Saturday Night Live went weird last week, letting host Louis CK stretch his darker urges with sketches about damaged couch salesmen, lazy social activists, and, most notably, a guy who hires a party clown just for himself. But as delightful as Bobby Moynihan’s increasingly worried performance as “Dodo” was, it’s opened SNL up to another wave of the plagiarism accusations that have piled up around it in recent years, with CK’s fellow stand-up (and former collaborator) Tig Notaro accusing the show of ripping off a video she made with a very similar premise.
According to Entertainment Weekly, Notaro has been screening her short film “Clown Service” for over a year now, including at comedy festivals in New York. As Notaro noted in a statement, the two videos have the same essential concept—sad person hires solo clown in a desperate attempt to cheer themselves up—even if Notaro’s has a much happier ending than the bleak one CK finishes on. Furthermore, Notaro says she “recently learned that a writer/director who was fully aware of ‘Clown Service’ when I was making it” was involved with the creation of the SNL video. (She also notes that she and CK haven’t been in contact with each other for more than a year.)
SNL is infamous in certain comedy circles, where accusations that the show lifts less-seen material to feed its ever-hungry comedic maw are frequent. It’s not clear how much of that is true plagiarism, as opposed to osmosis and parallel evolution, but Notaro seems pretty convinced that someone involved in the show’s production ripped her idea off. You can read her full statement below:
It has been impossible for me to ignore the cacophony of voices reaching out personally and publicly about the potential plagiarizing of my film Clown Service (a film that I screened at Largo in Los Angeles for over a year and it premiered at Vulture’s Comedy Festival in NYC as well as numerous film festivals around the country and I am currently screening on my national tour).
While I don’t know how all this actually happened, I did find it extremely disappointing.
Here is what I can tell you:
First off, I have recently learned that a writer/director who was fully aware of Clown Service when I was making it, actually worked on Louis C.K.’s clown sketch that is in question.
Secondly, Louis C.K. and I have not communicated in any way for nearly a year and a half.
And finally, I never gave anyone permission to use anything from my film.
I hesitated to even address any of this, but I think it is only right to defend my work and ideas and moving forward, I plan to continue screening Clown Service with the joy and pride I always have.