Wendy Liebman doesn’t believe that Amy Schumer stole her joke
On Tuesday, a fresh round of controversy over whether Amy Schumer stole jokes from multiple female comedians arose after Wendy Liebman, Kathleen Madigan, and Tammy Pescatelli all posted (and subsequently deleted) tweets about similarities between Schumer’s material and their own. Now Liebman has responded to my request for comment, and her view on it is different than one might expect.
In an email sent on Tuesday, Liebman writes:
I’m a huge Amy Schumer fan. She’s always been generous telling the press that I’m one of her influences. And she’s been so nice to me in person. So I wanted to believe that someone sold her my joke.
She told me she wrote it though, and I believe her. I’ve written jokes that I found out later were similar to jokes written by Phyllis Diller (“My Grandmother said the secret to a successful marriage is don’t go to sleep angry. She’s been awake since 1936″), Margaret Smith (“It’s that time of the month—rent”) and Steve Martin (“My boyfriend put me on a pedestal—so he could look up my skirt”). And I’m sure there are more. I get it—there are only so many ideas.
But yesterday a friend claimed my joke as hers until I reminded her otherwise. And today I found a meme on the internet that was a variety of one of my favorites.
So that’s why I wrote about Amy today. I believe that she also wrote it but I wanted to at least claim what was also mine twenty five years ago.
I asked Liebman to clarify if she thought it was just parallel thinking or what, and which friend stole her joke, and which meme she was talking about. She responded:
I think Amy and I came up with the same joke (“I’m old fashioned. On a date I like it when the man pays. For sex.”). When I first saw her version, I thought someone must have sold it to her.
Then a couple of days ago a friend used a different joke of mine, forgetting that I told it to her. It was an honest mistake. We’re in our 50s.
Then I saw a version of my joke “I won’t nag you if you listen to me the first fucking time” in this meme …
… and I was pissed. I decided to stop posting jokes on social media and I wanted to explain why.
After posting about Amy doing my joke, she wrote to me. I told her I maintained that I thought someone must have sold it to her. She said no one sold it to her, but she thought of it herself but she still wanted to make it right. Her writing to me was enough.
I do think it’s a matter of parallel thinking.
But I’ve stopped sharing jokes on social media.
Liebman has also posted several tweets that more or less reiterate what she told me:
I never said @amyschumer stole my joke.I just said it was the same.It’s possible we both wrote it.I just wanted you to know I wrote it 1st.
— Wendy Liebman (@WendyLiebman) January 20, 2016
Which: fair enough. Without accusing Schumer of theft, she just wanted to make sure she got credit for writing the same joke two decades earlier. Which she’s definitely gotten now.
That said, a couple more examples of “parallel thinking” have emerged that nudge me slightly closer to the “maybe she stole them” camp. As you can see in the video embedded below, Schumer not only filmed a sketch similar to Madigan’s “slap the food out of your mouth” joke, but to her “pay people to exercise you in your sleep” follow-up as well. Her press photo for Trainwreck also looks a lot like one taken for It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.
It’s still possible Schumer did not consciously steal any of these bits, but, like Liebman said of the “paying for sex” joke, came up with all of them on her own. But the fact that she made sketches for both parts of Madigan’s double-pronged diet bit gives me pause. It seems more likely now that Schumer (or someone who writes for her) saw the bit, liked it, and spun two amusing sketches off of it. Which it would be a totally fine thing to do, if Madigan had been asked, credited and compensated. It seems she wasn’t.
Is Schumer a brazen thief of jokes or is it all a huge coincidence? Or maybe she just internalized all that material and regurgitated it (gulp) by accident? If more video evidence of the former exists, I trust the internet will find it.