George Lopez v. Dave Chappelle: Is This Joke Stealing?

Filed Under Jokes, Stand-Up Comedy

A reader named Chase turned me on to this. Earlier this week at the 2008 Grammys, George Lopez did a joke that seemed very familiar to fans of Dave Chappelle. The joke revolves around how a minority candidate can protect themselves from assassination. Here’s the video:

It looks pretty similar and Dave Chappelle definitely did it first. But, considering the race for the Democratic nomination, I can see an argument could be made that this is a joke that any comic could observe. It is in the realm of current events now.

The extra wrinkle on this is that George Lopez has been an outspoken critic of Carlos Mencia, who Lopez once accused of lifting nearly 13 minutes of his material for Mencia’s HBO Comedy Half Hour. He even went to the extent of having a physical confrontation with Mencia at Los Angeles’ Laugh Factory. (Though Lopez made the accusation, no comparison video between their material has ever been made.) If you’re accusing other comics, you probably should be very aware of where your material might intersect with another comic, particularly a prominent one like Chappelle.

I think also should be noted that we can’t be sure this was Lopez’s material. The Grammys were allowed to use WGA writers and perhaps one of them scripted this line. I think this is unlikely - Lopez is a good comic and can easily bring in his own material. But it’s still possible that someone else scripted the line for Lopez.

So what do you think? Is this joke stealing? Or just a current events joke?

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Posted by Sean L. McCarthy on 02/14  at  03:19 PM

Hey Todd,

First things first. Congrats on the video work! Liking it.

Secondly, about your question. I think in this case, George Lopez clearly is making a topical joke and adding his own Mexican-American spin on it. But. And this is a big but, so to speak, Lopez also has had a recent habit of going for the easiest spin on topical jokes. Exhibit B: Who’s going to build that wall on the border with Mexico? And remember, this year’s Democratic candidate field also included New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, so the joke premise is entirely within the realm of possibilities. That said, this is a case of parallel thinking combined with the desire to get an easy laugh on national TV.

Posted by Tyler on 02/14  at  03:34 PM

Chris Rock did the same premise on SNL years ago:

Thank you, Dennis. Now as you know, there’s been alot of talk about a black vice president. And I just wanna tell the world that it’ll never happen. As long as you live you will never see a black vice president, you know why? Because some black guy would just kill the president. I’d do it. If Colin Powell was vice president, I’d kill the president and tell his mother about it. What would happen to me? What would they do? Put me in jail with a bunch of black guys that would treat me like a king for the rest of my life? I would be the biggest star in jail, alright, people would be coming up to me and I’d be signing autographs: “97-KY, here you go.” Guys would be going: “You’re the brother that shot Bush. And you told his mother about it huh? I hope my children turn out to be just like you, Man, you know I was getting ready to rape you until I realized who you were. And even if they had a death penalty, what would happen? I’d just be pardoned by the black president. So you see, Dennis, it would not be in George Bush’s best intrests to place Colin Powell on the ticket.

Posted by Chico on 02/14  at  03:44 PM

If he did, it’s not a conscious thing. Lopez and Chappelle are both ethnic comics who work largely the same side of the street. They’re going to cross paths every once in a while.

I’ve heard this joke from more than just these two guys, going back a long time, and certainly before this presidential race.

It’s up to one of them (or someone else) to raise the stakes on this joke now.

But yeah, it might be a lift, but not a theft. I’m sure they’ll talk about it at some point.

Chase Roper
Posted by Chase Roper on 02/14  at  07:16 PM

I say current events joke and not stealing. BUT - if you are going to joke about current events on a nationally televised program reaching millions of viewers (and comedy bloggers) you should check around with your peers and make sure no one else has used something similar. That’s what I think.

Posted by Peter Lynn on 02/16  at  01:32 AM

My gripe with Lopez’s version is that he says, “How great a country is this, the only place where a white woman and a black man can run for the President of the United States.” Well, of course it is. You can’t run for the presidency of the United States in any country but the United States.

Anyway, the actual punchline seems obvious enough that at least two comics could come up with it, if not many more.

Posted by bix brillo on 02/16  at  01:12 PM

...i can see the similarities in both comedians comments…and i dont think either is that clever as to be the only person who thought of that joke…i am a comedian, and i have been accused of stealing another’s joke…and i have heard other comedians tell one of “my” jokes…there again, i dont consider myself that brilliant that i was the only one who thought up that particular joke….coincedences do happen…..

Posted by Tom on 02/18  at  03:22 AM

George opens by telling us that the United States is the only place where people can run for president of the United States.  That makes me think that he’s pretty much running on auto pilot.  Also- this really barely qualifies as a joke.  It’s like a Dave Barry observation.  Of course, stealing something lame is still stealing- in this case from Chris Rock it seems.

Posted by Penny Rielly on 02/21  at  10:18 AM

I think it’s just the political climate. The topic of an assassination attempt on Obama in the White House came up in my own family not too long ago. I told them not to worry about it, that the Secret Service would be tipped off by the “Dukes of Hazard” General Lee Dixie horn. I think that the idea or fear is out there and people are trying to address it with humor.

Posted by limebuddy on 02/24  at  03:17 PM

This proves that the world is running out of new jokes and original stuff… Not really, but comics can’t check every joke ever told before they say it to make sure it’s never been told before.

If he did intentionally steal it then shame on him.  Maybe he thought no one would catch him.

Posted by robert price (styx plz) on 02/10  at  12:01 AM

well my house of four says no they were both funny and it’s a topical joke of the time they may have been the first people to tell it on national television but i’m betting the hundred monkey theory got the joke to THEM in the first place jokes are timing and can’t ever REALLY be stolen.

thats my opinion.

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