I came upon these suggestions that stand-up comic Ant made to readers of his Ant Colony blog who also want to try stand-up. Under the section, “Study the Pros” it says:
Whether on stage, TV, or videotape, watch as many comics as you can. Study their techniques and get a feel for how they construct their jokes.
Wait, wait, but isn’t that . . . copying? Our response: whoever said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery was obviously not in the stand-up business. True, the biggest sin in comedy is to steal another comic’s jokes. However, for learning purposes only, it’s OK to take the jokes of a comic you really like and try to rewrite them in a different way. Of course, you would never perform any of the variations you came up with, because that would still be considered stealing.
It’s definitely a good point, it’s actually regular advice for any sort of creative endeavor. I’ve heard it dispensed to fiction writers - start typing another writers’ work and build from it from there. You end up using the tools that were there and discovering what makes them work. You learn more elements of the art form that you could just from listening or reading someone else’s work.
But the general smartness of the advice is actually a little destroyed by the fact that the whole section has been cut and pasted from the SoYouWanna page on stand-up comedy. And without attribution.
Perhaps it was a mistake but it really makes his earlier suggestion that an aspiring comic on Last Comic Standing stole look even more tenuous. And hypocritical.