Did French Comic Tomer Sisley Steal Jokes from Nearly 20 Comedians?

Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy

French actor and comedian Tomer Sisley might become the new poster child for joke stealing.

Tomer Sisley is probably best known to American audiences for his role as a drug dealer in "We're the Millers." But he rose to prominence in France for stand-up, particularly for introducing American style stand-up to French audiences. With these videos (above and below) produced by Ben at CopyComicVideos, Tomer appears to given a more literal introduction to American stand-up, performing jokes and routines - sometimes word for word - from nearly 20 English-speaking comedians, largely from stand-up specials performed in 1999 to 2004.

I encourage you to watch them in full. It's pretty shameless - the wording in many cases is exact, just in French. Some of the evidence here is less strong than others, of course. But in the past few years even just stealing an individual bit from a comedian would be daming for a stand-up. Here Sisley appears to have taken individual bits from Ted Alexandro, Jon StewartNick Swardson, Mitch Hedberg and, of course, the perennially-stolen-from Bill Hicks. And many, many more.

I first talked to Ben at CopyComic about this project exactly one year ago, after he found my own videos about joke stealing. I helped him identify a couple of sources for original jokes, but the production and the credit for putting this together is all his. It's amazing amount of work and judging for the stories already being written in the French press (and Tomer's Twitter @s), it's already having an effect.

A couple of takeaways about this. One for American stand-up and the other for French and other nascent international scenes.

For Americans, this reflect that stand-up comedy is far more universal than I think many assume. If an American stand-up wants to pull an Eddie Izzard and learn another language, they could probably do their act in more countries. There's an opportunity here to bring their work to other places. I don't expect a lot to do this, but the idea that comedy translates, connects and binds us, particularly in these troubled times, is somewhat heartwarming.

More relevant is the takeaway for French (and other International) comedy scenes. Simply French comedy clubs and comedians should actively watch out for this. By elevating comedians who are not original, it diminishes the chances for a unique French take on stand-up to develop. In a scene where stealing is rewarded, stealing becomes the practice. Young artists will never be able to produce as much material as those less principled. Those same artists may be anxious about getting their work ‘lifted’… once it starts with original English work it does not mean it stops there. French audiences deserve a chance to hear authentic French voices perform stand-up. 

UPDATED:

CopyComic has been sending out snippets to some of the possibly plagarized comics for reaction, particularly confirming they didn't sell the jokes to Tomer. Judy Gold is the first to respond:

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