Huffpost Comedy

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Edward Murray Headshot

This Joke-Thief Will Never Work in This Internet Again

Posted: Updated:

I pity joke-thief Nick Madson right now.

Nick Madson was recently taped doing a comedy routine in front of 9 people in Davenport, Iowa...but that's not why I pity him. (I myself once played Ginny's Bucket of HA-HA in Montpelier, Idaho and was paid in ferret pelts and PBRs... These shows happen.)

I pity Nick Madson because he was oblivious enough to do a famous Patton Oswalt bit, verbatim, at a recorded show, and now the entire comedy world wants to beat the living crap out of him.

Sucks to be him.

Madson's thievery has made national headlines because of the epic audacity of his comedy heist. We're not talking about Robin Williams furtively taking notes in the back row of the Improv. We're talking about an unknown wannabe lifting a well-known bit from the beloved President of Comedyland.

See, this isn't just about stealing someone else's joke. Most comedians have, inadvertently or not, lifted a quip from Kinison or Carlin, especially when, say, dealing with a heckler. Probably the most recycled heckler-shut down line in recent memory comes from Steve Martin ("Ah yes... I remember my first beer.") That line speaks to the long tradition of performers dealing with drunks.

Comedy has a long lineage of thievery, it's endemic the legacy of laughter. However, the line is drawn when it comes to outright, deliberate theft of stolen material and the presentation of it as one's own original work.

Stand-up comedy has evolved because of a long history of co-opting, copping, borrowing, tweaking, and building upon material ever since Grog realized that if he pretended to put a stick up his butt, then Big Zorgo would laugh and decide to eat someone else. When Big Zorgo wanted to eat Li'l Rokoko, Li'l Rokoko then pretended to put a stick up his butt as well. Big Zorgo chuckled a bit and then actually put that stick up Li'l Rokoko's butt.

Because even Big Zorgo would not stand a joke-thief.

In the world of comedy, overt joke thieves are absolute, bottom-of-the-barrel scumbags, trumped only by genocidal dictators when it comes to deserving the un-anaesthetized removal of their own sphincters.

Comedians violently hate joke-thieves because of the sweat, blood, and fears that go into developing material. See, it's a little different than copping another type of artist because, unlike most art forms, stand-up comedy needs an audience to even exist as a medium.

If you want to be a guitar player, you need to practice scales and build up the necessary coordination. Even playing songs behind closed doors, you are still making music. Now pretend that you could only practice in front of an audience featuring an NYU freshman's incoherent indictment of your clumsy navigation of the A-major pentatonic scale while he vomits his way through his first Goldschlager experience.

Or imagine you want to be a dancer, but you can only rehearse in front of a raucous, front-row, bachelorette party more interested in their crazy penis straws than observing the quiet beauty of the physical form moving through empty space.

Maybe you want to be a novelist, but in order to even write, you must read aloud every sentence of your first draft to a room of vindictive, drunk, aspiring novelists as you're typing it (the equivalent of a typical open mic.)

Stand-up comedians don't get to practice by themselves, in their rooms at home. The crafting of an act happens in the moment, on-stage, before a table of, at least, one pissy couple. This happens over many, many years, 5 minutes at a time, then 8-10 minutes at a time, then 10-15 minutes, at a time, etc. A solid 20-minute set can take a comedian a decade to build. It's an arduous process that demands thick skin and the work ethic of a masochistic saint, and therefore, the end result is often considered sacrosanct.

Patton Oswalt has perfected and forgotten more jokes than Nick Madson has even attempted to write. Oswalt has worked to grind out the trial-and-error of stand-up comedy (see flowchart), while Madson has worked his way right into joke-thief infamy... Not Carlos Mencia-infamy with TV credits, but YouTube-infamy where he carries as much weight as a video clip of a farting dog on a skateboard.


A word of warning to would-be joke thieves: Don't steal jokes. If you must steal something, steal cars. Or babies. Today you have a better chance of getting away with a boosted Guyanese infant than with David Cross's "Squagles" bit.

Treading on the sacred pantheon of Cool Comedy All-Stars is an unforgiveable offense; in our age of information hyper-connectivity, one will not get away with stealing, verbatim, a bit from Patton Oswalt. Or Brian Posehn. Or Zack, Maria, Bill, Attell, Chappelle, Janeane, Lewis, Murphy, Maher, Izzard, Cosby, Mitch, Louis, Stanhope, Cross, Pryor, Carlin, Bruce, Sarah, Todd, Stewart, Mirman, Colbert, Maron, or anyone else who has been canonized on, in, under, or up the Internet. Stand-up comedians and comedy geeks will destroy you for pissing on their altar.

Hell, comedy geeks might even chase you with pitchforks for ripping off Tim Allen if they're feeling randy enough.

There is an endless litany of hysterical, unknown comedians with fantastic material that Nick Madson could have stolen from. He could have inadvertently done the world a solid by spreading jokes better than anything his small head could have ever come up with... At least then he'd only have to worry about one person wanting to kick his thieving ass.

As opposed to the entire comedy world.