Imagine you are with a group of friends and one of them tells a story as an authentic experience of their own. But only you know that it actually happened to someone else. It is the effect of stealing a joke from a comedian and performing it on stage yourself. Comedian Marcus Brigstock said to me recently that the worst thing a person can do in this profession is to steal someone else’s material.
I didn’t know it was theft at the time but I stole a joke and it has returned to haunt me. The scene of the crime: The Young Playwrights Festival at The Paris Studios on Regent St. The time of the Crime: It was twenty years ago. The show was was broadcast to the nation on BBC radio 4. The evening included budding stand ups like Steve Coogan, Alan Cummings and Simon Munnery . Things were less compartmentalised then and poets and comedians often found themselves on the same stage together .
The evidence: Simon performed as the most unlikely security guard you ever saw. He was funny just to look at, gangly and bespectacled in an ill fitting security guard’s suite. It was as if he’ spent the night on duty scratching bitter jokes into his security log book. Here is a joke he told with some vehemence ‘I said to my mum “you just don’t understand me”’. Then a beat not a pause She said “Que?”
What beautiful perfectly placed words of comedy, thirteen in total. Try, yourself, to write thirteen words that include two characters one question, one answer and a laugh out loud moment which is also terribly sad. The evidence of the crime: It shames me to say that I trundled back to Manchester, which seemed so far away, and throughout the intervening years have used that joke.
Later on that evening at the Paris Studios Simon grabbed me, he was still in his security guard uniform, “you’re the only one telling the truth out there” he said about my poetry, before slumping to the ground. We were al drunk on the free wine. Integrity does not disappear in a flash but finds itself eroded. Suddenly the blind spot is the entire view.
How do I right this wrong? What to do? Comedians sell jokes. They sell jokes to other comedians who then use those jokes on radio television or on stage. Though I am not buying the joke cause it is not mine I’ll write to Simon Munnery and ask if I cab pay compensation . But the first thing I shall do, and the most important, is to apologise.