Whose joke is it? Ari Shaffir? Carlos Mencia? D.L Hughley? George Lopez?

Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy

If joke stealing is the highest crime for comedians, let’s make sure we’re convicting someone with evidence that’s a slam dunk. After the Joe Rogan / Carlos Mencia confrontation made a huge tear through the web, I posted on how I don’t think anyone can claim to own the “Who’s Gonna Built the Wall” joke. I’ve found at least two other examples of that joke being told by the comics D. L. Hughley and George Lopez. And I’ve edited them into my own video. Watch below:

I heard that Paul Rodriguez also told it during Last Comic Standing last year. (Haven’t been able to acquire the video yet. If I do, I’ll add it.) Four or five comics coming up with the same joke? That seems like parallel thinking.

And each of the comics had their own spin or take afterwards, making the joke a setup for something else:

  • George Lopez follows up that to get white people to do it will require waiting for permits.
  • D.L. Hughley mentions that black people won’t do the job and then impersonates a white person working out in the sun.
  • Carlos Mencia has the white foreman tell the immigrants to check the Mexico side of the fence when they’re finished so they can close the doors.
  • Ari Shaffir does something with it too, I’m sure. I just don’t have the original video.

They all make it their own. Some with better results than others. (If you ask me which was most successful. I’d have to say George Lopez but that’s only because I was in the audience for Comic Relief. He was the first guy I remembered from that night who killed.) It’s interesting to note that this joke is also at the beginning of most of their acts - so they can go from something general and then lead the audience to their own very specific take on an issue that was in the news. This means you’re going to find a lot more similarities between comics if you watch their first three minutes than if you watch their last five. I don’t like much of Carlos Mencia’s comedy either. But I’m not going to make judgments on whether a comic steals be clouded by my dislike for them. Joke stealing is a complex issue. I hope Joe Rogan keeps on making joke stealers afraid, very afraid, by bringing more and more potentially stolen material to light. But everything should be questioned, because this is the worst label you can put on a comic. Previously: Steal this Joke: Louis C.K. vs. Dane Cook vs. Steve Martin For some good background on joke stealing, check out this article from Radar by Larry Getlen. It talks about Robin Williams, Denis Leary, Milton Berle along with Cook and Mencia.

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Posted by Andrew Dupont on 02/19  at  11:49 AM

I think the best thing Joe Rogan can do for his case is to put together a video like this that shows what he believes are Mencia’s acts of theft.

While Mencia might not be the absolute monster that Rogan is making him out to be, I think that the truth is closer to Rogan’s version than Mencia’s. Still, all the yelling in the world won’t carry as much force as a reel of evidence.

Posted by Jack on 02/19  at  03:28 PM

The problem with Mencia and this accusation is his whole persona is a fabrication. His name is contrived.  His implied background is a sham.  And there’s very little of him that truly is him.

Then this accusations pop-up and guess what?  It’s like a personal version of the Chicken Little story.

His “weaseliness” in addressing the issue head-on also ads to the suspicion.

It really is a mess.  And the only thing I see happening is Ned hiding his jokes and premises even better.

Posted by redban on 02/19  at  04:02 PM


While I agree its a hacky joke, you totally missed the point. Ari use to open up for Carlos when Ari first wrote that joke. Carlos knew about the joke, and still used it.

Todd Jackson
Posted by Todd Jackson on 02/19  at  04:31 PM


No I got that. Here’s my thing: human beings aren’t tape recorders. I don’t remember everything I hear in a comedy club. Do you? I don’t know how many times Ari opened for Carlos? Once? Twice? Five? Ten? A hundred? Was Carlos paying attention all those times? Or was he focused on another way of saying “dee dee dee”?

He also claims that Ari never opened for him - so as much as I hate Carlos - it becomes a he said/she said thing until somebody produces a bill which lists both of them as performing that night or even better, a tape from a night where both performed and Ari told the joke.

I’m not convinced by the evidence that Carlos knew the joke. For example, certainly I could argue that D.L. Hughley and George Lopez are thieves too because they could have seen the joke on television from Ari’s performance and then did the joke anyway. Is that a fair assumption? Just because someone could have seen it, doesn’t mean they remember it or that they’re a thief.

This is the most serious crime you can accuse a comic of doing, so I take it seriously and look at like a prosecutor - where are the apparent holes in the case. I’m treating Carlos as innocent until proven guilty because that’s how I’d like my favorite comics to be treated if they were accused.

And why build a case on one hacky joke? Really nail the guy. Get the 13 minutes of material that Lopez says he stole and put them next to each other. Why use fiber evidence when there’s blood and semen laying around?

But RedBan, you do awesome work. I’ve been a big fan. I hope you understand I’m not trying to debunk you or anything. I’m just trying to be sincere and put aside my hate for Carlos and add as many facts as I see them. Please keep up your videos.

Posted by Mike on 02/20  at  01:08 AM

Man, has thievery been the hot topic recently.  My gut reaction to this controversy was that because I don’t like him, yes, Ned stole the border fence joke, despite the countless variations of it in every medium over the last 6 months.  It is a ridiculously easy joke, so Ned can’t be convicted on that one alone.  If somebody has the bravery (or brain damage) to listen to every hour of Mencia’s material and cross-reference it with that of a hundred other lesser known stand-ups, I’ll listen his or her conclusions.  But that ain’t realistic.

Kind of an important side issue here is the credibility of Mencia’s self-proclaimed Mexican persona.  He’s built his entire career on that ‘beaner’ image; I never had the impression that it was, as it turns out, just a character.  Somehow it feels even more disingenuous than Dan Whitney’s Larry the Cable Guy.  Maybe because it involves the more important societal implications of racial acceptance than redneck acceptance. 

The more I read about joke stealing, the more I believe it’s technically impossible for any comedian to be proven a thief. You’re right on the mark there: plagiarism is a terribly complicated issue.  Any comedian can too easily snatch somebody else’s premise (and to a more limited degree, content) and massage it just enough so that they can successfully hide behind the defense of parallel thought.  Which leaves the rest of us with endlessly lingering suspicions.  So much so that I’m kinda rethinking the whole Cook/LCK fiasco now. 

The legal approach to judging joke theft is a good one.  But, just as the courts can’t find universal agreement on hot-button decisions, neither can the comedy community.  I’m inclined to perceive joke stealing as I do the judicial standard for, appropriately, obscenity:  I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.  Maybe that’s a little too relaxed for such a serious charge, but there you go.  A consensus on the objective criteria for joke theft is an improbable goal, but there still needs to be SOME standard.  What that is and how to enforce it seems unanswerable. 

I do like Rogan’s activism, this shit need to be called out.  An unintended and unfortunate consequence is that there’s sure to be comedians caught in that net who are wrongfully accused.  Will somebody please find a fair black-and-white solution?

Posted by Andy Roberts on 02/20  at  12:53 PM

I saw Rich Hall do this joke last week in Manchester, UK. The thing is that the joke practically writes itself once you hear the sotry - everyone has the same response, comedian or not.

Posted by JT on 03/25  at  12:43 PM

I made some crazy joke when I was young.  I used my tape recorder to do so.  The idea is that you play it when you are in a drive thru.  A nice family ordering a mean.  The man gets mean, calls the wife a fat pig, they argue, the sound of him beating her, then he goes nuts and ‘chainsaws them’.  That is the short version.  I used my dads circular saw to create the violent sounds and recruited my brothers and sisters to help in the ‘skit’ that we recorded on my tape player.

The reason I bring this up is because I heard some comedian doing my joke verbatim.  I KNOW that I made it first.  I KNOW that there is no way that he got the idea from me.  It was so close it was scary.  I do not remember who the guy was but it was amazingly close.  Another joke i have been telling for years about dating a midget so when they were touching my junk I could look down and it would seem huge.  I have heard Dave Attel and others use that.  Once again, they did not get it from me.

Sure there is stealing going on but great comedic minds think alike

Posted by Brad on 04/02  at  02:55 PM

Here’s my thing about Carlos Mencia. Personally, I think that it has been proven that he has stolen material from Bill Cosby among others.  But let’s put that aside, let’s say stealing material isn’t even an issue with him.  The bottom line is this - THE MAN IS NOT FUNNY.  I have never met anyone who watches his show or finds him remotely entertaining.  I do not understand how he stays on TV. My belief is that the execs from Comedy Central have stopped paying attention to what they put on their network, they simply renew shows at this point.  I challenge anyone to tell me that they seriously look forward to watching the Mind of Mencia every week.  NOT FUNNY.

Posted by james on 10/08  at  03:21 AM

Carlos Mencia said in one of his early skits that he was from Honduras. People ASSUMED he was Mexican….and since when is changing your name for show business a crime. How many comedians use their real name?

This whole joke stealing thing is funny. The concept folks is called parallel thought. It basically means that 2 people on the same subject will jump to the same conclusions. As this posting shows…who really owns the joke? Black comedians always make the “mom whooped my butt” joke and use the same phrases…but who owned the joke?

As far as I’m concerned…unless it’s verbatim it’s not joke stealing…and Joe Rogan talks smack…but he has been accused of joke stealing too.

Posted by Q on 04/20  at  07:14 PM

Anybody can come up with this simple joke. It’s not genius its the first thing that comes to anyone’s mind. Ari Shaffir sucks anyway hes just a racist.  Carlos Mencia sucks also. Stolen or not are not his jokes are not that dynamic he says simple jokes that dont take much thought and delivers them with allot of antics and hype. I never liked his comedy before I heard the accusations.

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