Is Amy Schumer stealing jokes?

January 21, 2016 17:59:24 Posted at January 21, 2016 17:59:24
Sarah Posted by Sarah

Yesterday Wendy Liebman, a comedian, made a comment on Twitter about Amy Schumer “doing one of her best jokes” in her recent HBO special. This ignited a flurry of tweets between Liebman and fellow comics Chuck Martin, Kathleen Madigan, and Tammy Pescatelli about Schumer maybe lifting their material. The tweets have since been deleted, but The Interrobang has a full run down here. Then an anonymous video was posted on Vimeo highlighting the instances of alleged joke thievery. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this, and indeed, the video rehashes the Patrice O’Neal “Urban Dictionary has weird sex acts in it” bit that Schumer has her own riff on. Click here for the complete video.

I don’t think this video is as damning as some people want it to be, but Liebman and Madigan have a decent case against Schumer. When I first saw Schumer perform, she was doing much of her material in a style similar to Liebman, with the punchline delivered in an implied parenthetical. (Here’s Liebman performing with her distinctive rhythm.) I made that connection back then, but Mitch Hedberg did straight set-up/punchline jokes like Steven Wright and no one accused him of stealing. Having a similar style isn’t the same thing as jacking someone’s material. Likewise, two comedians having routines that start with the same premise but go in different directions isn’t joke theft, as in the case of Patrice O’Neal/Urban Dictionary. But the Liebman “pay for sex” joke is almost verbatim, delivered in the exact same cadence. That’s not a good look for Schumer.

The Madigan material is a little trickier because Schumer used it in a sketch which was written by other people. She’s not even the head writer on her own show, Jessi Klein is. Which is not pointing a finger at Klein so much as acknowledging that a roomful of writers and producers didn’t object when the “Slap Chef” sketch was created. Is Schumer that tyrannical that no one would speak out against her? Or is it just a huge, unfortunate coincidence?

Certainly if you don’t like Schumer, there’s a smoke/fire effect. But this smacks of putting a mouthy broad in her place, though Pescatelli made a good point when she said that you can’t speak up about stuff like this without being accused of jealousy, which works to insulate Schumer, as the more famous comic, from the ire of her peers. And parallel thinking is a real thing, and so much of stand-up comedy is simply observing the same stuff as everyone else and finding a unique and funny way to talk about it. So is Amy Schumer stealing bits from other comedians? Schumer, of course, denies she stole jokes. But man, that Liebman thing. That really looks like a lift. The rest of it is in the eye of the beholder, but the Liebman joke is hard to deny.

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