This story by Slash Film writer Peter Sciretta about his adventures at a taping of “America’s Got Talent” last Thursday is awkward, and revealing about comedy propriety and the lengths comics will go to defend it.
I wrote a joke a long time ago about dating a girl in high school, and my sister asking me, “Why are you dating her for? She’s kind of a slut.”, my response was “that’s exactly WHY I’m dating her.”
Years later, while watching “Last Comic Standing” on TV, I saw as comedian Alonzo Bodden tell a joke that was very similar. I had never heard of Alonzo Boldin prior to that show, and to my knowledge had zero connections to the man. I had used my joke on stage may times while trying to get a career in stand up going in the Midwest in the early 90’s. Did I think he stole my joke? Nope. The only thing I took away from seeing that was, “we think alike,” and I think we’d would hit it off if we ever met.
It is possible that two completely different people can write the same version of a joke. Stand ups all strive to be original, but we also strive to strike a common ground with our audience. That means we dabble in similar themes constantly. It’s bound to happen. But a joke here, and a joke there is one thing. What about a long, three minute routine?
Here’s the story of a guy who advances on “America’s Got Talent” on the back of a pantomime about couple arguing, only to have Howie Mandel not only accuse him of stealing it, but pointing out that the guy he “stole” it from was right there in the theater.
A comedian contestant named Greg Wilson came up to present his comedy act. He praised Howie Mandel, one of the show’s judges, saying he had seen his stand-up show in Dallas during the 1990′s. The two bonded in the pre-act interview. Wilson went on to perform his routine, which was basically a reenactment of a wife and husband fighting in a car. The unique angle is the bit is done from the point of view of a driver in another car, and the fight is reenacted without words, only a visual performance.
The bit killed, the audience loved it. So did the judges. Howard Stern praised the routine. Eventually it got to Howie who opened with a strange question, paraphrased, “Did you write this yourself or are you performing someone else’s material?” Wilson on stage claimed that he created the bit himself, much like Howie created his own bits. He seemed very offended by the question. Howie seemed unsure how to handle the situation. Something was off. After one of the other judges prodded, Howie admitted that he had seen this same act before, performed by another comedian.
And it just so happens that the guy he stole it from was the warm-up comedian at this LA taping of America’s Got Talent. Now I know this might seem too good to be true — like something that could have been orchestrated for television, but it didn’t feel like it. I can usually smell a set-up from a mile away. Everyone involved seemed uncomfortable, and the whole thing felt awkward and unplanned. If the producers were involved in a set-up, it seemed clear to everyone at the taping that Howie, the contestant and Nicotero weren’t in on it.
Read the entire story here, complete with You Tube videos of both comics performing similar routines, and the expected Twitter fallout.
My take? While the both routines are similar, there are enough differences to separate them. But the premise and where the bit starts is too precise to have been thought up separately.