confession

Scrabble1a_neg1b

Saturday.

“My entire act is stolen.”

“Please?”  Dr. Weiss sat up.

“Okay, not the entire act – but the best bits.  They’re stolen.”

“From where?”

“From comics I saw in New York – at the Improv and Catch a Rising Star.”

“Okay.”

“I stole bits!  I’m a thief!  I’m no better than the first day I walked in here!”

“How many bits?”

“I don’t know.  Like – three – or four – or five.  A lot.  But this one bit – it’s far and away my biggest bit.  The centerpiece of my act.  People expect me to do it!  Even when my regular jokes aren’t working – this bit works.  Y’know what it’s like having a bit that’s foolproof?  That you can absolutely rely on?  This bit works even on even the worst audience!”

“Okay – ”

“I don’t know what I’d do without this bit!”

“Yes – okay – this is – which bit – ?”

“Scrabble.  Plrknib.

Plrknib.”

“I didn’t plan to do this.  Or – not for so long.  But now, it’s like I’m stuck with these jokes!  I can’t not do these jokes!  But they’re not mine!”

“Alright.  Okay.”

“They’re not mine – ”   

“Well, let’s stop for a second and think about it.”

“Okay.”

“What does stolen mean, exactly?”

“It means I stole them.  I hijacked them.  I robbed them from other comics.”

“You didn’t write them?”

“No.”

“But you’ve said that other comedians – ”

“That’s not – it’s different.”

“Because?”

“Because they don’t care.  They don’t care that they’re stealing jokes.  No comic who steals jokes amounts to anything.  They’re not original.  They’re losers.  Which is what I am, right now.”

“But – who’s telling these jokes?  They aren’t famous, right?  These are local New York comics?  I mean – has anyone around here ever even heard these jokes before?”

“It doesn’t matter.  I know.  Sooner or later, they’ll know.  Bob knows.  Challis knows, I think.  He looks at me like he knows – and then – when that happens – it’s all over.

“Over?”

“Yes.  The world of comics is a very very small community.”

“I think you’re overreacting.  Does it really matter that much?”

“Yes.”

“It does matter?”

“Yes.  It matters.”

“I mean – musicians cover each other’s songs.”

“It’s not the same.  These bits are people’s lifeblood.  My jokes are my lifeblood.  If someone stole Smoke Alarm – I’d want to kill them!”

“So, this is an ethical question?”

“Yes.”

“I mean – it’s not illegal.  I suppose there are copyright laws.  Can jokes be copyrighted?”

“I – ”

“I’m guessing – ”

“It doesn’t matter!”

“Unless they’re published – or recorded – if they’re randomly spoken – and one person simply overhears – how many unique fat jokes can there be – ?”

“Look – ”

“My point is that – I think we can safely say – it’s not a crime, per se.”

“I guess not.  I dunno.”

“So, then, it’s just a code among comics?”

“Yes.”

“Which a lot of them break – ?”

“I – look – I don’t want to rationalize this.  I don’t want to make this an okay thing.  It’s not okay!

“What I’m trying to do is establish a context.  As far as I can see you have these jokes and nobody but you knows they’re not yours.  So, on one level – no one cares but you.”

“Until I get caught.”

“The biggest problem I can see at the moment is how you feel about it.”

I stared at him.

“Shitty.  That’s how I feel.  Super shitty.  Perpetually shitty.  A fake.  A fraud.  A big, big shitty loser.  A bad person.  A cheat.  Someone who was trying to do something respectable and I pissed all over it.  Because – because – ”

“Alex – ”

“And the worst thing – if people start to think these are my jokes and that the real comedians stole them from me.  How fucked up is that?!  The guy that came up with Plrknib worked on that joke.  He thought of it, constructed it, defined it – worked it till it was solid.  I didn’t.  I didn’t do shit!  And if people think I did – if they think he stole it from me – he’s completely screwed.  It should be illegal.”

“Has anyone ever stolen your jokes?”

“They’re not worth stealing.”

“But – aren’t you bringing something to the table?  Interpreting the material in your own way?”

“No.  I’m doing it exactly the way he did it.  My inflections are the same, my beats, my timing.  I move – when I do the sister’s part – exactly the way he moves.  I’m not interpreting anything.  I’m ripping off his joke, his style of telling the joke – verbatim.”

“And anyone could do this?”

“Anyone.  A monkey could do it.”

“A monkey?”

“If he practiced, yes.”

“I could do this?”

“Sure.  Why not?”

“Look – let’s say, okay – even if you are completely imitating him – you’ve made this joke your own.  You don’t just go onstage and play a tape of him doing it.  You’re doing it.  In fact – because you didn’t write it, it’s probably gotten you out of your head.  It’s probably why your act improved so much.”

“I dunno.  All I know is that I have to stop doing these jokes.”

“Mm.”

“And when I do – my act will plummet.”

He took a deep breath, released.

“Can you wean yourself off of them slowly?  Cut one a week until they’re out of your act?”

“I have to.  I don’t have a choice.  But it’s going to be a long time before I have anything in my act that can replace Plrknib.

And he stared at me, at a loss.  

“Or maybe you’ll come up with something better,” he finally said.

But the conviction in his voice was gone.

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