Clapter Stealing: Bill Hicks vs. Bill Maher

Filed Under Jokes, Movies, Satire

During last week’s episode of “Real Time”, one of Bill Maher‘s guests Esai Morales made reference to a documentary called “American Drug War”, which asserts a government interest in the distribution of drugs. Maher quickly called it a conspiracy theory. (And it does sound like one, when its so briefly described.)

A regular viewer of Maher show is Kevin Booth, the director of “American Drug War,” who’s a little bothered by having his work being just dismissed as a conspiracy theory. Booth was also close with the late Bill Hicks, producing much of his early albums and recording many of his live shows. He’s continued his involvement with comedy through his production company Sacred Cow, working with such Hicks-worthy successors as Doug Stanhope and Joe Rogan.

The drug war is a little outside the scope of my site here, but Booth made the point that I’m going to focus on here. The director said this in an email to his Sacred Cow members about Maher’s dismissal of the documentary:

I wonder how many people remember Bill Maher’s famous routine that got him fired from ABC -

“Who is the real coward ? when the United States is launching missiles from floating Iron Islands 200 miles away”

as first being performed by non other then Bill Hicks back in 1992

But maybe thats just “Conspiracy Theory”

(Booth states it here too on HBO’s Real TIme board.)

I don’t have encyclopedic knowledge of Hicks’ work, so I can’t verify exactly what album/performance Bill said this at. But what’s interesting in that it’s probably not necessarily a punchline, but an applause line. A piece of clapter in Tina Fey‘s vernacular. It kind of opens up another target as well as a defense of joke stealing.

Can making a simple observation of the truth as one sees it really be called stealing? Good comics are supposed to see things as they are, can you fault two for sizing things up exactly the same way? When I think about it, I don’t necessarily think of the punchline of the infamous Carlos Mencia‘s “Who going to build the wall?” joke stealing controversy as necessarily funny inherently. People would say the same thing without it being a joke. It’s an insight, a truth. Jokes are exaggeration - stealing an exaggeration seems far more egregious to me ( as evidenced by the subsequent reveal of the Cosby vs. Mencia son playing football routine).

In a sense when a comic is pointing out a repressed fact like these, they’re getting a laugh because of the tension of how we can’t acknowledge that truth in polite society. But everyone who’s hears it and laughs it, has thought the same thing - even subconsciously. Can you slam a comic for saying the unsaid thing second?

By the by, Booth says he really does like Maher’s show, describing himself as a “huge fan” of Bill Maher. He even mentions he just bitching a little to get his attention, obviously to get the documentary seen by more eyes. (It currently plays on Showtime.)

I haven’t seen American Drug War, but I did what Esai suggested and searched YouTube for it. From what I’ve seen, it’s an interesting treatment of the subject, more focusing on the “Prison Industrial Complex” and the corporate interest in the drug war in the clips I’ve viewed. Plus, it’s got comics - besides the afforementioned Rogan - there’s also a lengthy interview with Tommy Chong and a conversation with Tom Rhodes about Amsterdam and its drug laws. They’re in there, doing what good comedians do - telling truths that go unsaid.

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Posted by J. on 08/16  at  01:53 PM

Obviously, there are many jokes that are shared by various comics accidentally. However, there’s a clear difference between parallel thinking a straight-up plagiarism. The writer here obviously doesn’t know the history behind Leary and Hicks as friends and the sequence of events that led to them parting ways. If you looked at Leary’s persona as a comedian before he copied Hicks’ ENTIRE act, you would know.

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