A freelance comedy writer who says he contributed to Jay Leno’s Tonight Show for 20 years now claims he also contributed to Conan a number of times this year—involuntarily, after the Conan writers stole his jokes from Twitter. He’s suing Conan O’Brien, the writers, and TBS in California federal court.
Robert “Alex” Kaseberg alleges that O’Brien used four of his original jokes in monologues on the show, uncredited and without permission. It does appear that Conan delivered similar jokes on the show around the same time Kaseberg posted his, but the case isn’t as straightforward as that.
The first joke, “A Delta flight from Cleveland to New York took off with only two passengers. And they wrestled for control of the armrest the entire flight,” is one that Kaseberg writes was directly inspired by a Conan bit, “A Delta flight from Cleveland to New York took off with only two passengers. And they still managed to lose their luggage.”
Do the Conan writers read an unknown comedy writer’s personal Blogspot and lurk among the 1,300 people following him on Twitter, or did two people write the same joke about a topical news item? Hmm! An excellent question for a federal jury!
The next month, Conan allegedly plagiarized a second joke from Kaseberg’s Twitter account: “Tom Brady has decided to give his Super Bowl MVP truck to the man who won the game for the Patriots. So enjoy that truck Pete Carroll.”
The third alleged theft came in mid-February, also from Twitter: “It turns out the Washington Monument is ten inches shorter than previously thought. You know it has been a cold winter when even a monument has shrinkage.”
Because no one has ever joked about the Washington Monument being phallic before, Kaseberg came to the only sane conclusion available to him:
“Two times there is an impossibly slight possibility of a joke-writing coincidence, three times there is no possibility of a coincidence. And always used on the monologue one day or, in the case of the third time, six hours after it appeared on my blog and or Twitter.”
Although the jokes were written about news items that would only be topical for a couple of days, Kaseberg was convinced the timing proves his material was stolen. He called Conan’s head writer, Mike Sweeney, in hopes that he’d either admit to using the jokes or offer him a job writing for the show.
Neither of those things happened, according to Kaseberg’s account:
“We don’t have any openings,” said Sweeney, “and why would I want to hire someone who accuses us of stealing jokes?”
Mike Sweeney implied I had heard jokes on TV and wrongly assumed they were mine. Like I was some crazy man whose thoughts were being stolen by a TV show.
Hey, you said it, not me.
Conan’s representatives at Conaco have denied the lawsuit has any merit, and Conan sidekick Andy Richter is on Twitter mocking the possible comedic genius/possible crazy person whose thoughts are being stolen by a TV show:
OH NO WE'VE BEEN FOUND OUT!! Conan O'Brien Targeted in Lawsuit Claiming He Lifted Jokes from Twitter http://t.co/0uOcqQIMnKJuly 27, 2015
There's no possible way more than one person could have concurrently had these same species-elevating insights! THESE TAKES ARE TOO HOT!July 27, 2015