By Mike Holmes
Thankfully, nobody noticed(much like the majority of a comic's life) and I hadn't plagiarized anything - the premise was the same, but the jokes were different. It still did not sit well with me and I played mental tennis with the idea for the next two weeks. Where do I draw the line at inspiration? How do I keep track of everyone's jokes, or do I stop listening to other comics entirely? Is taco bell still open? My resolution came at the end of those two weeks, when I heard another comic at an open mic tell a joke with the same premise. That night I learned that American comedians in their thirties can have similar perspectives on things! I don't plan on using that joke again, but I think about the experience often.
I have a theory (based on the Infinite Monkey Theorem) that every possible joke premise has already been tweeted. Not only am I up against every joke that has ever been told by every comedian that has ever lived - I have to be "original" amongst over 500,000,000 people who think they're funny on twitter. It has to be way easier for a bunch of typing monkeys to get to "so that's a thing" than it is to Hamlet. My solace comes in knowing that creative influence is unstoppable, and everything is already a remix of something else.
The meat of my developing act has been around real-life stories, but I still strive to craft a joke. The traditional setup to punchline that I grew up watching icons like Bob Hope and Fozzie Bear so expertly deliver. It's disheartening to think I could work to create a joke that can be enjoyed by a housewife at a bar in NH only to find it had been tweeted 4 years ago by a single mom in Tallahassee. There are some real gems on twitter too, usually right next to one of the sexiest avatars on the internet and probably a derivative of something Henny Youngman said 50 years (richard)prior. If you aren't speaking from personal experience, you need to work to distill the essence of funny out of the premise. You need to be a comedic alchemist if you want to craft a joke that people will want to steal 50 years from now. If we survive the inevitable robot uprising.
It was easy for me to abandon my joke, because I'm still doing this for funsies - I'm not sure how I will feel in five years when I run into a guy from Toronto doing a similar beard joke. Do we fisticuffs for it? Is it a race to who can get it on wax first? I'm sure there are working comics dealing with this very issue right now(though probably about a GPS joke), and I think it's very different from hearing a joke and repeating it. Though in an industry built around individuality, it can still hurt hearing someone singing a tune that means something personal to you. I've taken to googling a premise, and even asking comedian friends if they've heard anything before. The problem with the latter, is that every time I am potentially planting a seed of betrayal by inception. A manchurian candidate of comedy. I'm aware that you can play reductionist in several different directions with this, but anyone that has seen a show where two comedians touch on the same premise can tell you - it can get awkward. Unless the performers are at a power level of 9000 or higher, it can mess with a show's rhythm. In some comedy communities, people that know they have similar premises agree beforehand who is doing what bit. Most working comics will prepare double the amount of material so they can shuffle the playlist just in case. When you are starting out, your first opportunities will likely be for more time than you really have - what happens when the host walks on your best bit about okCupid? Can you change it to plenty of fish? Will it still work if it's blackpeoplemeet.com?
Parallel thinking is going to happen, but as a comedian it doesn't have to be another reason to hate yourself. The same dude that named our problem also gave us a few tools to solve it. Lateral thinking will enable you to move past the obvious joke and mine a premise for those nuggets that will set your dating-site joke apart. Just know that we're all peeing in the same cultural pool. You are a product of your environment and every little influence made the you that people are paying to see. If you take someone else's art and say it's yours you are a huge piece of shit and you will likely also be the kind of person that dies never really knowing love - which is punishment enough. If you and another comic have a joke about ACDC, you should be friends - it's obvious you have similar interests. If you are the next comedy Outlier, none of this applies to you because your material transcends cultural boundaries! Can I open for you?