People have been stealing jokes for as long as people have been telling jokes. Like almost everything else that society has deemed unsavory, joke thievery only became more widespread with the advent of the Internet. A comic doesn't just have to worry about other comics stealing his jokes now, but also an endless stream of bloggers and Twitter and YouTube users who, even after amassing a sizable following, operate in relative obscurity, delighting their thousands of fans who have no idea the things they're laughing at were written by other people.
Luckily, the other side effect of having an Internet box in every home is that getting away with shit like that forever is next to impossible, as these five joke-stealing creeps eventually learned.
These are the five most brazen joke thieves in social media history.
#5. Fred Thompson Forgets That Some of Us Can Still Afford Cable
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In the days after President Obama's 2010 speech about the BP oil spill, former senator and forever Law & Order rerun marathon star Fred Thompson took to Twitter and displayed some of that razor-sharp wit he's always been known for.
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Seen here doing his famous "If Obama Was Hitler" bit at the RNC.
Except that's not true, because no one expects wit or humor from Fred Thompson, which is exactly why this outpouring of spontaneous Internet comedy ...
... caught the attention of a writer at Fishbowl LA. Most likely employing the technological voodoo magic of sites like Hulu and HBO GO, she was able to uncover the true source of Fred Thompson's newfound comedy chops: He was lifting jokes from episodes of The Colbert Report and Real Time With Bill Maher that had aired within the last few days.
It's a joke about vuvuzelas, you probably don't want to watch the video.
To be fair, when it comes to knowledge of modern technology, I suspect Fred Thompson is probably the kind of guy who couldn't successfully call 911 on a Jitterbug without letting out a few frustration swears and lamenting the days when "a phone was just a phone."
The same cellphone the Founding Fathers used.
So it's highly unlikely that he's personally responsible for the comedy crime in question here, and that just makes what happened even less forgivable. To think that this heist would be successful requires the responsible party to honestly believe that a person who follows Fred Thompson on Twitter and a person who watches Colbert or Bill Maher could not possibly be one and the same.
That's the kind of narrow-minded view of the modern political landscape that you'd normally only expect from ... well, someone who would use their bullshit social media degree to land a job running Fred Thompson's Twitter page, I guess.
#4. Ironically Mustached Minister Ironically Forgets Ten Commandments
South Carolina minister and Twitter sensation @ProdigalSam (Sammy Rhodes, to his flock) had a not-too-shabby following of over 130,000 that he seemingly built the right way ... by consistently tweeting funny things.
Except there was a minor hitch. As it turned out, a lot of those "hilarious" tweets were stolen from other Twitter users, both famous and obscure. Take that duck joke, for example. If you have any doubt about what inspired it, check out the second name in the list of people who retweeted this:
He actually repeated the tweet several times over the ensuing months using a litany of different animals.
So if nothing else, at least give him credit for understanding exactly how Internet comedy works.
That said, while it's true that both sides are wrong because everyone knows that ducks and giraffes just use their armlike necks to hug, that definitely doesn't make what @ProdigalSam did any less shady.
He didn't see it that way, of course, and like many other religious types, he wasn't going to let an abundance of evidence to the contrary stop him from sharing his mistaken beliefs with the world. In his mind, most of his offenses could be chalked up to a simple case of parallel thought. Just two people happening upon the same idea. Kind of like how I wanted to point out that changing the word "duck" to "giraffe" and claiming it as all-new comedy gold is a lot like the absurd logic Vanilla Ice used to explain why the ghost of Freddie Mercury had no cause to sue him for stealing the "Ice Ice Baby" bass line from a Queen song:
The problem is, after coming up with that joke, a little further research revealed that the lovely and talented Jake Fogelnest beat everyone else to it.
So I guess I can't use it now, but the fact that we both landed on that same premise doesn't mean I intentionally set out to steal from him. It just means that it's a goddamn fantastic joke that deserved way more retweets, and also that we're both old enough to vividly remember that Vanilla Ice interview. I suspect he beat a lot of people my age to that joke when this story got huge.
It's way harder to claim simple coincidence when the premise is something like ducks hugging, though. So what was Sam's excuse in all of those cases? Why, he was just "riffing" on ideas originally put forth by his "Twitter heroes" (as if referring to Twitter users as "heroes" isn't also an egregious affront to comedy).
Unsurprisingly, no one bought his lies, and Sammy Rhodes was eventually forced to disappear into the Twitter ether.
There's no telling where @ProdigalSam might be these days, but wherever he is, I sincerely hope he's all right with me using so many of his tweets in this article.
#3. British TV Presenter Suggests Stealing as a Career Path
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Have you ever heard of Keith Chegwin? No, you haven't? Cool, that makes approximately 316.4 million of us. In fact, there are going to be a lot of names you don't recognize in this entry, but when the story came up during my research for this article, I knew I had to use it, because it demonstrates an unfortunate truth about the entertainment industry in general.
See, while plenty of people like @ProdigalSam are outed as thieves and disappear quietly, some simply brush off the accusations en route to building an entire career around stealing the work of others.
England was already well-versed in this shameless-thievery-as-entertainment business model after spending the last couple decades or so pretending every Oasis song wasn't at least 35 years old by the time the band got around to "writing" it.
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"Actually, [unintelligible British mumbling in defense of plagiarism]."
So there's a good chance most of the country took it in stride when Chegwin, a British TV presenter (the job title England bestows upon all its out-of-work actors) was called out for tweeting jokes that were obviously stolen from other British comics whose names you also would not recognize. He claimed all of the jokes were either his own creation or "public domain"-type jokes from comics who had long since died, which, apparently, means they no longer get to claim ownership of their work. Many of his peers, like Irish standup comic Ed Byrne, vehemently disagreed. Here's a quote:
"I think you're wrong not crediting your sources. Of the last four jokes you tweeted one was Milton Jones and one was Lee Mack. Both working comics."
See? I told you there would be names you didn't recognize.
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I'm guessing Milton Jones is famous for making this face in every picture.
That doesn't matter, though, because stealing is stealing, and everyone knows that shit is wrong. At least that's how it would work in a perfect world. Unlike @ProdigalSam, there would be no lame attempts from Keith Chegwin at justifying his actions as something innocent. Rather, he took the same path that the aforementioned Oasis chose when settling practically any dispute, which is just an unnecessarily Gallagher-brother-bashing way of saying he was a dick about things, tweeting this douchey bullshit in his defense:
"Always been honest about my gags, I'LL SAY IT AGAIN. Most of the gags are my own & some I remember from old. If ya don't like it 'UNFOLLOW'."
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He also invented kneeing dudes in the balls.
If anyone was taken aback by his apparent lack of empathy for the comics he'd stolen from, they had absolutely no reason to be. In an interview just a year earlier, Chegwin dished out this advice to young up-and-comers:
"If you've not got your own, nick a gag! That's what all the top comedians do."
There you have it, unfunny whores of the world. Go forth and conquer comedy. In fact, if the plan doesn't work in England, there's another country that might put up with your five-finger-discounting shenanigans.