Conan O’Brien passionately explains why he settled his alleged joke-stealing lawsuit
Conan O'Brien has explained why he settled an alleged stolen joke lawsuit. (Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
Conan O’Brien and his production company have settled a copyright lawsuit brought by a San Diego comedian who claimed the late-night host and others on his TBS show stole some of his jokes.
But in a Variety essay Thursday, O’Brien strongly maintains that, despite settling the lawsuit, neither he nor his “Conan” writing staff ever stole, or even saw, online material from Twitter-promoting comic Alex Kaseberg.
Kaseberg had asserted in the 2015 federal lawsuit that writers had seen his online postings and used material about Caitlyn Jenner, Tom Brady and the Washington Monument.
“I will tell you what we told him, and what we subsequently swore under oath in a deposition: we had never heard of him or his blog or Twitter account, and we did not steal any of his jokes,” O’Brien wrote. “Short of murder, stealing material is the worst thing any comic can be accused of.”
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O’Brien explained that people around the world coming up with similar jokes has always been an “occupational hazard” for comedians. On the same night 24 years ago, he copped to telling the same Dan Quayle joke as his late-night rivals Jay Leno and David Letterman.
“Dan Quayle announced today that he will not be running for president in ’96. However, he did not rule out running in ’97,” O’Brien wrote. “Back then, no one sued anyone because each of us knew that topical comedy often follows a pattern.”
This pattern has exploded with the internet, so that parallel creation is commonplace.
“With over 321 million monthly users on Twitter, and seemingly 60% of them budding comedy writers, the creation of the same jokes based on the day’s news is reaching staggering numbers,” wrote O’Brien.
Conan O’Brien has agreed to settle a lawsuit with a writer who says the talk-show host stole jokes from his Twitter feed and blog for O’Brien’s monologue on “Conan.” (Photo: Evan Agostini, Invision/AP)
As the years passed for the wheels of justice to churn, and the legal bills tallied, O’Brien, TBS and his production company pulled the plug and settled with Kaseberg before going to trial.
“This saga ended with the gentleman in San Diego and I deciding to resolve our dispute amicably. I stand by every word I have written here, but I decided to forgo a potentially farcical and expensive jury trial in federal court over five jokes that don’t even make sense anymore,” O’Brien wrote. “Four years and countless legal bills have been plenty.”
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He defended his writing staff and called the episode “upsetting, for them and myself,” before signing off with a borrowed Shakespeare quote.
“As I wrote several years ago, ‘No legacy is so rich as honesty,’ ” O’Brien wrote. “Of course, William Shakespeare is now claiming he tweeted that in 1603, but that (expletive) can talk to my lawyers.”
Kaseberg said in a statement to the Associated Press that he’s proud he shed light on joke theft and is happy the resolution was amicable.
He tweeted a few jokes following the news of the settlement, the terms of which were not disclosed.
“If Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton can settle their feud, we can too,” he wrote. “Although, in this scenario, I am no sure who of us is which.”
While I am happy the case has been settled, I would like to officially apologize to HBO for leaving my coffee cup on "The Game of Thrones" table.
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