Steal this Joke: Louis C.K. vs. Dane Cook vs. Steve Martin

Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy

In a recent post, I talked a bit about how some people have used a piece of audio to conclude that Dane Cook stole three bits from Louis C.K. I’ve never been entirely convinced by the audio evidence - one, “itchy asshole,” is just the same topic. I think it’s a common enough experience.

Here’s some proof on another of the bits, this one about naming kids. It’s oriented exactly the same way as the original, Louis first, Dane second and then a joke that predates both recordings by at least 20 years. It’s called “My Real Name” by Steve Martin and it’s from his album A Wild and Crazy Guy.

Audio clip comparison removed by request of a copyright holder.

The general comedic concept is there in Steve Martin’s joke: a child having a ridiculous name made up of a repeated sound, which is then emphasized when the parents call their kid home. The only major difference here is that Steve Martin is the kid.

Does this mean Louis C.K. and Dane Cook stole from Steve Martin? Absolutely not. This is a joke that doesn’t belong to anyone. It’s going to be discovered and rediscovered again and again by comics - each of whom will put their own spin on it. For example:

  • Louis C.K. goes on to talk about naming a child “Ladies and Gentlemen” so he can say, “Ladies and Gentlemen, please!”
  • Dane Cook talks about naming his kids after Transformers, particularly Optimus Prime.
  • And Steve Martin abandons the concept all together and goes on to something else.

Joke stealing happens. It does. But I think it’s very hard to particularly prove with material as universal as this. If Dane Cook came out now and started to talk about how his daughter is an asshole, of course he’d be a thief, because (besides not having a daughter) that material is so unique and personal to Louis C.K.‘s experience that there’s no way that could belong to anyone else. It’s inescapable. It’s beyond putting your own spin on an experience, it’s putting a trademark on it. And that’s the type of stuff comics should be crucified for stealing, not for something that’s lying around on the street, waiting for the next guy to pick up.

2011 Update: Here’s my thoughts on the Louis C.K. / Dane Cook summit that took place on Louie.

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Comments

Posted by Jack on 01/29  at  04:48 PM

I think of Dane Cook as the Rocco Dispirito of comedy.  Handsome, “edgy”, prone to hissy fits and famous based on being a more visually appealing version of someone doing something similar to what they do.

The proof?  The fact that Dane Cook is really not as popular as he was anymore.  And Rocco Dispirito sells crappy kitchenware on the shopping channels.

Posted by Mike on 01/29  at  09:23 PM

Thanks for that Steve Martin correlation, well researched.  I was certain that Cook lifted that material; my unreasonable dislike of him made me want to believe it.  But, yeah you’re probably right, it was likely that so-called ‘parallel thinking’.  Now, if Cook comes out with a 1950 year old woman routine, all bets are off.

Posted by x amount on 01/30  at  06:38 PM

Kept meaning to point out the Steve Martin thing somewhere but was too lazy to pull it all together. 

Thanks for knocking this off my COMEDY CORRECTIONS TO DO LIST.

Posted by Joe Dillingham on 02/03  at  07:36 PM

Thank you for asserting some reality into this whole Dane Cook stole my bit cryfest.  I’d heard another comparison of Louis C.K. and Dane’s bits which was supposed to be definitive proof of Dane’s theft when all it did was show that both comedians had worked the same premise.  Your clip goes that extra mile to show Steve Martin’s “original” bit.  It seems like those who bust on Dane are searching for reasons to justify their jealous rage.  Show me a comparison featuring “Someone shit on the coats” and you might make me a believer, but I doubt it.

Posted by Erik on 02/12  at  01:39 AM

Show me proof that Dane Cook did all the same 3 routines that Louis CK did and I will believe that it is obvious stealing.  Oh, there is the audio proof. 
“Parallell thinking”!!!? Try for a better excuse.  Those 3 bits are only on the web because that was the audio proof that someone had and was able to put up.  I always liked Robert Townshend, but I did lose a lot of respect for him when he stole a huge bit from Paul Rodriguez.  I have both on old video tapes, but I can’t put them on the internet here (technically stuck).
This whole thing came to light in a bigger way when it started becoming more than obvious that Dane cRook stole from so many people.  Of course there are going to be simularities, but 3 bits from the same guy, layed out the same way?  Think a little people.  Take the facts instead of trying to cover up for someone that you accidently admitted to liking.  (Any ‘Bush’ people in the house?) 

Post Script- Someone please tell Ryan Reynolds that he is not Jason Lee nor dane cRook.

Posted by Vasco DeGama on 02/16  at  05:56 PM

I would just like to point out that most of the people who like Dane Cook are annoying as hell. I think he’s kinda funny, but i don’t like his style. People who salivate over him and scream “He’s the funniest person EVER” then try to get him to sign their tits. God i hate you all. If he’s stealing other peoples shit, let them come out and prove it. God knows my friends and I have come up with the same joke or concept independently, its life looked at through a weird prism, and GASP! many funny people find humor in life!

Posted by Henry Gomez on 02/19  at  02:35 AM

Thanks for posting this.  I think the whole thing is overplayed in terms of Cook stealing.  For one thing Dane Cook has at least two albums that I’m aware of.  That’s more than 2 hours of material from which people are picking at 3 jokes.  So if he has 57 of minutes of original material and 3 minutes of jokes he may have heard somewhere else and decides to riff on, he’s a thief? 

I think we should start to worry if Dane Cook comes out on stage with a banjo and an arrow through his head.

Posted by Chance on 02/25  at  03:05 AM

When it comes to itchy asshole, back in the mid 80’s I watched a scottish comedien, billy conneli, do a bit about itchy asshole.
Noone had heard of him yet, he was opening for Whoopi Goldburg.
Did Louis steal it from him ?

Posted by Michael on 03/02  at  12:13 AM

Comedians have been stealing from eachother for years.  So can anyone account for any more than 3 jokes that were stolen? Out of all the jokes he stole, only three can be found?  Music artists have been stealing (or sampling) beats for years, but we dont damn them like you are to Dane Cook. He isn’t telling the same exact joke, he’s “sampling” the basic part of the joke and making it his- just like music artists do.  I would only damn Dane Cook if he openly took credit for jokes he didn’t come up with.

Posted by Julia on 03/02  at  11:34 AM

Comics have writers for their longer shows right?  So can any of the writing staff be blamed in this or the Carlos Mencia vs. Joe Rogan stuff?  Some of it sounds like legitimate stealing some of it sounds like the shit that happens to everyone.  Just checking.  This stuff is ruining stand-up for me.

Posted by Ryan on 08/19  at  05:24 PM

I don’t get why people bag on Dane Cook so much…I get it, you’re not a fan but why scour the internet looking for ways to rip on him and his fans…thats just sad.  And there’s no way anyone can say that each comedians version of the jokes weren’t way different.  Sure you have the same basic idea for the joke but it’s communicated VERY differently and in my opinion Dane’s is funnier and I like the material of his that’s original.  You apparently don’t, no reason to cry about it.

Posted by my fall collection on 09/20  at  11:55 PM

parallel thinking happens!  i just started doing stand up and i had this bit about automated public bathrooms—and how hard it is to navigate the machines when they don’t detect your motion.  anyway, it wasn’t particularly great but THEN i was watching another comic (waaay more established than me) for the first time on youtube and he had a joke about automatic hand dryers that don’t turn on.  and it just gave me the WORST feeling in the world.  obviously he didn’t steal from me—he doesnt even know that i exist.  and i didn’t steal from him cos i didn’t know of his existence when i wrote mine.  but there you have it.  “evidence” ...my clip is floating online.  his is too.  if either of us has a hater (one day when i am famous enough to have haters..) then this is perfect ammunition, ya know?

Posted by Brady Ford on 09/24  at  03:14 PM

The difference here is that Dane Cook watched Louis CK do the bit, and then did it himself.

Posted by Joe F on 10/03  at  10:56 AM

Dane Cook, Robin Williams and Carlos Mencia are all hacks who steal material. They may be good performers, but they can’t write, so they steal. The reason this is known is because I work in the comedy industry, and it’s not said about just ANYONE who is famous.
Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and Dave Chappelle are the most respected comedians of today, and it’s because they don’t steal.  No one has said about them, “Oh man, that Seinfeld took my bit.”
But when enough people in the industry are saying, “Yeah I opened for him one time and he took something from me” it’s not jealousy, it’s just this person is a shitty excuse for a human being who takes other people’s material. 
This is a long post, but I’ve had jokes ripped off from me by people I thought were my friends, and I don’t want to hear anyone coming to the defense of a joke-stealing asshole like Dane Cook.  Fuck him,  he sucks.

Posted by Mario on 10/09  at  09:53 PM

This is the thing that I find irritating about it all. Comedy is ideally about making people laugh, making people feel good, and forget the daily doldrums of day to day life if only for a while. Most all popular forms of entertainment follow this formula, from TV shows to Movies, the list goes on. Repetitive concepts abound in humor or drama.

I understand if someone is pissed off about an idea or a funny bit being stolen. It does suck. BUT, the fact of the matter is that if that bit was funnier or re-introduced to a new group of people in a better way that connected with that audience, who cares?

You can go back to earlier acts involving humour such as Benny Hill or Charlie Chaplin, Bob Hope or Milton Berle and find a lot of bits that are close to each other.

The course that comedy runs is not unlike a lot of other disciplines out there. There will be influence, failure, triumph, and ground breaking originality that will go hand in hand with competition, emulation, and overdone repetiveness.

I don’t find Dane to be annoying, but I don’t know him in person. He DOES make me laugh 90% of the time, and so what if he’s not that original?

After all,...not everyone can be Eddie Izzard. :D

Posted by Ryan on 10/16  at  03:47 PM

I’m not terribly interested in debating whether or not Cook steals jokes (though I will point out that there are more audio clips on youtube and such of a routine that Cook does about going to a shoe store that is eerily similar to a Demetri Martin routine - and Martin’s was performed first).  However, stealing jokes isn’t so much about entertaining people as it is about making a living.

As Mario points out, the purpose of comedy is to entertain.  True enough, but it goes beyond that.  Yes, comedians want to entertain the audience, but they also need to make a living through their work.  And if a megastar like Dane Cook rips off material from a lesser-known comic, the material, in effect, becomes Cook’s, because he has a larger presence in the public mind.  And even though the lesser known comic created the material, he will be the one labeled a joke stealer, because more people will have heard Cook perform the joke.  As a result, the comic will no longer be able to tell his own joke, one that he put the time and effort into creating.  And that will impact his ability to make a living.

Posted by Tristan Yates on 10/24  at  07:04 AM

For a comic who’s getting a six or seven figure payday, the burden is on them to make sure their material is original.  Even if Dane came up with the same joke on his own, the moment he realized that Louis CK was doing it first, he should have dropped it and anything like it.  That’s the right thing to do for your audience, for your reputation, and for the industry.

Posted by Helen T. on 11/18  at  11:52 AM

See, for some reason, people believe that the same rules that apply to art, writing and dance don’t apply to comedy although technically it’s in the same spectrum.

The difference between the George Carlin routine and Louis C.K. was that it was one joke. Dane Cook is known as a joke stealer, has been in the audience while these jokes were presented (in fact, there’s even a signal in some clubs to warn the stage comic about comics like him) and on addition to that, he took three jokes and not just one from Louis C.K. The difference between George Carlin and Louis is that the joke was changed completely, switched around so it could have been parallel thinking. You can’t possibly say however that Dane Cook was parallel thinking when he “wrote” those THREE jokes the exact same way. His roles in the jokes weren’t even switched.

It is important that comedy be regarded as something higher than, “hey, if it works.” There are comedians that work really bloody hard on their act, and I don’t see why it should be accepted that someone can steal and everyone be okay with it.

As an artist, I get pretty offended if someone steals my artwork and calls it my own. Shouldn’t comedy be regarded the exact same way? It’s written, someone worked on it, and they benefit directly from someone listening/seeing it.

It’s a shame that some people think it’s acceptable.

Posted by frank on 06/12  at  09:58 PM

I agree with those who think Dane Cook is a hack and not playing on a level field with guys who write their own material.

Some Cook fans try to defend Cook by saying, “All you people focus on are the jokes he stole… He has written a lot of original things as well.” My response: If I can point out half a dozen jokes Cook stole from big name comics, I can guarantee you he stole countless more from unknown comics he crossed paths with at open mikes or on club dates.

The reason people “focus on the jokes he stole” is that those jokes give you some clue as to how unethical he is and how much deeper the thievery probably runs.

Posted by that guy on 07/23  at  09:17 AM

First off the 3 jokes he “stole” were terrible jokes. Second out of the 3 the itchy asshole one was the only one that was virtually the same.Gratz you found 3 jokes that are similar to that of someone else. You say he probably stole all the rest of his jokes from unknown comics? Then show them. At this point you are virtually getting into a atheist vs Christian type of argument where neither side can be proven.

Posted by ben s on 09/01  at  10:05 PM

Dane caught stealing Doug Stanhope joke a few weeks back.  it was an abortion joke which is not dane’s style at all.  definitely a theif

Posted by Damon on 10/31  at  05:10 PM

I personally like Dane Cook. He may not be the best comedian ever, but he certainly is entertaining.

This morning I was watching the season finale of “you suck at photoshop” and Dane Cook appears in the end. I’ve always wondered if he was associated with the series. Does anyone else know about this?

http://www.mydamnchannel.com/Big_Fat_Brain/You_Suck_At_Photoshop__Season_2/YouSuckAtPhotoshop20_981.aspx

Posted by Mike on 05/12  at  10:47 AM

Dane Cook has made me laugh on many occasions.  For the most part, he grew to an unreal status and it caused an insane amount of jealousy in the comedy community.  99% of comedians never see an audience larger than 200 people most of the time.  Dane’s less popularity is still selling out ARENAS.  With his insane popularity comes easy criticism.  Every big comedian has been pointed out for stealing this or that for the last 15 years…  I blame it on the internet.  Rumors and b/s can go just as viral as any dumb video.  Even Louis CK, when he actually seen what people were pointing out about the jokes stolen said…  “is this it?  wow…  this was really over blown.  Anyone can have this same thought and experience.”  He also admitted to giving into the hype of the situation and not really looking into or having time to look into what people were talking about.  I don’t think its joke stealing… I think it’s funny people seeing a similarly funny thing about same situations.  Do you think its new that kids suck, buttholes itch, plane food sucks and traffic sucks?  Anyway, look up Dennis Leary and Bill Hicks… same crap, different year.  Leary was starting into comedy while Bill Hicks was on Letterman in the early 80s. Leary has a proven record of enjoying to portray or act as different people.  He definitely pulled off a good variation of Bill Hicks.  Leary performed a stage act… Bill Hicks lived the life and died by it.  While Leary came out with “no cure for cancer,” Bill Hicks was dying of cancer.  Comedians, for the most part, are just mentally abused and angry little kids with issues.

Posted by Matt on 05/20  at  05:58 PM

I think what people are forgetting is that the same things that make a joke funny are the same things that could make them appear to be “stolen”. A joke is funny because it has a mass appeal. There is some greater, shared, broad commonality that we can all relate to. It’s because of this that certain topics are even concidered “hack”. How New York differs from L.A. is a great example.

I think that what Dane Cook has to offer is refreshing. His delivery is unique and maybe the people who don’t like him get lost in his vocabulary. Do him a favor and watch his shows with a dictionary next time.

Don’t punish the man for being clever. Even the U.S. Copyright office will tell you, you can’t copyright an idea.

Posted by dave sykes on 08/05  at  04:39 PM

hi

people steal jokes, yes that happens, here in Quebec city people speak french…so i,ve heard mannny french comedian COPY english comedian. that happens, and its STEALING thats a fact.

But Comedy is art, would you say to a painter who did a house on a hill he copied it from another painter who also did a house on a hill ? parrallele thinking is also a fact.

I bet that cavemen argued about this…arrrr we had fire now they have fire…theif !!!

Posted by jeremx on 08/13  at  04:54 PM

reminds me of dave attell’s bit about naming his kid “..pizza pussy santa. because everyone loves one of those things.” hilarity.

Posted by jeremx on 08/13  at  05:13 PM

or, hell.. mitch hedberg’s bit about instead of buying a baby naming book, he’d just invite someone over who had a cast on. ha

Posted by Jimmm on 09/04  at  12:06 AM

I bet its already been mentioned, but Cook stole the one-cheek sneak fart joke from Carlin. He even said he coined it himself! Fuckkkkking diiiiick

Posted by adam wersky on 10/16  at  07:53 AM

i just saw a clip of Louie KC on the Conan O’brien show…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LkusicUL2s —that whole joke about airplanes… well i’m not sure exactly which of Dane’s albums it’s on[if you know, tell me].. but dane cook tells the EXACT SAME JOKE…  “you’re on a chair in the sky!!!”  and the whole part about people being spoiled in this day and age…  If you listen to dane cook then you know what i’m talking about..  not sure who told the joke first..  also the “i saw a person get hit by a car” joke is almost word for word.. but Louie’s came out before Dane’s.. so…

Posted by Sean Moroney on 11/04  at  11:46 PM

Being a comic myself I know it´s a very difficult thing to write your own material while simultaneously making it seem original. I´m new to the scene. I´m also a musician. Music is something that is easier to accidently rip off. Yet when there´s a law suit over a stolen melody or chord progression, the media laps that shit up.
People don´t take the comedy profession seriously. It´s not easy to create and finely tune jokes. Dane Cook is adult comedy for kids. It´s ridiculously immature and dumbed down to today´s mtv generation. It´s good marketing for woeful comedy. It happens here in Ireland and the UK too. It´s a tragedy.
Comedy is the one profession where you have the license to be brutally honest. Theft is a huge problem within that industry because few people speak up. I´ve seen comics steal material on stage here in Ireland and the others including myself lose all respect for them.

Posted by MLH on 12/14  at  09:09 PM

Just because Dane Cook uses jokes from another act doesn’t mean he stole them. MOST lesser known comedians, and even a lot of great washed up writers, will sell their material to big names who have the resources to make it worth while. You have no idea how many big name comics have no time to write their own material. They’re too busy on tour and doing movies and television shows. David Letterman probably hasn’t written his own jokes for a decade. The fact that Dane Cook has used other comics material just proves how successful he’s become. You don’t get to that level by poaching.

Posted by Hannah Simone on 02/26  at  02:46 PM

Reading the same “stolen material” thing over and over is boring. I doubt there is anybody in the world right now who has had an idea that somebody else hasn’t thought of. You can’t patent an idea that isn’t tangible, sorry. And if he did ‘steal’ it? He executed it well and people thought it was funny. So? And if your only defense to that is, “Oh, but it’s NOT funny…” then get over it. Many different people have many different senses of humor; and his demographic has been clear since the beginning.

@An earlier comment…
Just because somebody doesn’t want you to sign their tits, you’re going to bag on the fact that Dane Cook has that opportunity?
Ha, ha. Ok.

Posted by Harry Charles on 09/16  at  02:30 PM

@matt 5/20
Yeah that’s the problem. Dane Cook is to smart and clever for me I am constantly getting lost in his vocabulary. If I only had two words to describe Dane Cook they would definitely be Intellectual Powerhouse

Posted by Dave on 03/13  at  06:26 PM

I love Matt’s comment about needing a dictionary to enjoy Dane Cook. If you need a dictionary to figure out Cook’s vocabulary, you’re an idiot. Which, I probably could have guessed anyways considering you’re defending a comic thief. The artist on the previous page was completely right: comedy is art, and the same rules apply. Parallel thinking happens, sure, but if you realize your jokes are strangely similar to another comic’s, you drop it from your act or clear it with the other comic. Cook goes out of his way to do neither.

Posted by ryan on 04/07  at  06:14 PM

I used to be a Dane Cook fan, huge fan. I brushed off the Louis CK thing as coincidence. Didn’t think much of it. Till I started getting into Patton Oswalt. Hilarious stuff. He did a bit about TiVo and how you had to scold TiVo for stupid recorded shows. I wont go into it but suffice to say that was on a CD he did back a long time before Dane Cook. Then Dane comes out with a new CD full of new jokes. The same TiVo bit. 6 years later. Then I saw his monologue on snl.  Stolen verbatim mind you from Demitri Martin. That my friends is plagiarism.

Posted by Virtual Me on 08/05  at  06:22 AM

Your analysis is spot-on, as if you were a lawyer.  I am a lawyer, and I work on both sides of the idea-theft paradigm.  By far, the annoying ones are the potential plaintiffs that think they were the first to come up with an idea as simple as “my ass itched, and then. . .”  I personally love Louie CK way more than Dane Cook, but that doesn’t matter.  Dane is a great actor, a thespian first and comedian later, his presentation precedes his comedic genius, blah, blah blah.  But the facts that Louie CK is more of an original thinker, and Dane a gifted actor with incredible timing (also a viable and valuable trait as well), do not alter the conclusion that Dane’s use is probably a coincidence, and thus Louie’s idea, in and of itself, is not that special.  Ideas are not special at all.  But unique and funny expressions of those ideas are valuable, and the law protects them.  At most, Dane took or happened to share a common idea, a premise.  None of us really want one person to own that basic premise.  Let the expressions of it compete!  Whose expression is better, Louie’s, Dane’s or Steve’s?  Hard to say.  And that is the point.

Posted by Ian Parks on 08/06  at  02:37 PM

comedy is a linguistic tradition much like song, every song that is worth a shit has been written before, the same goes for jokes.
You don’t see warren zevon suing lenorad skynard over werewolves of london do you. 
So just enjoy the linguistic tradition and stop worrying about the author, I am sure a cave man named ooogh had a itchy asshole and made a joke about it.

Posted by Heyo on 08/14  at  05:56 PM

I find it hard to believe there would be 3 coincidences from the same 2 comedians, especially when those 3 were on the same CK album, and correct me if I’m wrong, also the same Cook album. I could probably believe if any ONE of those jokes was used by Cook, except maybe the “Yelling out to help someone bit”, which is the most similar out of all of them, IMO. But, 3? People like to defend comedians by saying “PARALLEL THINKING EXISTS” without looking at the evidence. Even if there were no claims he stole from Demetri Martin or Doug Stanhope, or that he did in fact see Louis perform these jokes, the evidence makes it hard to point to parallel thinking.

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