Patton Oswalt on "prodigalsam" plagiarism flap: "There’s no wiggle room there"

Oswalt opens up about the attitudes that hurt comedy -- including those that helped a minister plagiarize jokes

By Daniel D'Addario

Published June 14, 2013 8:47PM (EDT)

  (AP/Charles Sykes)
(AP/Charles Sykes)

Patton Oswalt has written a lengthy post for his blog about, among other topics, @prodigalsam, the now-offline Twitter user who rose to online fame by copying the structure and substance of famous Twitter users' jokes. (For his part, Sammy Rhodes, the University of South Carolina campus minister behind @prodigalsam, told Salon he saw his tweets as "a riff [...] not a rip-off.")

Oswalt believes that Rhodes and other plagiarists whom he's confronted in the past benefit from a cultural attitude that comedians are somehow less special or artistically ambitious than other culture industry professionals:

Most people are not funny. Doesn’t mean they’re bad people, or dumb, or unperceptive or even uncreative. Just like most people can’t play violin, or play professional-level basketball, or perform brain surgery, or a million other vocational, technical, aesthetic or creative pursuits. Everyone is created unequal.

But for some reason, everyone wants to be funny. And feels like they have a right to be funny.

[...] an uncreative person took a creative person’s work, signed their name to it, and passed it off as their own for their personal glorification, monetary benefit and career advancement. There’s no wiggle room there. Even the thieves know that, better than the dullards who are rationalizing and defending them.

While Oswalt acknowledges that he's lost fans recently and in the past for facing down plagiarists (including a Columbia University valedictorian who cribbed from Oswalt for his commencement speech), he's sanguine. "As carefully as I’ve curated and cultivated my career, I’m now doing the same with my audience. Universality was never my goal as a comedian."

Oswalt also acknowledges culpability in the "rape joke double standard" -- the perceived gap in sensitivity among comedians who spoke movingly about national tragedy but seemed to attempt to shut down conversation around rape jokes, as covered on Salon:

And let’s go back even further. I’ve never wanted to rape anyone. Never had the impulse. So why was I feeling like I was being lumped in with those who were, or who took a cavalier attitude about rape, or even made rape jokes to begin with? Why did I feel some massive, undeserved sense of injustice about my place in this whole controversy?

The answer to that is in the first incorrect assumption. The one that says there’s not a “rape culture” in this country. How can there be? I’ve never wanted to rape anyone.

Do you see the illogic in that leap? I didn’t at first. Missed it completely.

The performer cites a debate within comedy that takes place on the terms of its practitioners' "own limited experience" as damaging in the same way as the laissez-faire attitudes that allow plagiarism to go unchecked. For his part, he vows to take action: "I’m a man. I get to be wrong. And I get to change."

Daniel D'Addario

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Comedy Patton Oswalt Prodigalsam Sammy Rhodes Twitter