The Funny Thing About Plagiarism

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By Lisa Gerardy, MA

As you probably know if you read this blog regularly, it is Plagiarism Month.  Earlier in the month, Melody Pickle wrote a helpful blog on helping students avoid  plagiarism.  5 Tips That Help Students Avoid Plagiarism  Most of the time, when we hear the word plagiarism, we think of writing. We think of academic assignments or magazine articles or novels.  While the majority of plagiarism is in written form, it can also be verbal.  In my experience, this happens a lot in the world of stand-up comedy. 

For ten years, from 1996 until 2006, I was a stand-up comedian.  I traveled throughout Florida and  Georgia doing a stand-up act about life as a mom and wife.  While I enjoyed doing comedy, it was not really a career for me, but it was an educational experience.  Along the way, I learned about “hacking,” which is comedian slang for plagiarism.  I have even experienced it first hand.

One Thursday evening, while I was at home with my then four year-old son, I received a call from the hostess at the local comedy club where I performed twice a month.  Thursday nights were open mic nights, and I generally skipped them.  The hostess calling me told me that one of the new comedians had just gone up on stage and performed my material about my son.  Like most comedians, I wrote material about my life.  So, it was really odd for another comedian to perform it as though it were her own.  When she left the stage, the hostess approached her to point out that she just did one of my sets.  The comedian just shrugged her shoulders and asked if that was wrong.

Plagiarism in comedy has been occurring for decades.  According to some comedians I have worked with, Robin Williams has used their material and then mailed them an apology note with a check enclosed.  That was his way of citing his sources, I guess.  If you are interested in reading more about this, I found an article about comedians who have been accused of plagiarism, including Robin Williams:

Comedy Plagiarism

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