Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Crazy Roseanne is at it again


Television’s favorite whacko, Roseanne Barr, went on a new tirade this week. As a former target, it’s always fun to see who has slighted her next. Last summer it was Tom Arnold. This week’s “asshats” (her affectionate pet name for me) are Chuck Lorre and Ashton Kutcher. In a recent angry flurry of tweets she accused them of stealing one of her jokes and using it on last Thursday’s episode of TWO AND A HALF MEN.

Unless I’m misreading the actual tweets.

friends told me that ashton kuchner is stealing my jokes without any sense of being conscious of being a fucking thief. #chucklorre

A--hole kuchner (sic) is stealing my 'wet where I'm supposed to be dry' joke @JohnnyAgent motherf---ing thief

Later the lovely Ms. Barr tweeted:

i would steal one of his jokes to make it even but they all suck ass.

But wait. There’s more:

Chuck Lorre has made MILLIONS-hundreds of millions-YET-he STEALS COMEDIAN'S WRITING-helps himself 2 STEAL other ppl's work w no guilt.

One thing chuck lorre will never do: apologize for lifting material from me or other comics or other tv shows.

This was the joke: Kutcher’s character talks about what it must be like to be 91 years old. He says: "I'd imagine that you're wet in the places you used to be dry, and dry in the places you used to be wet." 

Well, first of all, if you're going to steal there are way better jokes to steal. I sure wouldn’t make a Federal case over that particular line, but regardless, Chuck Lorre and the writers of TWO AND A HALF MEN have more than proved over the years they’re quite capable of coming up with jokes without having to resort to theft.

Is it possible one of the writer inadvertently lifed that line, having heard it somewhere but not remembering where? Absolutely. Things are stored in your brain that are missing the acquisition tags. Especially when the joke is only a variation of her line. Hers referred not to old age but menopause. This was her original joke:

“I’m wet where I’m supposed to be dry and dry where I’m supposed to be wet.”

But getting back to subconscious plagiarism -- there’s a great story about Paul McCartney. He came up with the melody for “Yesterday” and thought it was so good that he must’ve subliminally stole it. For days he played the melody to friends asking where they had head it? He couldn’t believe it was original. (It was of course.)

On the flip side, musical genius Brian Wilson (not the idiot baseball pitcher with the clown beard and Mohawk) has created some of the most extraordinary melodies and harmonies. And yet he put out “Surfin’ U.S.A.” without realizing it had the exact same melody as Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen.”  Oops.

But to suggest Chuck and company purposely ripped off Roseanne Barr is just nuts. Especially since she also blamed Ashton Kutcher who was just the actor reciting the script. As someone who had a television sitcom, Roseanne doesn’t know that actors don’t make up their dialogue? The woman needs her medicine cocktail adjusted.

She later backed off her claim and tweeted this:

If I'm unable2 sue billionaire chuck lorre4 theft, then I will force myself 2 watch his shows-& steal his jokes 2-altho NOT many R FUNNY 

And then:

I can C chuck in the room: 'guys, let's b careful when lifting jokes frm comics-don't steal copyrighted HBO special jokes-b more discreet'.

Seriously, they can re-figure the dosages in the cocktail.

Comedy writers are expected to come up with voluminous amounts of material daily. Occasionally something is going to be accidentally borrowed. You hate when that happens. It’s embarrassing. But not malicious. Again, as a seasoned veteran she should know that.

When I was on CHEERS we had a punch-up guy named Jerry Belson who came in one day a week. Jerry was truly one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. He and Garry Marshall developed the TV version of THE ODD COUPLE. I remember one time during a rewrite he pitched a joke that the Charles Brothers rejected. He defended it by saying, “It got a big laugh on THE ODD COUPLE.’ One of us asked, “Well, Jerry, if you used it on THE ODD COUPLE, why are you pitching it now?” and he said, “Because what went before is good too.”

Final thought: Wouldn’t it be great if it was Chuck Lorre who wrote that original line? Or it turns out she herself stole it from Joan Rivers?

56 comments:

Bg Porter said...

As Thomas Pynchon said in the 60s when accused of having stolen a punny character name: "if he really believes himself to be the only writer at present able to arrive at a play on words this trivial, that is another problem entirely, perhaps more psychiatric than literary, and I certainly hope he works it out."

Carol said...

Completely OT, but you're the only script writer I know, so there you go...

Did you see this story about a group of men who have been playing 'tag' for 23 years? http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/03/04/the-awesome-story-about-a-group-of-men-who-have-been-playing-a-single-game-of-tag-for-40-years/

Every February they play a month-long game of tag, with some of them travelling hundreds of miles just to tag someone. It's adorable, and kind of heartwarming, and would probably make a really good movie.

I totally think you should write it, because - with that whole 'Bar Wars' thing, I think you would nail it.

At its core it's about a group of men who let go of being adults for a few weeks to reconnect with old friends and their inner child, and the lengths they go through to play the game is really funny.

In short. I want to see this movie - can you get right on that? :)

al said...

Sometimes the same joke is happened upon completely independently by two different writers.

What one person thinks up, another could too. One way or another, it's ridiculous to think the Two and a Half Men writing staff are perusing twenty year old sitcoms for a throwaway line.

My Zelda said...

Roseanne hasn't been getting herself enough attention to suit her ego lately and twerking's not an option, so attacking a high profile person is the next best thing.

McAlvie said...

Maybe she's just jealous because Lorre's version was funnier. Or rather it was funny and hers was just crude. And how low has your life gotten when you are jealous of AK?

Diana said...

Patton Oswalt wrote a great piece on plagerism on his blog, well worth checking that out.

Gary Benz said...

I guess when it comes to Roseanne's brain, it's hard where it should be soft and soft where it should be hard.

Mike Barer said...

Chuck has got to love the publicity.

Ed said...

Seems like you could lift that joke, attribute it and work in a dig at the same time.

"...used to be wet."

"That's disgusting. How could you have thought of something that gross? Is that a line you heard from Rosanne?"

Pete In NY said...

Man, she's off the rails. *Paranoia self destroya?*

First thing I thought was hell, she knows Kutcher is speaking from a script, WTF?

Jeff Harris, her former executive producer on Rosanne said it best back in '98 "I have chosen not to return to the show next season. Instead, my wife and I have decided to share a vacation in the relative peace and quiet of Beirut." (Which was being bombed on a daily basis at the time.)

Tim W. said...

While it's not an outright theft, the idea was done in the movie City Slickers when Billy Crystal's character, upon turning 39, says to his wife, "I'm losing hair where I want hair and getting hair where there shouldn't be hair."

Personally, I think that version of the joke is much funnier.

Hamid said...

Roseanne exists so that when things are bad, you can be glad that at least you're not her.

John said...

To be fair, Chuck's been on Rosanne's shirt-list longer than most people, since he actually had to work for her during her sitcom run (which pretty much should be a get-out-of-sitcom-jail-for-life card for Lorre -- Even if he did steal her joke, he's paid the dues to justify the theft).

David Schwartz said...

Actually, as a big Beach Boys fan, my understanding is that Brian Wilson purposely used the melody for "Sweet Little Sixteen" by Chuck Berry for the song "Surfin' USA." He had originally credited both himself and Chuck Berry as the authors of the song, but someone messed up when the song was put out and listed Brian Wilson alone as the author. Then Chuck Berry (or his publishing company) recognized that the song was the same melody as "Sweet Little Sixteen" and because of that error, Chuck Berry now gets solo credit for "Surfin' USA" even though the lyrics were not written by him. Anyway, I don't believe that Brian Wilson subconsciously lifted the melody, I think it was a choice he made and was going to credit Berry, which would have happened except for the mistake that happened when the song was put out. At least that's my understanding of the situation.

Gordon said...

If Chuck is really watching old tapes of Roseanne shows and this is the first joke he's found worthy of stealing after all this time I'd say that doesn't speak well of ms Barr's show.... Surely there were better lines than that...

Anonymous said...

As an outsider from Hollywood (but a freelance writer who ALWAYS double checks information I submit for assignments) it seems to me that Ms. Barr is merely trying to be back in the limelight- Her show, which, for the most part, WAS wonderful and funny)has been off the air for quite awhile now- and so has she- (at least, on the mainstream) - It's too bad she's not using her talent in a more productive way- I remember seeing her when she did standup- She WAS funny. Sadly, since she now spends her time sending vitriolic tweets, it appears that...she may have been the victim of a malicious crime ring, targeting former sit com stars...where they wake up in a tub of ice only to discover they've been the target of a humorectomy...

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

So, the Queen of Good Taste refers to Kutcher as "Kuchner?"

That reminds me Mr. Special Effects, who called Kelsey, "Mr. Gramner."

Amazing...but it explains some of the reasons why she's sitting at home tweeting and bitching...and not working.

Here : http://kenlevine.blogspot.com/2011/07/mr-special-effects.html

CRL said...

THAT'S the joke you steal?

Seriously?

Hamid said...

And of course, Roseanne agreed to do a Comedy Central Roast, not because she can laugh at herself like the others who've appeared on the Roasts, like William Shatner and Charlie Sheen, but because she was desperate for any attention and wanted people to think that she can laugh at herself, even though she probably went home fantasizing of different ways she'd torture all the roasters who are so much funnier than her and more likeable and more talented and more worthwhile as human beings.

Hamid said...

And actually, watching clips of that Roast again, it's painfully transparent how desperate she was to appear cool about being roasted. She laughed excessively at every single joke as if to say "hey, I've got a sense of humor about myself too!" but it just smacked of trying too hard. She's just a horrible person.

Henry said...

To be fair, she's not wrong about Ashton Kutcher being an asshat, but I always preferred to call him a douchebag.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

While I agree this sort of thing is inevitable, I *will* note that in the pilot of CYBILL I was particularly startled to notice that there's a joke about earthquakes (there's a tremor and everyone assigns a number to the severity with total equanimity) that is *damn* close to the same joke in the movie L.A. STORY, written by Steve Martin.

Like you say, it happens. It can be very startling when it does, though.

wg

Mr First Nighter said...

You want to hear two similar songs: Palisade Park by Freddy Boom-Boom Cannon and Crocodile Rock by Elton John. Also Led Zeppelin once opened for a band called Spirit (remember the bald drummer?) Anyway, find the song Taurus by Spirit. Play it, and you'll hear much of Stairway to Heaven.

Kay said...

Wendy M. Grossman said:

"...in the pilot of CYBILL ...there's a joke about earthquakes (there's a tremor and everyone assigns a number to the severity with total equanimity) that is *damn* close to the same joke in the movie L.A. STORY."

Good catch, but I think that's one of the pitfalls of observational humor. Since everybody in LA *does* react that way to an earthquake, it's not surprising that two different comedies would include such a scene.

I'm not sure how a writer should handle that. Ken, what you would suggest? Do you abandon or re-write your own original joke, after you hear a similar joke, for fear someone will accuse you of having stolen it or that it might sound stale? Or do you say, "This is my original joke; it works where I need it, and I'm leaving it intact."?

Johnny Walker said...

I think it probably was stolen (maybe subconsciously). It's literally the same joke. But... so what?

It's not like the entire show was about to go under and that one line saved it, making Roseanne the tragically unsung hero of Chuck Lorre's success.

You could remove that line from all future releases and there'd be one guy on a forum going, "I swear they've taken a joke out", while everyone else got on with their lives.

It's always interesting to see how people react to situations like this. It's like a Rorschach test for the ego. I've seen friends go off the deep end because they think some tiny idea they've had has been stolen, and it's never a pretty sight when they're trying to convince everyone how wronged they've been.

Poor Roseanne really does need some help. It must be a miserable existence taking everything to heart.

Chris said...

Friday question: any thoughts on Stephen Merchant's HBO show? It seems to fit the "show about nothing" description better than Seinfeld.

Thomas Mossman said...

If she hates Chuck Lorre this much, I find myself wondering how Roseanne feels about Joss Whedon, whose name I was surprised to see in the credits of some early episodes of her show.

sclick said...

Berry got half the loyalties, making that a collaboration

sclick said...

Berry got half the royalties making it a latent collaboration.

Austin in Japan said...

Seems like Rosanne was waiting for an opportunity to rip Chuck Lorre (born Charles Michael Levine, btw!) a new orifice. I agree with Ken that Rosanne was under the influence of stimulants and/or medication at the time of the purportedly offensive tweets.

Igor said...

For that past 10 years or so, one of my brothers and I have had this e-mail "thing": When one of us reads something in the news that inspires us to think of a joke that sounds late-night-monologue-like, we write it down and send it to the other. "Hey, I betcha this joke will be on TV tonight."

It's rarely a good bet. Yet, sometimes the brother who wrote it is correct.

And when that has happened, we've never considered that "our joke" was stolen.

I've always figured, if two guys can independently invent the integrated circuit, then you can write a joke today, it can be out there for years, then I can write that same joke so many years later, and yet my writing was tabula rasa.

Mike said...

In Ken's book plug video, he was angered that the '60s mall stores he remembered had since closed. I posted my own recollection: Ken angrily waves newspaper: "Rock Hudson? Gay? Never!" (From the Wiki account, I chose the wrong actor, wrongly recalling the accusations as fact.) Months later, I learnt that the film Austin Powers has the same line about Liberace. My line had not only been done before, it had been done better and, worst of all, by Mike Myers.

Johnny Walker said...

Roseanne on Whedon (July 2013): “I think he’s got a great mind ... I’m so proud of finding him and giving him his first job when he was only 19–and I hired him with no script!”

Johnny Walker said...

(Note: Whedon was actually 24, and had three of spec scripts: A Wonder Years, A Garry Shandling Show, and a Roseanne.)

Harry said...

James Burrows is a hack. He wasn't always a hack, but he is now. Sean Saves the World's pilot was lifeless and just depressing to watch. It would have been bad with nay director, but Burrows actually made it worse.

Yah Shure said...

"Mr First Nighter said...
You want to hear two similar songs: Palisade Park by Freddy Boom-Boom Cannon and Crocodile Rock by Elton John."

I'm hard pressed to find any similarities between those two records at all. The only echo of a previous hit I hear in "Croc Rock" is the "la-la-la" hook from Pat Boone's "Speedy Gonzales."

Now, if it's a true "Palisades Park" sequel you're after, give Capitol single 5436 a spin. This failed 1965 Bobby Rydell effort captured the same amusement park atmosphere, right down to the roller coaster sound effects. And no wonder: the arrangements on both the Rydell and Cannon records were done by Jimmy Wisner.

Yah Shure said...

Whoops... forgot to mention the title of the Rydell record: "Side Show."

Pat Reeder said...

To Mike: If it's any consolation to you, years before "Austin Powers," I saw Gallagher in Vegas. It was around the time Liberace's former lover had spilled the beans about their relationship. I recall Gallagher saying, "Liberace, gay?! Who next, Truman Capote?!" So great minds truly do think alike.

As a writer of topical gags for morning radio hosts, I record all the late-night comics' monologues to make sure they don't do a joke we've written but haven't sent out yet. Sometimes, lines do have to be dropped or rewritten because they beat us to it. Other times, I hear our lines done word-for-word two or three days later by Jay or Jimmy or Conan. I never thought to go on Twitter and accuse them of ripping us off, though. I just quietly applaud their good taste in choosing to steal our material.

DBA said...

For me, the trouble with Roseanne is, the remark about needing to adjust her meds is not a joke. She has previously publicly discussed her mental illness. If I recall correctly, she's severely bipolar. It's hard for me to react really when she goes off on someone like this because it's very hard to tell how much of her reaction is due to her illness and how much is her just being a jerk. I imagine it's a bit of both. Were she on medication (and I don't know if she is) and on a working dosage for herself, she might very well be irked or comment that the line sounded stolen, but the going on and on and raging and not being able to let go, and taking everyone in her path, including Kutcher who'd clearly have nothing to do with the script, seems to me to be something more than just her personality. Although I may be giving her too much credit...

Anonymous said...

“I’m wet where I’m supposed to be dry and dry where I’m supposed to be wet.”

You know, I have heard that line before. By my grandmother. On her deathbed. She was flying high on morphine and god only knows what else.

Oh yeah, and it was 1978.

So yeah, Rosie. You're a real original and should definitely sue.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Igor: with a little more of a proactive effort - ie, sending the jokes in to the shows as freelance writers do - you'd both have a better chance of making the prediction a reality.

wg

cadavra said...

Igor: It happens a lot. I remember one morning watching the news and came up with a Bush-is-an-idiot joke. That night, both Leno AND Letterman told the exact same joke. (Kimmel may have, too, but I don't watch him.) So great minds do think alike.

BTW, comedians have been "stealing" from each other since the silent era. In fact, Milton Berle was so renowned for using other people's material that it became a running joke, and he was dubbed "The Thief of Bad Gags."

idiotcheck said...

Love how you all fall in lockstep with bashing Roseanne when she's accomplished more as an admittedly brash woman than probably all of you put together. She created, ran and starred in a show that ran for seasons. But a bossy woman makes insecure men uncomfortable. Especially if she is not thin and sexy. Well, comedy ain't pretty. And Ken, those lines were not a variation on Roseanne's joke, they are practically verbatim. Deal with it.

Mike said...

The Comedians (UK, 1971-74) was a half-hour show of stand-up comics performing. Not topical, just "mother-in-law" jokes. The comics were gathered together in a club, each act filmed in turn, and the best bits edited together to make several programmes. Each comic waiting-in-the-wings would have to listen to the previous acts and cross these jokes off their list with increasing desperation.

idiotcheck said...

Mike, that's what happens at our roasts. You look lame on the dais if you can't regroup on your feet. Let alone have a week to write it for TV.

Johnny Walker said...

Mike, Stuart Lee fan? Also, since no-one's mentioned it, The Beatles DID knowingly steal things at the beginning of their career, but they were still amazing.

Zappa the Unholy said...

I once saw an emcee at the Acme Comedy Co. in Minneapolis who did a joke about jogging, running etc. It was hilarious. The next time I saw him I asked after the show why he didn't do that joke. He said he saw an episode of Comedy Central presents that had a comic do one similar. I told him to keep doing his because it was better. No theft, just similar.

Sarah Jackman said...

"She created, ran and starred in a show that ran for seasons. But a bossy woman makes insecure men uncomfortable. Especially if she is not thin and sexy."

That's sure a lot of cards to play at once. No one is denying that she had a successful sitcom once (though it might be argued that it was the character viewers liked and not the star, as her subsequent projects have proved).

Strong, bossy women are great. Mean, vile, nasty, vindictive women -- not so much.

Looks are relative. Plenty of pretty ladies and men have earned disdain, too, because of their behavior.

Mental illness is nothing to be flip about. Many are struggling with it who are not multi-millionaires, but the pain is the same. But the pain they inflict on others does not hurt any less.

Pete In NY said...

I dug Rosanne doing stand up. She killed. Wanted to like her sitcom, but couldn't get on board. Great talent all around, but it just wasn't my cup of insecure, nasty whine.

Johnny Walker said...

If Roseanne had never done any interviews, or anything else after her sitcom, and it had ended a few years earlier, she'd probably be as well loved as Lucille Ball. Great stand-up, great sitcom (at least in the early years), all undone by her issues.

As others have pointed out: She really does have major problems, and unfortunately for her (and those around her) becoming rich and famous wasn't the cure.

Brian Phillips said...

TV is not necessarily the right place to cast aspersions about originality.

When I was younger, I started to notice certain lines cropping up here and there. I recall seeing several shows reference "the heartbreak of psoriasis", any number of shows pillaging catchphrases ("Sister, Sister" didn't exactly cement itself in the comedy pantheon by having one of the sisters use, "Somebody sssstop may!" from "The Mask"), but the weirdest instance I can think of was during the 1970's.

It was the lead-up to the new season and the networks used to air pilots that weren't picked up. A friend of Robert Klein called it, "Failure Theater". There was a sitcom set in a police station (NOT "Barney Miller") and one of the officers announced that he had to go to the bathroom. His boss told him, "Don't bring anything to read!"

Several days later, I saw a different show, but I saw the same joke, word for word.

As for this year, you have not one, not two but THREE shows that deal with a similar trope, "My screwed-up parent(s) are back in my life": "The Millers", "Dads" and "Mom", which I suppose is the backlash to all the shows written by, I assume, older writers who stuck a kid moving back in with his/her parents.

There is nothing new under the sun, as someone once said.

Dang. Sorry.

Steve said...

It's ironic since Judy Tenuta used to accuse Roseanne of stealing the "domestic goddess" monicker from her. Where both Judy and Roseanne sell THEMSELVES short with this kind of complaining is that the best stand up comedians have a BRAND that the audience wants to see. They aren't coming to just see 'the act' or 'the jokes', people pay to see Roseanne, or Judy or Louie CK or Chris Rock etc.

Mark P. said...

I used to see Leno and Conan do the same (topical) jokes on the same day. Not surprising that the writers wrote them, but surprising that they didn't coordinate with each other. At the very least, Leno's writers should've watched Conan's monologue while it was being taped.

Around 20 years ago, Michael McDonald was sued by his former record label because the new songs he was writing sounded too much like his old songs.

Mike said...

To be fair to Roseanne, she didn't write good parts for men.

Famous! said...

Here is a story I've been carrying around since the last century:

In 1974, I was working as a Jock Disky at WHYN ("The Big 56"!) in Springfield, MA. Over a record intro, a propos of precisely nothing, I suddenly just blinked and went, "This is a FAMILY RADIO PROGRAM... if you happen to be the MANSON FAMILY!" Now understand, this was not something I had "prepped"... it just seemed at the moment like the most logical description of the zen which was my horrible radio act.

Later on, I made a (horrible) demo tape of my greatest hits. I threw that break in the middle of the audio soup, just for the chaos factor. I sent that tape EVERYWHERE... and quite frequently, to the West Coast.

Cut to about a year later: I'm at home, unemployed, broke, depressed and despondent, a complete Nobody in showbiz (or its discount little sister, Radio), and I'm watching Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show.

Johnny Carson. Undisputed King of Television. The biggest there is. Never to be equaled in raw Bigness, okay? Johnny Effing Carson, bitches.

Johnny tells a joke. Audience groans. Ed "HAW-HAW!"'s on cue. Johnny goes straight to his trademark looking both ways for the invisible lifeline, with his wide-eyed "OMG, what have I DONE?" face (a classic Carson tic). And THEN... he goes...

"This is a FAMILY TELEVISION PROGRAM... if you happen to be the MANSON FAMILY!"

(Cue the shot in "The Producers", where the audience sits silent and in shock, all mouths open and jaws slack. I was that audience for about two minutes.)

It didn't take many years for me to realize that even if some L.A. writer somewhere hung regularly with some L.A. Radio type, and the latter went, "Hey... listen to THIS a-hole!" and played my tape for him... and a game of "telephone" ensued... the mere fact that Johnny Carson (bitches!) would ever decide to use a joke I know for damn certain was given to me by the Muse was not something for which I needed public credit. It was a memo from the Muse: "In the end, kid, your stuff can't be all THAT bad, can it? Now take that little gem with you, get yerass out there, and go get 'em, Amos baby!"

cadavra said...

In the mid-60s, that joke was, "...if you happen to be a member of The Addams Family."