One of the great videos circulating on Youtube is a confrontation between comics Joe Rogan and Carlos Mencia at the Comedy Store. If you were unaware, Mencia is one of an infamous few in the biz who are known for stealing other comics material. Unlike music, where covering other people’s originals is cool, in stand-up comedy you are considered a pariah if you lift from someone in the profession. Where in the music world you make money off a song if someone performs something of yours, there is no such set-up in stand-up. Nothing is worse than when a celebrity comedian like Mencia steals your material, because when they perform it on TV, all of a sudden people think you are no longer the original writer.
(NOTE: The video has been pulled off a Youtube, but you can go to this site on myspace, where the it will load very slowly. Bonus is you get some insight on the event from Joe Rogan.)
Similar to Bob Saget, Rogan is known for hosting a bad TV show, but his stand-up act couldn’t be farther away from his TV persona. Don’t judge him from his Fear Factor days, as if you catch Rogan at a theatre or club, you will see some great social commentary delivered with a hypnotic presence. Since Rogan has become rich off of doing Fear Factor (and News Radio), he doesn’t have to worry like most comedians about pissing off the wrong person. He has been a one-man wrecking crew taking on big-name comics like Mencia, Dane Cook, and Dennis Leary, who have all done large chunks of material written by other acts.
Mencia, Cook, and Leary are 3 of the most charismatic performers I have ever seen on-stage. I’ve referred to Leary as being the Creed of comedy, as he could take other people’s stuff (see Bill Hicks) and make it more theatrical. Pearl Jam and Hicks are the ones who deserve the acclaim, but the posers knew how to take their brilliance and package it to a larger audience.
Dane Cook has coopted a few of Louis CK’s bits into his standup. Until this most recent Mencia/Rogan duel, the side-by-side CK/Cook performances had been the biggest stand-up comedy expose’ making the internet rounds. Cook has a rock and roll look and style that Louis CK doesn’t, which means a lot to opening films for 16 year-old myspace kids. Guess who has a higher profile?
Even though Carlos Mencia’s real first name is Ned and he is part German/part Honduran, it hasn’t stopped him from cultivating an image as Mexican-American’s most “authentic” comedic voice. Interestingly, the other comedian who could be classified as the current holder of this title, George Lopez, has confronted Mencia as well
I think Mencia, Cook, and Leary could have been successful comics without relying on others material, but the incredible drug of killing with an audience made them take a short-cut. Many comics that I have a ton of respect for have held on to the coattails of these comics, refusing to turn their backs on these material lifters. They have done this because they know most of the Hollywood decision-makers could care less about originality, only who can sell a product. Rogan has F-YOU money and also the truth on his side. In the world of Youtube and Myspace, video is instantly available to expose the evils of the false prophets. Just ask Michael Richards.
I should note that there are topics that lend themselves for parallel thought. I’ve been doing a smart-ass job interview bit for 15 years now. It is based on actual job interviews I did when I was in the corporate world and it’s something I’m known for in the biz. I’ve heard through the grapevine that a couple other comics do similar themed material in their show, though not done interactive like myself. I’ve not seen or heard what they do specifically, but from what I know about these comics, they are both quality acts that are known as being original thinkers. As I said, parallel construction of material can happen, which I believe has happened in this case. Fortunately, none of the other 2 comics who have a similar concept in their act have reached the levels of the 3 I listed above. If that did happen, I would have to reconsider doing the bit, despite it being a key element of my show.
It is really hard to create 15 minutes of material which will work with most audiences, let alone an hour that headlining acts need. This is why there are so few comics who can perform successfully in all regions of the US. To perform large chunks of someone else’s material is pathetic, but with the successes that performers like the ones I have listed above have had, it only increases the chances that others will try to follow this short-cut to success.
In my career, I’ve demonstrated that I can succeed in all sections of the country. As good of a performer as I think I am, Leary, Cook, and Mencia are all better than me on-stage. I will say though, that if I would have been willing to lift great material from others, I might have been able to be a bigger name in the biz. I’m not so self-absorbed to think that there aren’t many other comics who couldn’t say the same. Kind of like a baseball player who refused to use steroids, we can question if we couldn’t have raised our performance, if we had been willing to cut corners. No matter what profession you choose, you have to make decisions on ethical standards that will guide you. I admire Rogan for his dogged pursuit of the truth.