I was first introduced to the world of "joke stealing accusations" several years ago. It was not fun. I've never been accused of it, but people I've known have. Once the charge is leveled, it's very difficult to disprove it, and both parties come off looking bad.
As time has gone by, I've realized that it is a fruitless endeavor. Yes, there are people who steal jokes. Yes, it is wrong and really shitty. But no, there isn't much to be done about it.
Because in most cases it isn't stealing, it's just people having similar ideas. And it's not going to stop, it's going to keep getting worse.
30 years ago, there were 3 networks. If Johnny Carson did a bit, you should be expected to know about it and not do the same thing. There just wasn't a lot of stuff being made.
But now? Between the big networks, Leno, Letterman, Fallon, Kimmel, the little networks, Stewart, Conan, Colbert, twitter, funnyordie, the rest of the internet...it's impossible. You simply cannot know every joke that has been done.
And going along with the fact that there are so many more things, there are that many more jokes and bits being done. Overlap will and does occur.
You'd be surprised how much time is spent in the writer's room making sure things haven't been done before. No one wants to be unoriginal, no one wants to do jokes that have already been done. The fun part about doing a show is coming up with funny things, not seeing things that are funny and copying it.
A few weeks ago, after President Obama showed his birth certificate to Donald Trump and the other racists, The Onion's headline was: "Afterbirthers Demand To See Obama's Placenta."
A fine joke. But then Bill Maher went on twitter and wrote: "I see The Onion stole my placenta joke that I did in Feb 2010 HBO special"
Wow. Okay. I've never heard of The Onion being accused of stealing in the past. It also seemed a bit presumptuous that everyone has seen that HBO special.
Well, it turns out that The Onion headline was actually a link to something they wrote in August of 2009. Apparently The Onion recycles its content when news stories pop again. They actually did the joke 6 months before Bill did!
Does this mean that Bill stole from The Onion? Of course not. Just like it was dumb to think they stole from him. It happens all the time. In fact, just to show how ridiculous the whole thing is, The Daily Show ended up doing the exact same joke, and Rupaul tweeted it a variation of it as well.
Bill Maher should've done what all comedians should do when it comes to this shit: shut the hell up. Let your work speak for itself. The hacks will fade, the talented will succeed.
This whole episode was very interesting to us at our show. Because last year, we wrote a line: "Life starts at the erection". And then 2 months later, Bill Maher said "Life starts at the erection". Did we say anything? No. It was a coincidence, and we knew it, and we moved on.
So to sum up: a lot of people are writing jokes for TV, many of them are the same, a lot of jokes involve dicks, you shouldn't go around accusing people of stealing jokes especially if it's an isolated incident, and Bill Maher steals jokes.