Published May 16, 2017While joke theft is certainly a practice that's frowned upon in the comedy community, it has rarely if ever had legal consequences. That might change soon, however, as Conan O'Brien's writing staff could face off in court against a man who claims they stole his jokes.
Robert "Alex" Kaseberg is a former Leno writer whose work has also appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post. He claims that O'Brien's writers have stolen multiple jokes from his blog and Twitter page.
As U.S. District Court Judge Janis Sammartino points out, it's not often that a case like this would make it to trial. "Facts, of course, are not protected by copyright," she wrote. "And although the punchlines of the jokes are creative, they are nonetheless constrained by the limited number of variations that would (1) be humorous (2) as applied to the specific facts articulated in each joke's previous sentence and (3) provide mass appeal. This merits only thin protection."
Despite the thin protection, Sammartino has moved forward with the possibility that three of the jokes could have been stolen. As such, there's a chance that this case could move to trial.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, O'Brien said, "Accusing a comedian of stealing a joke is the worst thing you can accuse them of, in my opinion, short of murder.... I think it's absolutely terrible."
Read Kaseberg's jokes, followed by the jokes as they were read on Conan, below.
The Tom Brady joke:
Kaseberg: "Tom Brady said he wants to give his MVP truck to the man who won the game for the Patriots. So enjoy that truck, Pete Carroll."
O'Brien: "Tom Brady said he wants to give the truck that he was given as Super Bowl MVP … to the guy who won the Super Bowl for the Patriots. Which is very nice. I think that's nice. I do. Yes. So Brady's giving his truck to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll."
The Caitlyn Jenner joke:
Kaseberg: "Three towns, two in Texas, one in Tennessee, have streets named after Bruce Jenner and now they have to consider changing them to Caitlyn. And one will have to change from a Cul-De-Sac to a Cul-De-Sackless."
O'Brien: "Some cities that have streets named after Bruce Jenner are trying to change the streets' names to Caitlyn Jenner. If you live on Bruce Jenner Cul-de-sac it will now be Cul-de-no-sack."
The Washington Monument joke:
Kaseberg: "The Washington Monument is ten inches shorter than previously thought. You know the winter has been cold when a monument suffers from shrinkage."
O'Brien: "Yesterday surveyors announced that the Washington Monument is ten inches shorter than what's been previously recorded. Yeah. Of course, the monument is blaming the shrinkage on the cold weather."