The title is how to deal with joke thieves, but I think the most important thing to do is to first figure out if the person did in fact steal a joke (or your joke). I have seen instances where someone has claimed another comic stole their joke just to find out that it was just a case of similar premises with different outcomes. If you are going to accuse someone of lifting your material you have to be 100% sure. If you just throw out an accusation like that it could ruin a comedian’s reputation. Ok. I think that is out of the way. Now lets talk about how to deal with these roguish bastards.
For those that don’t follow stand up that much or have no idea what the big fuss is about, you have to understand that a comedian’s material is all that she has to make her stand out in a sea of comedians. That is why joke theft is not taken lightly. If you are taking the jokes that people are working hard on then you are potentially taking their livelihoods from them…that was a bit harsh, but you understand what I mean, right?
Now, there are instances where two people have come up with the same joke. This is called parallel thought. There are many examples of this from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games. There are only so many things that you can joke about and there are only so many ways to put those things together. Eventually two people will come up with the same thing. I have heard many ways of dealing with this. Some have said whoever gets it on TV first gets to keep the joke. Some say whoever is the “bigger” comic gets to have it (so if me and Seinfeld come up with similar jokes he gets to have it). My favorite way to deal with this is bare knuckle boxing, but since most comedians don’t have health insurance it is the least used method.
Ok. So you know this person stole your joke. Now what do you do? The best way is to privately approach the suspect and ask them about it. “Hey, do you know that joke you did sounds just like my joke?” That will usually elicit an embarrassed response. That is what normal people with a heart and morals will do when they realized they took someone’s joke. Why? Because most comics just take what’s around them and package it into a joke. They may not even know that they did that. They will say sorry and it will never happen again. That is the best way this could end. If you get someone that wants to argue the point then just explain to them what you felt was the theft and if they agree then that is that. If they don’t then you have a couple of options. You can either let them have the joke knowing that this person is filth and not worth your time, or you can let it be known in the community that this person is a joke thief. The thing about letting the comedy community know is that being shamed in front of your peers is a great way to correct behavior (or it could make things worst, but we are focusing on the good right now). If this person is a joke thief then they will be shunned and that could mean less work for them.
I have had several instances where someone has stolen my material. I write a lot so I don’t let it bother me too much, but sometimes it is so in your face that you have to say something. I was at an open mic when someone did this to me. I was sitting at a table with a comic and when this comedian got on stage and did my joke! The other comic looked at me like I should do something right then and there. I wasn’t too mad because the person that stole the joke tried to change it and they messed up what made the joke great. See, that is the thing with a lot of joke thieves. They are better at stealing then they are at joke writing so when they try things like changing the joke so they can later claim that it is a different joke it usually means a shitty joke. After this comedian did his version of the joke it fell flat. I got up a couple of comics later and just explained that if you are gonna steal a joke you got to do it right. I did the bit the way I wrote it and it went over. That stopped that little bastard right in his tracks. It felt good. Like some shit you see on a TV show. That usually doesn’t happen like that though. Most joke thieves will not do the material in front of you. They will do it “off-site” and you have to hear about the theft second hand, and that creates all sorts of problems.
If you haven’t heard your joke come out of someone else’s mouth then you should not be approaching people with those accusations. Remember, this could lead to problems for people. If someone tells you they heard someone do your joke then you have to take it with a huge grain of salt. Unless that person knows your stuff word for word then it is just hearsay. People might know the gist of you material, but not every bit and that could lead to embarrassment for all parties involve
Joke stealing is serious. You worked on your material. You don’t want anyone just lifting it and taking credit for it. Ensure your material is protected, but at the same time there is a good and bad way of doing stuff. I hope this helps you. Thanks for reading!