Joke Stealing. It can happen to you!
In 2008 I had the worst thing happen to me since I started doing comedy, somebody broke into my buddy Joe’s car in the parking lot of a Walgreens in Charlotte and stole my backpack. I had about $800 worth of electronics in that backpack, but what hurt the most was losing what was probably worth the least to the thieves – my joke notebook. The reason I had that much stuff in my backpack is because me and Joe had just gotten back from a trip to New York City and were on our way back home from the airport.
The reason we were in New York City was because I had just won a comedy contest sponsored by Crackle.com in which the prize was a pitch meeting with producers at Sony along with a trip to perform a 15 minute set at Gotham Comedy Club. The 15 at Gotham turned into barely 10, the pitch meeting never happened, the hotel they put us up in had just busted their A/C in the middle of a heatwave, and we had to spend about six hours at the airport because of a delay on our flight back. But at least we didn’t get robbed while we were in New York.
The set I had submitted for the contest was recorded a year earlier at the innagural edition of the Laugh Your Asheville Off Comedy Festival in Asheville, NC. It was their first time doing a festival and by they, I mean Greg Brown (his website is way nicer than mine). I met Greg Brown, the founder of the Asheville festival, when he was an open-micer soon after he took a comedy class in Charlotte, NC around early 2007. Greg had the idea to start a comedy festival in Asheville and enlisted a few local comics to help him do so. He didn’t know very many comics in the area so a few were recommended to him, one of them being me.
The festival was enough of a success that Greg kept it going and it still runs to this day. I was invited to perform again the following two years, 2008 and 2009. I had such a great time those three years that even though I was not in the 2010 edition I still came up just to hang out with the other comics, many of which were buddies of mine at that point, including Greg.
A year later, is when I started hearing the rumors that he was stealing my material. Greg had moved to Washington DC from Asheville and was starting to do more shows. By then I was living in Atlanta and my best guess is that he felt far enough removed from the southeast and all our mutual friends and acquaintances that he felt he could do my material without repercussion. I had never worked in the DC area at that point, or much at all in the Northeast, so odds were nobody there knew who I was, much less my material. However, like any road comic, I have met a lot of comics, from a lot of places, that travel to many more, and it wasn’t long before I got word.
I don’t always remember when I came up with the idea for a joke, but with this particular one I do. I especially remember this one, because even though it took me a few months to bring it to the stage, the idea for it originated on the very first day I ever did stand-up comedy. I recount the anecdote briefly in a 2010 article I wrote about my 5 year comedy anniversary. Coincidentally I also mention how someone else had also tried to steal that same joke a few years later.
In that particular instance I handled the plagiarism by confronting the “comic” one-on-one. Well as one-on-one as you can get through Facebook. I didn’t make a big stink out of it because this particular person was pretty out of the game by that point, and I didn’t think she posed much of a threat to anyone. I don’t believe that is the case now.
Because I considered Greg a friend I gave him the benefit of the doubt and never confronted him in the hopes that it was a one time thing. Unfortunately, since then, the evidence against him has started piling up. I’ve heard from different sources that he’s been witnessed stealing material from other comics as well, and recently I saw a video of him doing the joke he stole from me at a different date and different venue from where I’d first heard of him doing it. In other words, it’s not just a one time thing, and he’s not stealing from just me.
That’s why I’m choosing to bring this up publicly instead of confronting him one-on-one. It’s not just about my joke. To be honest, I’ve been telling the joke for so long that I’m embarrassed to admit I ever still tell it. But the reality is Greg runs a fairly popular comedy festival every year, and he could potentially be stealing material from countless comics from around the country. Not just the dozens that do the festival but the hundreds who submit.
I’ve done the festival several times and I actually think it’s a great one. That’s why I think it’s such a shame that Greg would have so little regard for the work of comedians and the artform in general that he would risk sullying the reputation of the festival for his personal gain. He’s essentially become the antithesis of what a festival that celebrates creativity is supposed to be. Stealing material is the lowest thing a comic can do, but when you’re entrusted with the caretaking of a national showcase where struggling comics are trying to shine and achieve a little bit of a semblance of recognition, you should be held to an even higher standard still.
All that said, I can only conclusively prove that he’s stolen from Me. The claims of him stealing other people’s material are just allegations I’ve heard from other comics so I can’t confirm any or have proof of any of them. However, if you have done the Asheville festival in the past or have ever submitted for it, I would highly recommend keeping an eye on Greg if you ever get a chance to listen to his set. He stole a joke from me knowing that we had a shitload of friends in common and the possibilities were higher that he could get caught. I don’t see what would stop him from stealing a joke from a comedian he’s never met that lives a thousand miles away and he’d probably never have to run into.
My only apprehension in writing this is that it may come across as if I’m trying to trash the Asheville festival. I’m not. I always had a great time while I was there, and the comics would always have good things to say about it. I’m also not trying to portray Greg Brown as an evil dude. He’s not. At least I don’t think he is. Even though we didn’t hang out all the time, living in different cities, I still considered him a friend. That’s why I’ve held off this long in calling him out. Anybody that knows me, knows how little compassion I have for joke thieves. I was always a full-fledged supporter of Joe Rogan in his crusade against Carlos Mencia. But I feel I did owe Greg at least the benefit of the doubt. He’s the reason I was able to record a great set at the first Asheville festival, which led me to winning the Crackle contest, which led to a trip to New York, which led to somebody breaking into Joe’s car on the way back from the airport and stealing the backpack that contained a notebook with all my jokes. Hmm, come to think of it, they never did catch the people that stole my notebook. Maybe that was his plan all along. Greg, you evil genius.
P.S. If anybody still doubts that I wrote the joke, or may be considering it’s just a case of parallel thinking, this is how much I was known for telling that joke for so long. I did a show in Greenville, SC last year and the poster for it consisted of a drawing of the joke in comic strip form. Still one of my favorite posters ever: