Who’s joke is it anyway?


>Last month I wrote a witty one-liner; it referenced a high profile news story at the time and was unique. I told a couple of my friends who thought it was really funny, so I posted it on Twitter. 4 days later, whilst watching a very popular comedy news programme on mainstream television, I saw my joke being repeated verbatim by a well known comedian.
Was I seething? Was I flying to my laptop to track down this disgraceful rapscallions’ website so I could harangue him mercilessly? Was I contacting my shady friends from the local underworld so they could go around, have a quiet word & get my joke back for me? Erm, no.
I sat for a moment, sipped my tea gently, like a guru from the Orient (not Leyton) with all the mystical calm that comes with deep understanding, and smiled to myself. In my mind, I was certain of something. Whether or not my original joke had been ‘utilized’ (plagiarised is such an accusatory and tasteless word) or the comedian in question had merely arrived at the same cerebral place as I independently, it meant that the humour that was emitting from my weird and sometimes wonderful, sometimes ‘blunderful’ brain was deemed fit for the masses.
With the advent of the internet, digital time stamping, intellectual property and the like, many people have become more than a little obsessed with who wrote what first. As if it was a crime for somebody to come up with the same idea at a later date. I pride myself on trying to be original, surreal, fresh & inventive when it comes to writing comedy. Jokes – especially one-liners – have been something I decided to try my hand at recently. I penned over 250 jokes in 2 months on a famous website, only to find that 15 were deemed duplicates that had previously appeared there. The tenet ‘great minds think alike’ or ‘idiocy loves company’ sprang to my surprised mind.
I remember the furore over Bill Hicks’ material being ripped off by Dennis Leary, who has gone on to make a very successful career. Hicks is remembered fondly for his originality and style, and yes, it appears Leary copied a good part of his act for a while. Hicks died 17 years ago, Leary is now a popular movie figure, seemingly continuing to be successful after his main source of material had passed on. I reserve judgement, but it portrays a strange change in the lifespan of a joke.
When I was a teenager in the early 1980s, all jokes were heard in the playground, the pub, at the match or in the young offenders unit. You heard a good one, you passed it on. Many originated in the comedy club scene: Bernard Manning, Chubby Brown, Jimmy Jones etc. or from television, Ben Elton, Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Dave Allen etc. People relayed them to share the humour, to have a common ground, a point of reference, or just to give the lads a good laugh in the vault on a Saturday night. Nowadays it appears to be about separatism, ownership, a competitive need to be the first to get the text joke out to all your mates.
Humour has become competitive. Stand ups like Gary Delaney are accused of stealing from websites; he is counter-accusing website users of stealing his material. Did a joke originate with Tim Vine? Or was it one of Tommy Cooper’s? Does it really matter? We’ve reluctantly put the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional – it’s only a small observation of society’s changing ways, but it definitely highlights the way technology has increased paranoia & selfishness in the 21st century. As the baby goat said to me, “I kid, you not”.