously, it’s more polished now and I was telling it to a grand total of about 7 people in that clip, but there it is. Unfortunately, the TBS video isn’t embeddable, but here’s the link to the special (skip to part 5, the joke is at the 2:40 mark…sorry about all the Twix commercials). I wanted to get in touch with him, so I did what anyone does these days, I looked him up on Facebook. This was our correspondence…
Hey there Josh…
I’m a comic out of DC who’s been performing about 8 years now in clubs around the country. On my way home from a gig last Sunday night, I get a call from a comedy buddy of mine who tells me to “turn on TBS right now.” I wasn’t able to then, but I’ve looked at the video online and you tell a joke that’s identical to one I’ve been telling since 2003. It’s the joke about taking the analogies out of the SATs. Same delivery. Same punch. I’m not accusing you of anything. I hope it’s just a case of parallel thinking and a good sign I could write for Conan someday. It was just a kick in the teeth hearing one of my favorite jokes being told on TV by someone who isn’t me.
Hey Jared. I absolutely cringed reading your message. As a comic, there’s nothing worse than feeling like one of your favorite jokes may have been ripped off.
Jared, I can assure you that this is a case of parallel thinking. I can’t pinpoint the exactly how long I’ve been doing the joke without going back and listening to cassettes, but I’ve been doing it for many years myself. No one has ever come up to me and said, “I heard someone else doing that joke”. If they did, I probably would have kicked the wall then stopped doing the joke, unless I could be certain I came up with it first.
I pride myself on my joke writing and being original. Good jokes are precious. I would never lift a joke one from another comic and have zero respect for anyone that does.
I appreciate your very reasoned tone about this. I hope what I’ve written here allays any suspicions and we can agree that this is one of those cases of parallel thinking.
Okay. So, where do we go from here?
That is a fine question, Josh… I guess I’ll be the one to give it up. You did it on TV, so anyone who sees me tell it from now on will think I cribbed it from the TBS special. It is on my CD, by the way, which isn’t exactly burning up the charts, but I sell it on the road.
It stinks, but it just confirms that I need to write more. Sorry to bug you about it. Good luck with the show.
Jared, this may be ridiculous, but what if we both continued to do it from time to time? The fact is, for now, I’m pretty much anchored here in LA, and you’re on the road. I bet there’s likely a very small cross section of people who will see us both do that joke.
I’d understand if you’re resigned to dropping it, but I don’t know if it’s totally necessary right now. Hell, if we both drop it we may be motivated to write a joke of equal quality. Either way, I’m thinking I probably won’t do it as much given the situation.
I had totally forgotten that a similar thing happened to me once years ago. I was watching an old friend do a set on Letterman and he did a bit I’d been doing for a while. I had to stop doing the bit. While I’m guessing he’d seen me do it at some point, I never confronted him on it because he was a good guy who I didn’t think would never lift anything intentionally. Maybe he just absorbed it? Anyway, it still sucked.
In the mean time, let’s both write more stand up jokes. Just not the same ones.
Long story short, I’m probably going to drop it. Hopefully, the next time I manage to parallel a late night comedy writer, it can be in career trajectory.
To be continued…