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The online trial of Amy Schumer


Comedian Amy Schumer continues to dominate headlines as more and more videos come out accusing her of joke theft. But in response, more and more comedians are coming out to support her. 

The outraged video clips and tweets are stacking up high against Schumer. One such clip shows comedian and magician Joseph Tran comparing a bit he did in a 2013 series called Reasons Not to Date a Magician with a sketch from a 2014 episode of Inside Amy Schumer in which Schumer beds a magician (played by Kyle Dunnigan) who twists a condom into a balloon animal—the same thing that happens in Tran’s video from a year earlier. The lead-up in both videos is very different, but in May 2014, Tran addressed the similarities in the original video. 

This clip was posted to vid.me by user Josh Smith (who has other alleged Schumer theft videos on his page, and a Twitter account heavy on anti-Schumer and anti-feminist rhetoric). Reached for comment, Tran pointed out the irony of that Josh Smith clip:  

Someone else took my video (along with Schumer’s) and created the comparison. There are additional pieces of info from the original video that was left out of the comparison video. Ironically, the video you saw was, essentially, stolen.  

We’ve reached out to Smith for comment and will update this story if he responds. 

Another video uploaded to Vimeo by user Dougie Huggins shows the similarities between two IAS bits from 2013 and 2008 sketches from MadTV and CollegeHumor, respectively, as well as a Daniel Tosh joke from 2010 that is similar in tone to one in a scene from Trainwreck. This isn't the first time someone haspointed out that the premise of the MadTV sketch and IAS sketch are similar. 

Huggins declined to comment about the video. We've also reached out to Comedy Central for comment. 

Three female comedians have now publicly accused Schumer of stealing bits, and all three used Twitter to initially lay out their claims, though two of them have now walked back their accusations.

For her part, Schumer has been attempting damage control, appearing on Jim Norton’s radio show to assert her innocence, saying she would “take a polygraph test and put it on my show this season and I promise, whatever the results are, I won’t let them cut. I will show that I had never, never seen Patrice do that bit.” (She’s referring to a Patrice O’Neal joke she’s also been accused of stealing.) 

In an era when the Internet won’t let things like joke theft slide, the accusations from fellow standups have started a brisk dialogue in comedy circles. 

“I hate how people say that she stole Patrice O’Neal’s stuff when A) both she and Patrice say that they’re talking about street jokes,” comedian Sarah Hartshorne told the Daily Dot. “You can’t steal street jokes; they’re like knock-knock jokes. B) She’s reframing them to put them in the women’s perspective, which is a horrifying one.”

On Monday, IAS writer Kyle Dunnigan posted his own rebuttal about the alleged theft of the magic sketch, saying, “Amy’s going to get backlash for the amazing year she’s had because building people up and tearing them down is the American way”: 

“Do I think Amy Schumer is a joke thief? Absolutely not,” said comedian Sue Smith. “Do I think that we’re inundated which so much information that it’s impossible to have completely unique thoughts? Totally.”

Remember the Fat Jew? After all the scrutiny around his Instagram account and its many stolen or uncredited memes, he recently debuted a new webseries, and people still apparently think he’s amusing. Admitted plagiarist Jonah Lehrer released a new book last year; Shia LaBeouf made a whole surreal side career out of his. 

“Even though I think it’s important to call attention to joke stealing, like with the Fat Jew and all the other blatant thieves on Twitter, etc., I think that the Amy Schumer accusations are way overblown,” said comedian Lynn Bixenspan. “The phrase ‘parallel thought’ gets thrown around a lot when explaining how people come up with the same joke, and I think there’s a little of that, but more of it is just her own take on certain existing concepts. … She’s in the spotlight, so everything she does is dissected. This is just another example.”

Schumer’s public persona preceded the term “Internet-famous,” but the Internet is whereherdissection has taken place. She, unlike the Fat Jew, has been a feminist, sex-positive, relatable voice for many women, which of course makes some men angry enough to obsess over her. Way back in 2010—a decade in Internet years—Dave Itzkoff pointed out something that still resonates: “The Web has given comedians an unparalleled real-time resource to determine if their material is being copied, but it has also provided would-be thieves with an almost infinite library to steal from. And it has made it easy to make public accusations of plagiarism that may or may not have merit without providing a forum to resolve these fights.”

Much like music, so much of comedy is at least having an ambient awareness of others’ material. But with YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram, originators are often kicked a few rungs down as our brainspace constantly loads more and more data. Marc Maron addressed this and the anti-Schumer “onslaught” on his Jan. 25 podcast, starting around the four-minute mark: 

Comedians absorb what’s coming in, and they process it. We’ve all been in the rooms of standup comedy clubs for most of our lives, hours and hours. In order to vet a joke against the history of recorded comedy, on album or on television, it’s fucking impossible. And this is not an apologist position, this is just a reality. 

He goes on to relate that in his podcast’s earlier years, any time a female comedian was on, the comment section would be overrun with anonymous garbage dudes attacking them. He frames the current allegations in the same lens, implying that there is a targeted campaign attempting to bring Schumer down, not in the name comedy, but because of a more insidious agenda.  

What is happening with Amy has nothing to do with justice, it has nothing to do with comedy. What’s happening is that—this is the real pattern—is that she, through the Internet and through video, is literally being verbally career-raped by an army of unfuckable hate-nerds. 

Personalities like Gavin McInnes—co-founder of Vice Media—have also leveledcharges of theft at Schumer. McInnes has been featured as a talking head at Fox News, where he's regaled viewers with tales of overly emotional women voters, and claimed that women earn less because they choose to. On Jan. 20, the Twitter account Uncuck the Right called for the hashtag #AmySchumerStealsJokes to trend.

People have been unloading a lot of arguments over whether or not Schumer is a thief, and people in comment sections want everyone to know they never thought she was funny and now they have proof. But ultimately, what is the end goal? To make comedy better? Promote accountability? It's hard to tell where genuine concern for comedic integrity begins and where something more insidious might begin. 

Maybe Schumer can turn this all into a joke one day. 

Screengrab via Comedy Central/YouTube 

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