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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Stealing Comedy

Comedian Patton Oswalt has a very good piece on his blog about having material stolen and performed by other people -- not just other comics, but a valedictorian giving a graduation speech, or a pastor giving a sermon. He writes that too many people underestimate the talent it takes to create comedy...

Most people are not funny. Doesn’t mean they’re bad people, or dumb, or unperceptive or even uncreative. Just like most people can’t play violin, or play professional-level basketball, or perform brain surgery, or a million other vocational, technical, aesthetic or creative pursuits. Everyone is created unequal.

But for some reason, everyone wants to be funny. And feels like they have a right to be funny.

But being funny is like any other talent – some people are born with it, and then, through diligence and hard work and a lot of mistakes, they strengthen that talent.

But some people aren’t born with it. Just like some people (me, for example) aren’t born with the capacity to make music, or the height and reflexes for basketball, or the smarts to map the human mind and repair it. I’m cool knowing all of those limitations about myself.

I’m even cool knowing my limitations within comedy. I think, after nearly 25 years pursuing my craft, that I’ve become very very good at this. But I’ll never be as good as Jim Gaffigan, or Louie CK or Paul F. Tompkins or Maria Bamford or Brian Regan. Never reach the plangent brilliance of a Richard Pryor or the surreal mastery of a Steve Martin. I’m okay with that. I still get to be creative – on my own terms, and purely on my own work.

But why is it – and this only seems to apply to comedy – that some people so deeply resent those that can write jokes, can invent new perceptions of the world that actually make people laugh? Resent them so much that they have to denigrate the entire profession, just so they can feel better about themselves? Do they really think they’re less of a person if they can’t make up a joke, or be funny in the moment? Why is it so crucial to them? Is it because all of us, at some point of darkness or confusion or existential despair, were amazed at how absurd a thing as a simple joke suddenly lit the way, or warmed the cold, or made the sheer, horrific insanity that sometimes comes with being alive suddenly, completely, miraculously manageable?

Those people – the public and, sadly, a lot of journalists – those people were my target, in all of my seemingly “unmeasured responses” to thievery. Because I can’t stop joke thieves. They’re always going to be there.

But what I can hopefully stop – or, at least, change for the better – is the public (and media’s) response to joke thieves, by hammering away at this same, exhausting refrain every time I see some thumb-sucking “think piece” by a writer who should fucking know better, cyber-quacking away about “cover songs” and “vaudeville” and a million other euphemisms and deflections away from the simple fact that an uncreative person took a creative person’s work, signed their name to it, and passed it off as their own for their personal glorification, monetary benefit and career advancement. There’s no wiggle room there. Even the thieves know that, better than the dullards who are rationalizing and defending them.
Read Oswalt's full piece, in which he remembers the shame he felt when he inadvertently stole a joke by Carol Leifer early in his career, and writes about hecklers and rape jokes, too.