This is part of an ongoing series of blog posts about collecting favorite jokes from famous comedians. If you’re confused you may want to start from the beginning and work your way to here. In hindsight, I kinda wrote this one with the others in mind. 

Like a snowball turning into an avalanche, it’s my intent to start small and go bigger.

Earlier today NewYorkCreator tweeted “I think this entire birth control issue.. is being fostered to hide real issues.” I responded by telling him it’s called wagging the dog. Politics do this all the time. He was about to call me on use of the term, thinking I was intentionally claiming the phrase “wag the dog” as my own. However at the same time, I tweeted to him again recommending a movie starring Hoffman & DeNiro which I enjoyed many years ago. Thinking about wagging the dog reminded me of the film. So I kinda put the wind out of his sails and he responded by saying “Was just about to call you out for using the title.” So he was familiar with the movie too. By the way if you haven’t seen Wag The Dog, I mean Hoffman AND DeNiro on the same bill. Trust me. Can’t go wrong. You’ll thank me later. Great movie.

I know this is no big deal. Remember. I’m starting small and going bigger. Hold that thought.

Now, did I steal the phrase from the movie to use as a punchline to NewYorkCreator’s tweet? Of course not. His tweet reminded me of the phrase, which in turn reminded me of the film. I probably knew about the phrase “wag the dog” from before the film. I don’t recall when I first heard the term, but I know I never coined it. I’ve never claimed to have been the first to use that phrase. I’m sure NewYorkCreator wasn’t accusing me of anything, but this is a sensitive area for most if not all comedians: credit where its due. Again, starting small. Snowball to avalanche.

I remember seeing this in the movie The Aristocrats. Robin Williams is kinda sorta accused of having used material by Drew Carey. In fact there’s other anecdotal evidence out there insinuating that Robin Williams has been caught stealing from a lot of comedians. As I understand it, this is usually handled in a gentlemanly fashion. When it’s brought to Robin Williams’ attention he has in the past done what he can to rectify misunderstandings, but he may not have done much to cease this behavior entirely. Well, nowadays he may not even do stand up as much as he used to, but when he does, he improvises. His brain goes really fast and he doesn’t exactly curtail what’s coming out of his mouth. He uses what’s going to work on his audience in that instance. He doesn’t have time to contemplate whether or not it’s an original thought. If he did, his comic timing would suffer, and he might even blank or corpse onstage; not the sign of a great comedian. However, his lack of self-censoring has led him to being known in the stand up comedian community as a blatant thief.

When improvising & trying to keep an audience’s attention, one doesn’t have time to consult w/lawyers before segueing into the next bit. Also, it’s often better to ask for forgiveness than permission. This is a lesson I’ve contemplated but repeatedly failed to learn, because my approach to this topic is to be a deer caught in headlights. I don’t risk it. I can’t afford to, so I’ve never even really gotten up on that stage. Robin Williams’ reaction is to be Wile E Coyote running off a cliff. Who’s more successful at making people laugh? And isn’t that the whole point?

However, 20/20 hindsight allows someone like Robin Williams to rectify any damage his use of another comedian’s jokes may cause after the fact. Perhaps a simple apology. Maybe he buys the guy a drink, promises a favor like he’ll show up at a charity function for the guy in the future. Maybe it’s straight monetary compensation. Worst case scenario: allow the guy you stole from to decide how best to deal with you.

Whatever the solution, provided the two fellow comedians work this out amicably, no harm no foul. It’s all part of the not so secret society these guys got going. There’s complications, but usually there’s ways to remedy these situations without coming to blows. Usually. Sometimes, not so much. Some of the more public examples that come to mind:

I like both comedians, but I got no dog in this fight. I don’t personally agree with this one. Sounds kinda like Deep Impact versus Armageddon to me. Two separate talents riffing on a similar subject (planet killer meteor or necrophilia take your pick) and taking it two different places. I’m not aware that Louis CK or David Cross are mad at each other over it, but maybe it’s a bigger deal than this one video makes out. I dunno. Let’s move on.

Dane Cook is me if I weren’t a chicken shit. He’s riffed on concepts other comedians have riffed on and taken those concepts to similar places. People accuse him of stealing. He’s accused Steve Byrne of stealing how he performs not so much what he says. He goes out there and throws it down and fuck em if they can’t take a joke. That takes balls. You have no fucking idea unless you’ve actually done it.

They say impersonation is the sincerest form of flattery. Sometimes it can get kinda creepy too tho… and sometimes it can get downright frightening.

It’s perhaps water under the bridge now, but Joe Rogan and Carlos Mencia had a longstanding feud and many other comedians took sides in the debacle. Most comedians tho just held their tongue. Rogan argued this was how so many comedians got away with stealing; cuz other comedians didn’t like confrontation. However, confrontation doesn’t always resolve the problem either. Some comedians have a filter and won’t say a joke that’s not theirs. Other comedians are in the moment and will say whatever’s gonna illicit laughter from the audience cuz if you don’t take advantage of every chance to keep them laughing, you’re fucking dead up there. Still others, like me, don’t ever get up on that stage for fear I’ll say something I think is mine in that instant only to learn later that I stole from someone else. I have so many other comedians in my head, it can sometimes take me days to hammer out whether or not an idea I have came from someone else or not. I don’t have time on stage to wallow through the mire in my head, so I end up just never trying. This is probably for the best. I’m slightly allergic to people punching me in the face.

I adore Denis Leary. I knew about him first, before I learned about Bill Hicks. In fact I didn’t really know about Bill Hicks until after he died. So I thought Denis Leary made all his own material. I didn’t know he’d lifted some of his most successful stuff from Hicks. The two were friends. This drove a rift in their friendship that doesn’t sound like it got resolved before Hicks died of pancreatic cancer. It’s a tragic tale. It’s a worst case scenario. I can’t hate Denis Leary. I can understand if others can’t forgive him.

I have tried to be funny on stage before. I’ve never been a successful stand up comic, but I used to fancy myself a struggling actor, and comedic character roles were my forte. The bumbling lovable doctor. The befuddled country lawyer. The character who was only on stage five minutes but people remember what you did years later. No small roles, only small actors, and i got a big beer belly so i ain’t small. My point is, I know what it’s like to try to be funny. To do everything you can possibly do short of kill yourself for a laugh. Like if you can’t keep them rolling in the aisles with laughter you haven’t fulfilled your reason for existence. It’s a crazy kinda high too, when you know you have them in the palm of your hand, hanging on your every word? It’s a scary kinda power. Very fleeting but very thrilling. Grabbing a tiger by the tail. I can’t imagine any drug on this planet beats that.

No laugh is worth losing a friendship over. Is it? I guess Leary knows the answer to that question. He probably keeps that answer to himself.

Which brings me to today’s favorite joke. The incomparable Bill Hicks contemplates why you never hear positive drug stories in the news. He offers himself in a half-assed way as living (at the time) testimony to the fact that there are positive stories to tell and he’s one of them. We only ever hear about the bad things that drugs can do, but the fact the black market drug industry makes billions annually and employs a large but unspecified number of people worldwide does lend credence to the fact that someone somewhere must be getting something positive out of this. People don’t pour money into something if they’re not getting something back.

What they get back is not productive for those in power. That’s why it’s illegal. Not because it’s the right thing to do. If drugs were legal I woulda blotzed myself out of my mind and died a long time ago but i woulda died stupid happy too. The only two reasons I don’t do drugs is cuz first I can’t afford it and second it’s illegal. Take away the second one, I’d probably figure out the first one. Okay third reason. I’m too fucking lazy to ignore the second one and try to figure out the first one. I also refuse to pay outrageous prices. I think if we legalized at least weed, the price would go down pretty fast. Hell, I could grow some in my own backyard! It’s a frikkin weed! ..where was I?

Anyway, I can’t talk about this subject cuz i got ZERO experience with it. Well, okay, ALMOST zero. I did go to college for four years. I’m not a complete stick in the mud. So rather than drone on any longer, here’s someone who can talk about this better than me.

Today, a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration—that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we’re the imagination of ourselves. Here’s Tom with the weather!

I can’t do any better than that. Peace, brother. Thanks for your ride.