Hey 'SNL', Have You Tried Just Not Stealing Jokes?
Saturday Night Live has a decades long lineage of comedy breakthroughs, political impact, and making stars of some of the American comedy industry’s greatest talents. They also like to steal jokes now and then. Last week, a New York based sketch comedy group called Temple Horses accused the show of stealing not one but two of their skits.
Nick Ruggia and Ryan Hoffman, founders of Temple Horses, accused the series of ripping off two of their sketches, which are available to watch on their YouTube channel, those sketches being called, F*cking a Pumpkin’ and ‘Pet Blinders’. Variety have the attorney letter that details the alleged plagiarism and it is extensively detailed.
According to Ruggio and Hoffman, a lawyer for NBC responded verbally to this letter and claimed an internal investigation found that the writers of their sketches, called ‘The Pumpkin Patch’ and ‘Pound Puppy’, were developed independently and bore no resemblance to Temple Horse’s work that would be protected by copyright law. Parallel reconstruction is certainly a thing — the idea that two people completely separate from one another can come up with the same idea at the same time — but it’s hard not to be at least a little bit cynical about this since SNL have a joke theft track record.
In 1995, Jay Mohr was caught plagiarizing a Rick Shapiro standup routine essentially word-for-word for a sketch called ‘O’Callahan and Son Pub’. Shapiro eventually sued and won a settlement, which included promises that the sketch would be removed from all future reruns of the series.
A 2010 episode sketch featuring women with tiny hats was deemed eerily similar to a Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! skit called ‘Tiny Hats’. Both Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim called out the incident, although they also admitted that it could have been a coincidence. Two members of the Groundlings improv group accused the show of plagiarizing a Tina Turner themed sketch in 2014.
A 2015 sketch parodying Win, Lose or Draw featuring a contestant being asked to draw the prophet Muhammad was called out for being ‘strikingly similar’ to a sketch by the Canadian series This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Shaun Majumder, one of the stars of that show, admitted he thought the comparisons were a ‘little too close for comfort’, and there was a lot of disappointment within the Toronto comedy world over the incident.
In 2017, a sketch featuring Louis C.K. as a sad birthday clown performing for one person was called out by Tig Notaro was being plagiarized from a short film she made called Clown Service.
Parallel thinking is a thing in comedy and it happens more frequently than you’d think, but SNL are also the biggest names in town and carry a whole lot more power than your average New York based troupe whose videos get a couple hundred views on average. Really, the top name in American sketch comedy should be held to a higher standard when it comes to the origin of their pumpkin f*cking jokes.
Header Image Source: YouTube // NBC