Conan O’Brien on accusations of joke theft

Conan O’Brien — the funniest American on TV* — has written for Variety about accusations he and his team pinched several jokes from a guy on Twitter.

It’s a thoughtful read on the nature of writing jokes, particularly topical ones, in the age of social media.

O’Brien has now settled, but maintains the joke wasn’t stolen:

How did I know? I knew because different people around the world come up with the same joke all the time, especially when the joke is topical. I was made aware of this 24 years ago, when, on the same night, David Letterman, Jay Leno, and I all told an identical “Dan Quayle is dumb” joke: “Dan Quayle announced today that he will not be running for President in ’96. However, he did not rule out running in ’97.” Back then, no one sued anyone because each of us knew that topical comedy often follows a pattern — it’s an occupational hazard. You try hard to avoid it, but sometimes, comedians inadvertently step on each other’s feet.

He concludes:

When you add the internet and an easily triggered legal system, the potential for endless time-wasting lawsuits over who was the first to tweet that William Barr looks like a toad with a gluten allergy becomes very real.

If you’re interested, here’s a USA Today report from the time discussing the alleged incident:

(*And that’s only because he’s Irish, clearly)