Sometimes, I wonder aloud despite knowing the answer. “I feel like I should say something,” I said.

“You don’t need to be the joke police,” replied my kid. Which made me laugh, not just because it was a funny retort. One of my quirks is that I enjoy imagining conversations before they happen, if they ever do, and when I’d imagined this particular confrontation, it began with me saying, “Hey, I don’t mean to be the joke police or anything, but…”

At issue was that I had recently seen a comic perform a meme several times. There’s parallel thinking – where you simply get the exact same idea as someone else – and cryptomnesia – where you get an ‘original’ idea, forgetting that you’d heard it somewhere else – but I didn’t think either applied here. It was a large block of text that this comic was reciting word-for-word. There was no way they didn’t know they’d stolen the joke.

Or maybe I was wrong? It happens a few times a year. I was 99% sure I’d seen that exact text shared on Facebook multiple times, but maybe I was imagining things yet again. A quick Google search turned up not just the original meme, but fucking t-shirts. The comic was using a stolen joke and now I was itching to say something.

Being firmly (and likely finally) in a nihilism phase of comedy has its benefits. Every time I asked myself, “Should I say something?” the answer was a firm, “Why bother?” I’ve blogged long ago about cost/benefit, investment/return. How should I approach this? Be aggressive? “Stop doing that joke or I’ll punch you in the face.” Obviously not. “Stop or I’ll expose you.” It wasn’t even a joke stolen from me. I cared enough that it bugged me, but that’s not saying much. I know others would care even less.

I often say that one of the million reasons I love standup is that we get a relatively tiny amount of our lives on a stage where we can say anything we want, be anyone we want. This comic chooses to use their limited time to get laughs from a stolen joke. Call it komedy karaoke. What would be the outcome of me confronting them, even in a polite way? “Thank you so much, O Wise One, I now see the error of my ways”?

We all have our influences, but I know another comic who is basically a cover act of an established comedian. The jokes are original but the stage presence, delivery, even use of certain phrases are all copies. It’s like they went to ChatGPT and said, “Give me an original set in the style of so-and-so but, you know, not nearly as funny.” If it was someone who was just starting out I’d probably look the other way, but they’ve been around long enough for me to say to them, “This thing you’re doing, it may have been a crutch when you started but now it’s an anchor keeping you from ever finding your actual voice.” I would say that to them if I understood why I should bother.

I remember a comic who had a joke that went something like, “I heard someone say, ‘Having sex with her was like having sex with a dead fish.’ Couldn’t they’ve said, ‘Having sex with her was like having sex with a dead person’? Why involve fish?” I was standing next to him a club one night, watching a woman on stage who then did his joke, word for word. We looked at each other and my eyes said, “What the fuck?” He smiled and his shrug said, “What are you going to do?” I find myself in a what-are-you-going-to-do frame of mind, even when I sometimes hear my jokes coming out of someone else’s mouth. I can always write new jokes, although I must admit I get a little self-conscious when we’re in the same club. Makes me a little less likely to say something on stage I actually care about, for fear that it will be taken, unconsciously or otherwise.

Even if I wanted to act as a comedy guru, it’s not like I’m in much of a position to do so. Career-wise, that is. I do alright but I don’t have my own club, I don’t perform in many places or grind or bother with the TikToks and the whatnots. Certainly I know my shit but I can’t and don’t expect anyone to look at me as any kind of authority. I’m also less motivated these days to help others, but that’s a big enough topic for a future entry here, so I’ll just leave it at that for now.

If comics choose to perform karaoke instead of original material, who am I to say boo? I might start wearing one of those t-shirts to the clubs, though.