Now People Will Think I Stole It

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

Over the past few weeks, at least five different sources have sent me a link from “Buckshot – The Movie” showing a man in a clown costume singing The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” to the tune of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” I’ve gone to where the original link was posted, which has gotten thousands of comments about how freaking funny it is. I’d probably think it was funny, too, if I hadn’t been doing the same mash-up for close to 25 Fucking Years!

This is one of those unfortunate circumstances for me, as that link has gotten over Five Million views where my original YouTube video of it struggled to get 1000 when I first posted it some five years ago. I run the risk now of being accused of stealing the bit if I perform it, the small consolation being that I’m hardly doing stand-up anymore. My next actual booked gig is in June. But I imagine not enough time will have elapsed that I wouldn’t be able to do the bit, which I usually closed my act with, without making some type of disclaimer. Even if I do that, I wouldn’t expect everyone in the audience to believe me.

And such has been the problem from time immemorial in the world of stand-up, or at least as far back as Milton Berle. The bigger name can steal from the lesser-knowns, and get the accolades for something that’s not theirs. There have been notorious joke thieves, and what the fuck, let’s name them, Carlos Mencia and Eddie Griffin for starters, and sorry, but Robin Williams was sued countless times over that offence. Robin would at least get out the check book, while the other two would deny it.  By the way, I can site instances of all three appropriating bits of mine, but so can just about every US comic I ever knew back when I lived and worked in the US. I’ve only heard stories about who the big time bandits are in UK, so I’ll let them remain anonymous for now.

Back to Pinball/Johnny. I can’t say I fully came up with it myself, as the idea was presented to me in 1991 after a show in New York by someone from the audience. He was not a comic, I’m certain, but I was doing some other Johnny Cash bit, as I’ve been able to Johnny’s voice since I was about 15. The guy thought the bit was funny (Johnny Cash explaining the Pythagorean Theorem), then said matter-of-factly, “You know Pinball Wizard and Folsom Prison Blues are interchangeable?” I sounded that out in my head, then said, “Do you know you just wrote me about five minutes of material?” He was cool, said he was glad to help. A far cry from some of the people who would come up after a gig with the words, “Hey I got a joke you could use in your act, and I won’t even charge you for it,” only to find the joke is either so perverted, racist or obscure that I’ve had to ask, “And in what part of my act do you think that would have fit?”

Is the bit funny the way these interlopers have configured it? Hard for me to say, as I couldn’t watch it all the way through. For starters I don’t get the clown suit. Also, I have a credo with song parodies that has always worked for me. I’m not Weird Al Yankovic, not blessed with co-writers who can actually make a joke last the entire length of a song, so I have always used more of a hit and run tactic. Most of my parodies were kept to one verse maximum, and in many cases a single line was sufficient. The Johnny/Who song, when I performed it, was just the first verse, but the Buckshot clown version is the entire song. That’s why I couldn’t watch it all the way through, and very likely wouldn’t have done so even without the personal connection, as I got the joke after the first verse, and couldn’t imagine any surprises, unless the clown unleashes some wicked guitar solo that makes Townshend envious. Maybe he does the reverse, which was what I often did, i.e. The Who singing Folsom Prison, complete with Townshend windmills at the end. If the clown does that, it would only make me madder.

There are a couple of bits of solace I can get from this clear and present theft. One is that the bastards who have put this bit out there make themselves far more likely to get sued for copyright infringement by either Pete Townshend or the estate of Johnny Cash than I would.  That would be justice. The other solace is that people tend to forget, so unless this “Buckshot – The Movie” is an across the board smash, it and the clown will be forgotten soon enough, and I’ll be able to resume doing it. Then again, my stand-up gigs are so few, it may not be worth worrying about, and maybe I’ve just wasted 800+ words.


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