Doing Someone Else’s Joke

Hanging with 2 of the best comedy writers I know, Jeff Oskay and Dan Cummins.

Let me begin by stating this is not a Carlos Mencia blog, despite the title.  Today I’m discussing a joke that I actually bought from someone else.  Here’s the background.

I have written jokes for other people in a lot during my career.  Outside of my stuff for Frank Caliendo, I’ve just given jokes to people. Most of the time those were tags based on stuff they already had.  I’m a good joke doctor.  In 20 years of doing comedy I had never done a joke by anyone else.  That changed recently.

Earlier this year I was with my buddy Jeff Oskay and we are driving back from Baltimore.  We were replaying the shows and I asked him why he wasn’t doing a particular favorite joke of mine anymore? He explained that since he was getting divorced from his wife, the joke didn’t feel right to him now.  Now Jeff Oskay is one of the best joke writers I’ve met in standup.  He has sold some of his best jokes to a couple comics I know, which I have mixed feelings about. It’s hard for me to put a price on jokes.

A decade ago I was featuring for Michael Winslow.  At the time, his manager was touring with him to help him run his sound effects.  He liked my act a lot and said he wanted me to write a whole new act for a client of his, Gallagher 2.  Now I’m not going to get into all the details of what was going on with Gallagher 2, but his brother was in court against him making sure he could no longer do the O.G. (Original Gallagher) act.  I asked what the manager was looking for specifically and he said he wanted some of the social commentary stuff I was doing.  He wanted Gallagher 2 to be more like George Carlin.

Now, that was a big compliment, especially considering George Carlin was/is my comedy idol.  The problem was 2-fold.  I didn’t have much surplus material to give up.  More importantly if I had 45 minutes of George Carlin-type material, I would have been doing it.  Instead I might have had 10 minutes that Carlin would have ever contemplated doing and then he would have re-wrote it and made it better.  I told him this, but the manager was pretty desperate so he tried to be positive with me saying he thought I could do it.  I told him I would get back to him.  Then I started thinking what would it be worth to me if I could somehow come up with 45 minutes that was as good as what I already had.  An act that I could do for 5 years. (this is about how often I turn over a headlining set.  I’m not Carlin and I’m not Louis CK, but turning over most of my act every 5 years is pretty good.)  This 45 was worth well more than 100,000 dollars to me.

Now I’m guessing at the time that Gallagher 2 was making 200 grand a year at the time, so it wouldn’t have been too much to invest in his career, but I knew there was no way he would have done it.  I’m guessing his manager never could find someone who could produce for him, as I never saw 2 do standup again after Leo Gallagher (his brother) won the case.  Not sure I would have wanted to be known as the guy who wrote Gallagher 2 a new act, anyway, though for 150,000 I think my conscience would have been pretty clear.  I had a great idea for him to close his shows taking a chainsaw out and carving pumpkins, since the court order said he couldn’t hammer fruit. (no really, actual part of court decision) I figured that would give his fans the jolt they were looking for and it would be a satire on the whole thing, as well.

So now I get back to the joke I bought off of Jeff Oskay. He said he wasn’t going to do it and I realized it fit well with my act.  I told him I would give a 100 bucks for the joke and he said, deal.  I told him that he had a couple months to ask for it back.  Kind of reverse money-back guarantee.  So that is how I came about buying a joke.

Now doing another person’s joke is weird for me.  I can tell you the greatest thrill I have in comedy is doing a joke for the first time on-stage that I wrote and then having it work.  Now I did rework the joke, as the point of view Jeff uses on-stage is very different than the one I do, but the most important elements are all his.  The joke is does great for me, but I will tell you I always have a little emptiness after I tell it. I really want to mention to the audience that I didn’t write it, even though I own it.  I also worry that some other comic who has seen Jeff do it will think “hey that dude is stealing Oskay’s joke.”  Then he ends up telling other people I’m a thief.  You see, doing someone Else’s material can fill you with angst.  That is why I really think you have to be a complete psychopath to steal a lot of jokes and not end up killing yourself later.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I’m still doing it.  After adjusting the scenario, it fits my beautifully at the end of most of my new material about being married with twins and a child with autism.  Jeff’s version was about his wife quitting her job and her becoming a yoga instructor.  The crux of the issue with his version was how she was going to have a job that paid as shitty as his. (even if you are making a Benjamin off of one joke)  To fit my life, I deal more with how our family would be without health insurance.  Here is the joke below.  I think it’s such a great joke that I keep it in my act, despite the deal with the devil feeling it sometimes gives me.


Postnote: I know someday someone is going to come up to me after my show and the only thing they are going to mention is how much they love my leaving the wife joke.  It will eat a hole inside of me.  I just hope Jeff Oskay isn’t there to really enjoy it.

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