“Every artist is a cannibal…”

….every poet is a thief…”

I’m not sure if you’ve been following the Prodigal Sam controversy. Prodigal Sam is a campus minister down in South Carolina, and has over 100,000 followers on Twitter by posting some pretty hilarious Tweets. As it turns out, some of them are riffs on other comedians stuff. Was he stealing? Was he borrowing?

Who cares, you ask? Especially considering Tweets aren’t exactly “Intellectual Property” like, say, a comedy special or a written book?

Silly people, SOMEONE ALWAYS cares about stupid crap. In this case,  comedians like Patton Oswalt  and Salon Magazine have gotten all fussy about it and piled on the poor guy. There is even a blog about it.  The tone of self righteousness and pseudo-intellectual drivel reminds me of the South Park episode where everyone craps out of their mouths.

Pssst, hey Patton and Salon, maybe you should listen to Picasso when he said, “Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal.”

You need an example? How about this example from the comic book world?

Zorro=Rich Noble who wears a disguise, rides a horse and fights injustice.

Batman=Rich play boy who wears a disguise, ride the Batmobile and fights injustice.


Patton Oswalt, Salon, and other self righteous types, give it a rest. Prodigal Sam just gave you tons of free publicity. Enjoy it. Stop your moaning. Stop piling on an obscure campus minister who just wants to make people laugh. He doesn’t make money off his Tweets.  He doesn’t really seek out fame, like you do. He isn’t seeking a movie deal, like you do. He didn’t steal your (cough) intellectual property.

So, seriously, enough already.


So, it seems as if Prodigal Sam is going to hang it up for awhile. Congrats, cyber bullies, you won. Hope you’re proud of your childish absurdity.


About Jonathan Ryan

Jonathan Ryan is a novelist, blogger and columnist. His novel, 3 Gates of the Dead, published by Open Road Media, is in bookstores everywhere. The sequel, Dark Bride, will be out early next year along with a powerful new Young Adult Trilogy, Revolution of the Wolf and a moving middle grade series, Ghost Bear.

  • Voidhawk

    Would have been good to credit the originators – it would have solved all this mess and is just good manners..

    • Author Jonathan Ryan

      Can’t disagree with that at all. I think Sam, at worst, was guilty of being naive. He didn’t think anyone would really care about a poor campus minister from South Carolina. Sadly, he got a pretty hard core education.

      Thanks for stopping in!

  • whaaa?

    I’ve been internet-ing the prodigalsam controversy and ran into this post. I understand the argument you’re making, but I think there’s an innate failing here to grasp the other side of things. First, I think there’s just no way around it – what prodigalsam did was wrong. He may not have made money off the tweets, but he absolutely accepted a huge following, praise from followers and admiration from bloggers and journalists for “his” wit. He accepted all this without ever saying, “Well, some of these ideas were from funny people I admire.” He just took credit… until he got caught. With the retweet button making it so easy to share things you find funny on twitter, waiting a few weeks and then shifting the words around just a tiny bit (while keeping the joke in tact and not adding any creativity of his own), and presenting jokes as his – that’s not naiveté; that’s stealing. And he did it a lot. He didn’t re-interpret or riff on ideas like your analogy between Batman and Zorro – he stole. When confronted, he then gave non-apologetic apologies and essentially lied about stealing.
    As for why people like Patton Oswalt got “all fussy”: stealing a joke from a comic and accepting fame and praise for it – it’s not just stealing a joke, it’s stealing a bit of their process – the years it took them watching, reading, honing their craft, enduring countless nights humiliating themselves at open mic nights, developing their voice, etcetera. A lot of the tweets prodigalsam took credit for (and there were a lot) came from people who have worked at being funny for years. It may just be comedy, but when it’s someone’s profession, their passion, it’s understandable that they’d be passionate about defending it when it’s stolen outright. There’s really not an ounce of integrity to be found in accepting personal glorification because you took credit for someone else’s work, even if it is just twitter.

    • Levedi

      Very well said. I’m a writer and every time I write I’m aware of how much I owe to the authors who came before me and influenced my imagination and my style. But showing influence is not the same thing as stealing from them, despite the often quoted “good writers borrow, great writer’s steal.” We’re all “sub-creators” as Tolkien named it, working with material that already exists. But by the same token we all do know the difference between quoting, alluding, and plagiarizing. And prodigalsam certainly knows the difference (or ought to) because as a preacher (and one who did materially profit from his theft in the form of speaking gigs) he had to take classes in writing and preaching where, if his school was worth anything, they taught him how to cite his sources. What he did was theft and fraud. As a writer and a teacher of writers who fights plagiarism constantly, I’m solidly with Patton Oswalt on this one.

      • Author Jonathan Ryan

        I think its a bit much to say Sammy “stole” and to call him a fraud. It has not been proven with conclusive evidence.

        Is he guilty of bad judgement? Sure, but after talking to many friends who know him and a friend who interviewed him, calling him a fraud is more than a bit harsh. It’s a value judgement on a man with very little evidence.

        As for him profiting from speaking gigs, well, he would have gotten those anyway because he is a minister. I’m not aware (and if you are, feel free to point them out) of any engagements he aquired due to his Twitter popularity. Trust me, as someone who used to be a minister, I doubt very much he received any “profit” other than travel expenses and MAYBE a cup of coffee. Unless you’re a TV preacher, ministry doesn’t pay.

        I too, am a writer, and I would agree with many of your points, Levedi. Willful plagiarism is ALWAYS a bad thing and stealing. However, can I say that my writing is completely clean? I would like to think so, but my subconscious is a funny thing.

        But, really, the whole thing is moot. Sam is off Twitter and most likely for good.