I remember hearing once that Dane Cook steals his bits from George Carlin. I'm not sure how true that is; but i imagine this happens consistently in the world of stand up. So I asked my friend, Joe Anderson to share his thoughts on the subject. You can learn more about him at www.thecomedyproject.com
So a friend of mine made a REALLY popular video on YouTube spoofing David Blaine's Street Magic. Some of it is really funny and the choreography of the video shoot is maybe even more impressive - timing camera moves so that it looks like a car disappears and reappears. Then Carlos Mencia did a spoof of Criss Angel's Mind Freak and Mencia, who has already taken a lot of heat for supposedly stealing jokes, has been lambasted for this, his latest atrocity. But after watching them both and even having a bias toward my friend's video...I don't think it's that big of a deal. Both basically make the same joke, which is the obvious joke to make, the exact same joke I made the very first time I saw David Blaine's real program. I just never made the video.
It happens in the movies all the time. All the sudden there will be multiple asteroid movies, or animated movies about bugs, or serial killer movies, or movies about strong willed teachers who are going to seriously take on their struggling but inevitably awesome group of kids.
There are themes and stories and jokes and observations and characters that are fairly universal, so when they show up in multiple places, it doesn't really surprise me or offend me.
Now Carlos perhaps most famously and others, in my opinion, probably are actually stealing other people's material in some cases and there is no disputing the level of impropriety. However I never assume that first. Parallel thinking is more often the plausible explanation.
I read the exchange Steve had with another pastor about Steve "lifting" some of Rob Bell's material and was annoyed by the event much in the same way I was annoyed with Carlos Mencia being accused of stealing a joke about building a wall at the U.S./Mexican border. Once again, the joke was good...but obvious. Kind of the essential joke which was to be made about the situation involving the possibility of Mexican workers helping to build the wall.
I'm a big fan of Steve's teachings and in all honesty, an even bigger fan of Rob's if for no other reason than I've been exposed to so much more of it but I'm also a fan of the people Rob "steals" from. Now Rob makes a very concerted effort to cite his references and Steve does too. Neither of them want to take credit for something they didn't create but there's also value in hearing or reading something, wrestling with it, working with it and then mining it for gold that can be repurposed and repackaged. It's a grey area and when people act like it's black and white...accusations fly.
In the mid to late 1800s, Gustav Theodor Fechner was developing something that would end up being called Psychophysics which was entirely based on the theory that...DRUM ROLL..."everything is spiritual".
I'm sure that wasn't the first time that phrase and more importantly that idea was brought up as something essential and vital and life changing but whether Rob absorbed it while reading about, for pleasure, an obscure German doctor (not necessarily unlikely with Rob) or even if he believes he coined the phrase...it doesn't seem to really matter because to be blunt - it's not groundbreaking. It's just a concise way of saying something complex. Just happens to also be something it's good to be reminded of at least every hundred years or so.
And I do think intent matters. Without devious or malicious motives...things turn grey.
I have a joke I tell sometimes about how at the beginning of church one sunday, we were invited to meet people around us and shake hands and tell people "I'm glad you're here." I offered my hand to the guy in the row ahead of me who offered his fist...ya know...to "fist bump" me.
That alone caught me off guard. I mean, I really don't like fist bumping anyway and I was pretty sure I didn't want to do it at church. But more importantly, I had already put my hand out. I had clearly established that we would be SHAKING hands. So now I was supposed to convert? At church? So, I ended up looking him in the eye, saying "I'm glad you're here" and I shook his fist.
One day after the very first time I told that joke I saw a Demetri Martin special where he told a joke about a relatively similar situation. I knew he hadn't stolen my joke because I think I would've noticed him at my show and I hadn't stolen his because I'd never seen that bit before. The simple fact is that situation was not unique. It's relatively universal as our hand gesture salutations evolve. We both had different takes on it but there were definitely similarities.
When you have pastors, all human, all with human brains and all using the same book as the "umbrella text", the idea that there would be no overlapping of sermons would be more unbelievable than the fact that there is. When you have comedians, all human, all with human brains and human experiences you can expect some of the same things to happen to some of them. Hopefully, because we humans are all at least a little bit unique, the way we describe them and deliver the words will allow different versions of similar stories to coexist.
Finally, if something is knowingly repurposed(let's say "stolen" for effect), it's significance in the "whole" is perhaps the most important to me.
Vanilla Ice and The Verve wouldn't have been sued for sampling Queen and the Rolling Stones respectively if the sample wasn't by far the most memorable and significant part of their songs. I'm sure Vanilla Ice and The Verve also used some words that have been used in other people's songs but that wasn't at issue because their re-use was expected and insignificant and unrelated to their use in other people's songs.
That's my take. On taking.