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.