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The four sketches in question (YouTube screen grabs)
The four sketches in question (YouTube screen grabs)

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Saturday Night Live accused of stealing jokes

In what might soon become a running joke, Saturday Night Live has been accused by a comedy troupe of stealing two sketches.

Comedians Nick Ruggia and Ryan Hoffman, the founders of comedy troupe Temple Horses, said the popular sketch comedy show stole the idea from two sketches they uploaded to YouTube in 2011 and 2014.

The first comedy sketch in question is about a pumpkin patch where the employees have sexual relations with the pumpkins. Ruggia and Hoffman claimed the sketch has too many similarities to their own sketch, "F**king A Pumpkin".

In a letter sent to NBC, the duo's attorney listed out the similarities between the two sketches. He claimed that the two sketches open with the owner of the pumpkin patch doing business, who then confront a group of men and one woman, accusing them of performing indecent acts with his pumpkins. The accused deny their behavior, and the owner scolds them, pointing out that children are nearby. In both sketches, the accused are eventually forced to leave the pumpkin patch.

The second sketch that the duo accused Saturday Night Live of stealing is "Pound Puppy", which they claimed came from Temple Horses' "Pet Blinders". Both sketches advertise a fictional product that prevents pets from watching their owners perform sex acts. The Saturday Night Live version features a large, dog-shaped blinder that the owners climb inside to have sexual relations without being seen by their pets. While the Temple Horses' version is a blind that goes over the pets’ eyes. According to the letter, both the sketches have a similar outcome: a confused dog that could not see its owners having sexual relations.

Joke theft is in a grey area as some comedians can claim parallel thinking, or parallel construction. This means two people coming up with the same idea or joke at the same time. The most famous example involves, again, Saturday Night Live: two similar sketches about boarding an airplane aired on Saturday Night Live and Key & Peele within a two-week period in 2013. This prompted Jordan Peele to write on Twitter: "Nobody freak out. It’s a total coincidence."

Saturday Night Live was at the centre of another joke-stealing accusation in 2016 as it came out with a sketch about settling for love with a dating service. And it turned out there had been six popular sketch videos by different groups about the same theme.

It might be easy to accuse Saturday Night Live of joke stealing as it is one of the biggest and most visible platforms for sketch comedy in the world, but Ruggia and Hoffman's attorney said: "This is not 'parallel construction': Two separate instances of wholesale lifting of concept, setting, characters, plot, and outcome in the same season do not happen by coincidence."

Besides sketch comedy, joke theft is rampant on social media, where jokes are often stolen and reposted without attribution. The most recent instance involves claims of plagiarism against the F**kJerry Instagram account, with comedy writer Megh Wright creating a movement to unfollow the popular Instagrammer. A number of high-profile comedians and celebs are in support of the effort, encouraging their followers to unfollow the plagiarizing account.

In an interview with Variety, Ruggia and Hoffman explained why they did not want to take action when they claimed they saw the first sketch being copied: “We felt like nothing good would come from addressing it, and also we were afraid of potential repercussions, and we were kind of afraid of being dismissed by our peers, even though everyone we showed it to said it was blatant.”

But the airing of the second sketch that had similarities to their own changed their mind. "It was twice in the same season, and we felt that at this point, that we didn’t really have a choice but to address it," Hoffman said.

"And we don’t really want to be involved in a mess like this, but there’s a certain point you have to stand up for yourself and your work."

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Mark Laudi

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