Before getting into this week’s topic I just have to tell a story that has nothing to do with anything. This past weekend I hosted a show and during the break, I was talking to a comic that was on during the first half. A woman walked up to him and said, “Sorry to interrupt but I just wanted to tell you I thought you were really funny! I was laughing so hard I had a hard time breathing!”

Then she looked at me and said, “Where is the bathroom?” I love hosting.

This week I wanted to cover joke theft and parallel thinking, though I had a vague memory of writing on the subject before. I dug into the blog and, yup, I wrote an entry back in 2015. Look at me, stealing from myself.

I was surprised I didn’t mention something in that last post. I did write about the fact that expat comics tend to joke about the same aspects of Swedish life we all find especially foreign – there’s no expat comic that hasn’t hit the mines of fika, lagom and olla at some point – but I left out a story on the subject. I once called my eight-year-old daughter’s classmate a very bad word (to an American, that is; the word means next to nothing to the Irish) in my head and it became a story I told on stage where I’d actually said the word to the girl out loud. I liked that joke and told it roughly 600 times.

One day, another expat comic messaged me, said he’d seen me do that joke the night before, and he had a virtually identical joke where he said a different bad word to his neighbor’s kid. I told him I’d never heard him do it and it was clearly just parallel thinking. A few weeks later he told a club owner he’d only gig there if I wasn’t booked, the club owner gleefully ratted on him to me, and the comic and I didn’t speak for a year. Then he apologized and bought me a shot and all was well again.

(Damn it, writing this also sounded familiar so I looked again through the blog and saw a different post where I mentioned someone pissing me off and making good by buying shots. At least I didn’t tell the story then.)

Anyway, what I actually wanted to write about today is what to do if you think someone is stealing your shit. I’ll start with a little story that inspired this, as an example of what not to do. A few months back, a comic told me he’d started to record all of his sets because he was tired of other comics stealing his material. He didn’t name names, but the following week I heard a more experienced comic do one of the other guy’s jokes nearly word for word.

Did either steal from the other or is it just parallel thinking? I have no idea. It certainly appears that the aggrieved comic believes the other stole his shit, hasn’t spoken to them about it, but continues to do the same material. That’s a problem, since one gets more exposure than the other, people will believe the more established comic is the one getting ripped off. Robin Williams made quite a career out of vacuuming up material from club comics and passing it off as his own and the fact that few are aware of this fact speaks volumes.

My advice? If you think someone has stolen your joke outright, or maybe just happened to stumble on virtually the same material you’ve already been doing, have a conversation with that comic. I understand that, in conflict-adverse Sweden, this is easier said than done. But if you’re not passionate enough about that material to fight for it, then why hang onto it in the first place? Better to just let it go and write new jokes instead.

When I wrote before on the subject I mentioned the one time I needed to confront a comic. Other than that, there have been multiple occasions when, let’s just say that I’ve inspired others. I’m not the first comic to step off the stage and get into someone’s face during crowd work, but I’ve known a few comics who added that move to their routines after seeing me do it. Certainly nothing for me to gnash my teeth over, not when it’s a move I didn’t invent. It’s a bummer when a comic does it before me on the lineup, but since I do that bit so rarely these days, it’s not really an issue.

(Full disclosure- I was once on a lineup before a comic I had “inspired”, hadn’t planned to do that bit, but then did it just to take the wind out of their sails. Never said I’m above being petty.)

There’s no point at all in fighting over host material because I think that stuff is up for grabs. For example, I remember the first host I saw get the crowd going at the start by yelling, “GIVE ME SOME ENERGY!” I’ve seen five other hosts do it since, word for word. I’ve suggested to the crowd that the more they drink the funnier the show gets, I’ve heard three other hosts say it since. It’s flattering to be inspirational. I’m not going to get in someone’s face, “I’m the one who says, ‘Let’s give the comics in the first half a round of applause’!”

Then there are comics where confrontation is pointless. One such comic has a reputation for being somewhat of a parrot; for the most part they don’t steal jokes word for word, but instead certain phrases, topics, or even inflections. When I see them on stage I’ll often think, “Oh, that’s so-and-so’s voice.” I’ve heard my own voice coming out of their mouth more times than I can count. I don’t think they do it with malicious intent, or even consciously. I think they hear stuff from others, like it, and it goes into their Cloud to be accessed later. Until the day they take something more concrete, I’ll just shrug my shoulders and let my ego smile over being inspirational once again.

I was talking to my uncle last summer. He suggested I watch Abbott and Costello clips on YouTube and either steal their jokes outright or otherwise rework their material into my own. I wasn’t able to make him understand how alien this thought is to me. I don’t even know how to fit “Who’s On First?” into my routine. Even if I did, I wouldn’t. The time I get on stage is my own, my opportunity to say what I want to say the way I want to say it. That’s the question I’d pose to comics who steal or parrot others- the crowd may be laughing, but don’t you want to be the one who really got them to laugh? Life and stage time are too short for karaoke.