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What do fellow female comedians think about Amy Schumer’s alleged joke theft?

inside amy schumer magic sketch

Comedy Central/youtube

‘Do I think Amy Schumer is a joke thief? Absolutely not.’

Comedian Amy Schumer continues to dominate headlines as more and more videos come out accusing her of joke theft. But in response, more and more comedians are coming out to support her. 

The outraged video clips and tweets are stacking up high against Schumer. One such clip shows comedian and magician Joseph Tran comparing a bit he did in a 2013 series called Reasons Not to Date a Magician with a sketch from a 2014 episode of Inside Amy Schumer (IAS) in which Schumer beds a magician (played by Kyle Dunnigan) who twists a condom into a balloon animal—the same thing that happens in Tran’s video from a year earlier. The lead-up in both videos is very different, but in May 2014, Tran addressed the similarities in the original video. 

This clip was posted to vid.me by user Josh Smith (who has other alleged Schumer theft videos on his page, and a Twitter account heavy on anti-Schumer and anti-feminist rhetoric). Reached for comment, Tran pointed out the irony of that Josh Smith clip:  

Someone else took my video (along with Schumer’s) and created the comparison. There are additional pieces of info from the original video that was left out of the comparison video. Ironically, the video you saw was, essentially, stolen.  

Via email, Smith denied that he stole Tran’s video, or claimed it was his. 

“Moreover, the comparison video I made clearly falls within the boundaries of ‘fair use,’ commenting on a matter of public concern involving a public figure,” he said. “Nor was any ‘context’ omitted. The clips were merely posted one after another, so that the viewer could draw their own conclusion.” 

He added some context for why he’s been circulating the video:

I do think that it’s wrong to take others’ work and pass it off as one’s own without any acknowledgement and/or compensation. That is, of course, plagiarism. The careers of comics Carlos Mencia and Dane Cook came to an abrupt end because it was revealed that they had stolen other comedians’ material. It would be improper if Amy Schumer were not held equally as accountable for her (at this point, obvious) theft.

Another video uploaded to Vimeo by user Dougie Huggins shows the similarities between two IAS bits from 2013 and 2008 sketches from MadTV and CollegeHumor, respectively, as well as a Daniel Tosh joke from 2010 that is similar in tone to one in a scene from Trainwreck. This isn’t the first time someone has pointed out that the premise of the MadTV sketch and IAS sketch are similar. 

Huggins declined to comment about the video. We’ve also reached out to Comedy Central for comment. 

Three female comedians have now publicly accused Schumer of stealing bits, and all three used Twitter to initially lay out their claims, though two of them have now walked back their accusations.

For her part, Schumer has been attempting damage control, appearing on Jim Norton’s radio show to assert her innocence, saying she would “take a polygraph test and put it on my show this season and I promise, whatever the results are, I won’t let them cut. I will show that I had never, never seen Patrice do that bit.” (She’s referring to a Patrice O’Neal joke she’s also been accused of stealing.) 

In an era when the Internet won’t let things like joke theft slide, the accusations from fellow standups have started a brisk dialogue in comedy circles. 

“I hate how people say that she stole Patrice O’Neal’s stuff when A) both she and Patrice say that they’re talking about street jokes,” comedian Sarah Hartshorne told the Daily Dot. “You can’t steal street jokes; they’re like knock-knock jokes. B) She’s reframing them to put them in the women’s perspective, which is a horrifying one.”

On Monday, IAS writer Kyle Dunnigan posted his own rebuttal about the alleged theft of the magic sketch, saying, “Amy’s going to get backlash for the amazing year she’s had because building people up and tearing them down is the American way”: 

Amy Schumer is annoying. In the writers room she’s always asking “has anyone heard this bit before?”. She’s a nazi about it. Amy has generated almost 15 hours of original content in the past few years. The fact that there’s 2 minutes of similar joke premises is very low. Anyone who writes comedy knows there are other people who independently come up with similar bits. Also, for the record, I had the idea to take food out of the mouth in slap chef and then another writer said it would be funnier slapped out. Not stolen. Not Amy. Magic sketch scarf pulling and balloon animal were also not amy’s ideas(and not mine for that matter.) When you think about a staff of comedians asked to come up with weird things a magician would do sexual in bed with a woman, those are actually pretty obvious comedic ideas. A room full of different comedians with a half hour to pitch are going to come up with similar jokes. The only thing surprising is that only one youtube video out of billions has that joke. It sucks when you come up with something and someone with a bigger reach does it. It’s happened to me more than once. But you just have to keep writing. Amy’s going to get backlash for the amazing year she’s had because building people up and tearing them down is the American way. But the backlash shouldn’t be about her stealing. It’s just not accurate. It should be about what a truly horrible human being she is. #backlashisfunbutamynotheif

A photo posted by Kyle Dunnigan (@kyledunnigan1) on

“Do I think Amy Schumer is a joke thief? Absolutely not,” said comedian Sue Smith. “Do I think that we’re inundated which so much information that it’s impossible to have completely unique thoughts? Totally.”

Remember the Fat Jew? After all the scrutiny around his Instagram account and its many stolen or uncredited memes, he recently debuted a new webseries, and people still apparently think he’s amusing. Admitted plagiarist Jonah Lehrer released a new book last year; Shia LaBeouf made a whole surreal side career out of his. 

“Even though I think it’s important to call attention to joke stealing, like with the Fat Jew and all the other blatant thieves on Twitter, etc., I think that the Amy Schumer accusations are way overblown,” said comedian Lynn Bixenspan. “The phrase ‘parallel thought’ gets thrown around a lot when explaining how people come up with the same joke, and I think there’s a little of that, but more of it is just her own take on certain existing concepts. … She’s in the spotlight, so everything she does is dissected. This is just another example.”

Schumer’s public persona preceded the term “Internet-famous,” but the Internet is where her dissection has taken place. She, unlike the Fat Jew, has been a feminist, sex-positive, relatable voice for many women, which of course makes some men angry enough to obsess over her. Way back in 2010—a decade in Internet years—Dave Itzkoff pointed out something that still resonates: “The Web has given comedians an unparalleled real-time resource to determine if their material is being copied, but it has also provided would-be thieves with an almost infinite library to steal from. And it has made it easy to make public accusations of plagiarism that may or may not have merit without providing a forum to resolve these fights.”

Much like music, so much of comedy is at least having an ambient awareness of others’ material. But with YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram, originators are often kicked a few rungs down as our brainspace constantly loads more and more data. Marc Maron addressed this and the anti-Schumer “onslaught” on his Jan. 25 podcast, starting around the four-minute mark: 

Comedians absorb what’s coming in, and they process it. We’ve all been in the rooms of standup comedy clubs for most of our lives, hours and hours. In order to vet a joke against the history of recorded comedy, on album or on television, it’s fucking impossible. And this is not an apologist position; this is just a reality. 

He goes on to relate that in his podcast’s earlier years, any time a female comedian was on, the comment section would be overrun with anonymous garbage dudes attacking them. He frames the current allegations in the same lens, implying that there is a targeted campaign attempting to bring Schumer down, not in the name comedy, but because of a more insidious agenda.  

What is happening with Amy has nothing to do with justice. It has nothing to do with comedy. What’s happening is that—this is the real pattern—is that she, through the Internet and through video, is literally being verbally career-raped by an army of unfuckable hate-nerds. 

Personalities like Gavin McInnes—co-founder of Vice Media—have also leveled charges of theft at Schumer. McInnes has been featured as a talking head at Fox News, where he’s regaled viewers with tales of overly emotional women voters and claimed that women earn less because they choose to. On Jan. 20, the Twitter account Uncuck the Right called for the hashtag #AmySchumerStealsJokes to trend.

People have been unloading a lot of arguments over whether or not Schumer is a thief, and people in comment sections want everyone to know they never thought she was funny and now they have proof. But ultimately, what is the end goal? To make comedy better? Promote accountability? It’s hard to tell where genuine concern for comedic integrity begins and where something more insidious might begin. Maybe Schumer can turn this all into a joke one day. 

Update 9:43am CT, Jan. 29: This article has been updated to include Smith’s response. 

Screengrab via Comedy Central/YouTube 

Audra Schroeder

Audra Schroeder

Audra Schroeder is the Daily Dot’s senior entertainment writer, and she focuses on streaming, comedy, and music. Her work has previously appeared in the Austin Chronicle, the Dallas Observer, NPR, ESPN, Bitch, and the Village Voice. She is based in Austin, Texas.