I think Patton Oswalt is one of the five funniest comics working today. He’s one of those rare comedians who has a truly unique voice. Like Louis CK, he is capable of doing something that very few comics have ever been able to do, create an entirely new special/cd/dvd every year without the quality slipping. And that’s because his act isn’t really an act, it flows from who he is and from his particular way of looking at the world. And if you don’t already love him, I suggest reading this very long essay about stealing material, heckling and rape jokes. He tells this great story about a comedian stealing material:
And another young comedian we both knew – who had started featuring, which meant doing 30 minute sets after the emcee but before the headliner – started stealing Blaine’s material. Not a joke here or a line there. Huge, sprawling chunks of Blaine’s act [ED — Blaine Capatch, another brilliant comedian), which ballooned the material he had from about ten minutes to more than half an hour. And he used it to feature – to make more money, to have an easier time in front of an audience that had been warmed up by an emcee like me or Blaine, to get even more gigs. He made no attempt to hide what he was doing and, if I remember correctly, even did some of it right in front of Blaine at a show in Baltimore.
Blaine, ever more Zen than me, even at that young age, politely confronted the comedian and asked him to stop. “That’s my stuff, man. Could you not do it, please?”
The other comedian wasn’t angry or defensive. He was, incredibly, confused.
“But I’m starting to get feature sets. I don’t have 30 minutes of material. You’ve got more than 30 minutes. And you’re not getting feature sets.” The young comedian explained this Blaine like he was explaining the concept of the Tooth Fairy to a 3 year-old.
Blaine said, “But you’re only getting those feature sets because of my material. You wouldn’t have enough to fill a half hour unless you stole from me.”“Yeah, I know,” explained the comedian, patiently. “You ain’t out there working to get feature sets. You’re just writing all this material and then just doing emcee sets. You ain’t featuring full-time like me, so I need that material. You’re not using it featuring.”
So there you go. Blaine got to watch his work benefit someone else – someone dumber, and less creative but, fatally, more ambitious and shameless than him. I’d love to tell you that the other club owners stopped hiring the thief but…nope. He made people laugh while the audience bought drinks and mozzarella sticks. Most comedy club owners back then – and a few, still, now – are in the Food and Beverage Industry, not the Creativity and Honor Industry. Most audiences cleave to the former as well. What could Blaine and I do, still at the dawn of our careers? Two emcees struggling to find an audience and get work? We had zero power to stop anyone stealing anything. We just had to write more, work harder, out-create the little fucker.
Don’t worry – this story has a happy ending. Blaine and I eventually moved west. So did the thief. But when it came time for him to make the transition to television, to movies, to big-time fame and success? He had nothing. And, without going into details, he flamed out, rather spectacularly, on national television. Like, spectacularly. It was gorgeous for Blaine and I to watch. By that point we’d built solid careers for ourselves and when Kid Thief’s career hit the killing floor? It drained away through the sluice gate. I’ve never heard from him since. Kelly Oxford wrote something, during this latest joke thief debacle, about how the stealers and joke-thieves can often get themselves through the highest doors only to find, when they’re at the top and people want to hear their ideas…they’ve got nothing. Kill floor. Sluice gate. Oblivion. I don’t need to name names here. We’ve seen it happen. It’ll happen again. It’s always fun when it does.
The next section is about hecklers. And if you’ve ever heckled a comedian, please read it. And stop thinking you’re part of the show. You’re not. So shut up. But it’s the last section that raised my already immense respect for him to another level, as he rethinks his initial rejection of the idea of rape culture and learns to see the world through the eyes of others. I’m not even going to quote it here, just go read it.