Amy Schumer is Not a Joke Thief
Yesterday, a new video claiming that Amy Schumer is a joke thief -- complete with "evidence" supporting the charge -- blew up the Internet. Here's the video, in case you missed it:
Here's my take on the controversy, if anyone cares.
I don't think Amy's a joke thief. Hers is a unique voice and a persona that she developed for over a decade on the road. I was on shows with her, years ago, before she was famous, and it was clear to me that she was usually the funniest, most quick-minded person in room. (If you've watched her early appearances on any of the Comedy Central roasts, I doubt you'd disagree.) A person may steal lines from other comedians. But you can't steal an entire act. And you definitely can't do so and rise to the heights to which Amy's risen. So my main defense of her being a joke thief would be simply that she doesn't need to be one. She's got the goods on her own.
Now: There's no question that the Wendy Liebman joke is almost word-for-word the same (and very reflective of Liebman's entire act and voice). My guess is that Amy saw it, at some point, decades ago, and it got lodged in her brain such that when she "wrote" it for her special, she believed it was an original thought. This happens ALL THE TIME to comedians. I have "written" countless jokes that I was certain sprang from my own mind, only to discover to my horror later that they were just something I had heard a long time ago and forgotten. It's the worst feeling. But it's an honest, human mistake -- not theft.
As for the Patrice O'Neal riff, there's no evidence he "wrote" those crazy sexual scenarios any more than Amy did. They were already out there in the culture. And if you watch Amy's version critically, she's not repeating Patrice's take on it; if anything, she's RESPONDING to it with her own neo-feminist take (e.g. talking about the Houdini trick, "which is just rape. It's just rape. Like, no girl is going to think that's hilarious"). It's possible, I guess, that Amy had seen Patrice's bit, but what makes her version funny is what she adds to it. That's not theft; it's creativity.
And the Trainwreck movie poster and the Tammy Pescatelli bit are almost too ridiculous to even address. (Note to whoever's behind the video: Actors don't design their own movie posters, and Tammy's 10-second joke about women dressing their men badly on purpose is just not that groundbreaking a thought.)
Which leaves the Kathleen Madigan jokes that show up on Inside Amy Schumer. To me, these are the most problematic, not just because they're so similar to what Amy did on the show but because they're extremely specific, original thoughts. It's not just about someone hitting you when you go to eat something -- it's specifically about slapping -- and then there's the follow-up joke about having someone work you out while you're unconscious. No two comics are going to come up with BOTH these ideas independently, so I would say these were clearly lifted from Madigan's act. But the question is, who lifted them? Amy has a team of writers on her show. Did one of them inadvertently or intentionally repeat something he or she had heard Kathleen do? Probably. Did Amy herself steal the jokes, or was she aware of their provenance? Probably not. Because again, why would she? Why expose herself to this kind of shitstorm when she and her writers have plenty of original ideas on their own?
Bottom line: The only person responsible for Amy Schumer's success is Amy Schumer. And it's unfortunate and petty, in a business where true success is so rare, that some embittered person or persons would try to take that away from her after she's worked so hard for it.