Published on July 26th, 2010 | by Sharilyn Johnson


Comedy Assassin

Further edit: shortly after I posted this, John’s blog entry was removed — however Vanity Fair has since discovered that it remains on John’s official site. Should THAT get deleted, here’s the screengrab.

Oh, John.

Dear, dear John.

As my regular readers know well, I like to defend John Mayer’s affections for comedy and his attempts at standup. No defending today.

Nope, today he’s getting a lesson in the concept of “parallel thinking”.

On his Tumblr blog, Mayer writes, in part, the following:

Comedy writer (and friend) Jordan Rubin posted this to his twitter account:

“RT @jordanrubin: Sometimes my inbox overwhelms me. http://twitpic.com/1effhy”

[The link points to the image below.]

Yesterday, July 25, “The Office” actor Rainn Wilson tweeted this:

“Photo of my IPhone ‘inbox’ http://post.ly/ojsU”

There’s no credit given to Jordan Rubin, no link to his page, no pointing Rainn’s 1,981,323 followers to a comedy writer who has 27,197 readers to his name.

There’s nothing comedians hate more than having their material “stolen.” I put “stolen” into quotation marks because one could argue that not giving credit is hard to prove as outright theft, but when it’s all but implied that the joke stems from the person posting it, “stolen” is a good placeholder until a better word comes around. Maybe the offense isn’t really stealing the joke but stealing the appreciation that comes in over it. And the fan appreciation for Rainn’s posting is high, because Jordan’s joke is good. Really good. (When you work for almost an hour Photoshopping a picture of your iPhone inbox for a tweet, you know you’ve got something bigger than your average play on words.)

I think a lot of you can see where this is going.

Using TinEye, the reverse image searcher, I found this image posted elsewhere all over the internet in the weeks following, as varied as here, here, here, here, here, here

If the Photoshop job was in fact done by Rubin originally, kudos to him for the idea, but there’s no identifying mark on the image to trace it back to him even if someone wanted to.

Considering his tweet of April 9 was retweeted by 100+ people — including Mayer — it went out to literally millions of Twitter users who then passed it along through the distribution means of their choice.

That, my friends, is what we call “viral”. The image is out there, and has been for 3 1/2 months. It’s a piece of “found” humor that keeps getting found by new people. Rainn Wilson found the image and decided to do something with it.

So it’s not a new image, or a new joke. It also happens to be the most logicaljoke for said image. There’s not a lot of ways to improve upon saying that it’s your own inbox.

It’s the perfect formula for parallel thinking. Common experience (image) + obvious joke.

Look, there’s nothing that a comedy nerd secretly loves more than a good public lynching of a thief (see also: Oswalt, Patton). But “stealing” – whether in quotes or not – is a serious allegation, even it’s just Twitter. An allegation that Mayer really should have put some thought behind first. Maybe run it by one of his comedy confidants to run a little biopsy on this (paging Dr. Small, Dr. Sherrod Small).

The saving grace here is a) that the average person – specifically, the average 17 year old blond Mayer fan – doesn’t have comedy ethics on her radar, and b) Rainn’s big enough that his reputation won’t suffer. There won’t be much damage control necessary from John. At least not compared to his past mistakes.

But still. Dude. Come on. Accusing Rainn Wilson of going into Jordan’s old tweets and purposely stealing his joke to reword and put on his own feed? So wrong, so unnecessary.

It pains me to have to rant about this, because I think he has good intentions. But these comedy-related missteps are starting to wear on me. It’s time for John to really know his place in comedyland, instead of just stating it as a disclaimer.


About the Author

is the author of the book Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z. Called "one of the city’s most discriminating comedy critics” by NOW Magazine, Sharilyn has been covering comedy for longer than she cares to admit. She served as the comedy reporter for Winnipeg's Uptown Magazine for five years, and was the host of the radio show Laugh Tracks for three seasons. Her work has also appeared in the Toronto Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, The Apiary, and on CBC Radio's national comedy programs LOL and Definitely Not the Opera.

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