Tig Notaro stakes her claim to the SNL clown sketch

Clown Service / Vimeo
Clown Service / Vimeo /

Tig Notaro weighs in on the SNL clown sketch, her short film “Clown Service” and the messy world of joke theft.

Not long after Louis C.K. hosted Saturday Night Live, fans and media outlets started questioning the similarities between a clown sketch in the episode and a short film by Tig Notaro. Now, the official statements are starting to trickle in.

C.K. and SNL have yet to respond with comment, but Notaro is speaking up. In an interview with Variety, she explains why, in an industry where joke theft is so common and controversial, she needs to stake her claim in this case.

“Clown Service” and C.K.’s SNL clown sketch are very similar. One is about a a lonely woman who hires a clown to cheer her up and the other is about a lonely man who hires a clown to cheer him up. Even some of the shots are very, very similar.

Here’s Notaro’s:

For all recent requests: Here is my short film CLOWN SERVICE (based on MY true story) that has been screened at Largo at…

Posted by Tig Notaro on Sunday, April 9, 2017

And SNL‘s:

Still, as Notaro acknowledges, it’s a pretty serious thing to accuse someone of joke theft, especially in an industry where homage and influence make matters murky. Not to mention the likelihood that something that happened to one comedian has happened to another comedian. Observational humor is very hard to lay claim to. In her own comedy, Notaro is quick to drop a joke if someone tells her it’s too similar to something else they’ve heard.

"If it’s something that’s not directly from my life, I don’t feel that attached to it. At most, I’m like, “Ah man I really liked that.” But not like no way, I’m holding onto that. I don’t want to be doing sets or making movies or TV shows that are too similar to something else."

In this case, the clown concept is from her life and Notaro has good reason and good support to stake a claim. She wrote it 20 years ago, it’s a movie, the script’s copyrighted and she won an award for it. Moreover, a screening of “Clown Service” opens her national tour. To not comment on the similarities, and to a certain degree assert her ownership of the idea, puts her in a position where she looks like the one ripping off SNL.

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For someone who appears to be pretty reasonable about the murkiness of her field, this seems like one of the easier rulings of this issue.