Judd Apatow vs. Denis Leary: Joke Stealing or Parallel Thinking?

Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy

Last year, a funny young comic named Mike Bridenstine (one of the Blerds) turned me on to another case where comics have similar sounding jokes. I just recently put all the pieces together.

This one involves a young Judd Apatow, before he fully established himself as the comedy writer and comedy director that he is today, and Denis Leary, who is held in suspicion by some Bill Hicks fans because they believe he stole much of the late comic’s act.

Here’s the video of the two up against each other. It’s the last part of the bits that are similar - I give you the rest to show how they got there.

The wrinkle is both of these were performed around the same time - 1992. It doesn’t seem to far of a leap to me to think this is parallel thinking - if you had to describe what the sound at a drive thru sounds like, a man with a voice box seems a likely conclusion any creative person might come to. But the back and forth of the patter and how you feel about Leary’s work might lead you to the other side of the argument.

With Apatow beginning to perform again in preparation for his new movie “Funny People”, which is set in the world of stand-up comedy, it’ll be kind of interesting to see if he touches on joke stealing (or other comedy issues) in the film. I doubt it’ll be too inside baseball, but when your character live in that atmosphere, it’s probably something they’d be concerned with.

That aside, what do you think? Parallel thinking or do you suspect joke stealing?

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Posted by Rebecca on 07/17  at  08:56 AM

If we weren’t talking about Denis Leary, my views might be far more charitable.  But I fall into the camp of fans you describe above who believe that far too much of Leary’s material—most especially in “No Cure for Cancer”—was unashamedly lifted from Hicks.  So while I certainly believe that parallel thinking is possible and happens frequently in this business, I am far less forgiving when we are talking about Leary circa 1992.

For purposes of aiding the discussion, here is one of the many side-by-side comparisons of clips from Leary’s work and older Hicks material:


I know this allegation isn’t anything new, but I always greatly admired Hicks and I can still remember the shock and sadness I felt when I saw Leary fall to the floor at the end “No Cure for Cancer”. He not only lifted Hicks’ words—he even copped Bill’s dramatic parting gesture. Ouch.

So, in that context, I find it hard to believe that this is just a simple coincidence; but I am curious to hear what others think.

Posted by punkdc on 07/17  at  03:26 PM

I think think is just parallel thinking. I saw Seth Rogan do a set last Tuesday and he did a joke about how men cant show anything to be sexy. I know Brian Posain has the same joke, but what guy doesn’t joke about showing his balls to impress a lady?

Posted by Scott Bateman on 07/17  at  04:48 PM

Parallel thinking.

Back when I was a political cartoonist in newspapers, this happened all the time—something would happen in the news, and 15 guys would have the same basic cartoon the next day. Which, of course, still happens with political cartoons; I just don’t play that game anymore.

And so but also: Judd Apatow had such a little babyface in 1992! Awwwwwww!!!

Posted by Don Montrey on 07/22  at  10:07 AM

Parallel thinking. It’s too obvious of a joke to be considered original.

Posted by bix brillo on 07/22  at  10:31 AM

...i have heard other comics telling jokes almost identical to mine…and i have been accused of lifting jokes from other comedians…which is true?...both/neither…i do not consider myself brilliant enough as to think that i am the only one who thought of a particular joke…so it’s bound to happen…

Posted by Ryan on 04/13  at  01:34 PM

You say both of those videos were shot in 92. I’ve got a video response with Denis Leary doing the joke in 1990.


Check it out, this will debunk the Jud Apatow vs. Denis Leary joke stealing.

Posted by D on 06/27  at  11:39 AM

I have heard many people say Judd Apatow made money as a joke writer for much of his early career, and Denis Leary has been mentioned as a client. I would not be surprised if Judd wrote this for Denis and it was borrowed back and forth for this reason.

Posted by Maaaark on 11/03  at  08:00 PM

I’m gonna need to check out the bill hicks stuff… but before I forget,

Denis Leary has also taken a Louis CK bit .... and made a pretty penny on it as well

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