Smart: Graduating As Valedictorian Of An Ivy League School; Not Smart: Plagiarizing Part Of Your Speech From A Famous Comedian
from the did-he-think-no-one-would-notice dept
As a bunch of folks have been sending in, it appears that the valedictorian of Columbia University's General Studies program, Brian Corman, thought that no one would notice if he copied -- verbatim -- a joke from popular comedian Patton Oswalt. First, here's Oswalt's joke in two parts:
Then, there's the clip of the part of Corman's graduation speech, which, you'll note is covered by a giant message from a dean at Columbia apologizing for the mess:
The dean's apology reads:
It has come to our attention that a portion of our Valedictorian's remarks at this year's School of General Studies Class Day was taken from a comedy routine by Patton Oswalt. As an institution of higher learning that places a core value on respect for the works of others, we were surprised and disappointed to have learned of this matter today. Columbia University and the School of General Studies do not condone or permit the use of someone else's work without proper citation. The student speaker has appropriately issued an apology to his classmates and to Mr. Oswalt for failing to provide such attribution.Oswalt, for his part, wrote on his own site that while the kid apologized, he wonders about what sort of valedictorian would copy in such a manner:
Brian Corman apologized to me. Flat-out admitted his thievery, his stupidity. Owned it all. Good man. Still makes me wonder what he might have done to become valedictorian -- I mean, if he's willing to steal material for something as inconsequential as a speech, how rubbery did his boundaries become when his GPA and future career were on the line? Oh well.Quite a story all around, and it raises a bunch of different points that we'll hit in bullet form:
- Joke copying: This is a popular topic that we've discussed a few times in the past. While it certainly does piss off comedians, they seem to ignore the fact that it's not just quite common among comedians, but, historically, it was considered quite normal. That's because people realized that there is no monopoly on being funny -- and that it's usually the timing and the delivery that matter much more than the joke itself (which can be seen in the clips above -- where Oswalt's version comes off much funnier than Corman's copy).
- Social mores: But, more importantly, it's the social cost to copying that keeps this from getting too far out of line. In the comic world, comedians who have a reputation as big time joke copiers tend to get shunned. That's not to say that many haven't been successful still, but there is an effort within the community to self police, without any sort of legal regime needed.
- Reputation: Related to that, what this really comes down to is a reputational issue. While Oswalt is wrong to call Corman's actions "stealing," he's right to question the kid's decision, and raise questions about his reputation. For a long time, now, Corman will be tagged as the guy who didn't have the good sense to (a) know that it's inappropriate to copy someone else's work in a valedictiorian speech (b) realize that people would notice and (c) to realize that it would get a lot of attention, including a condemnation from the original comedian in the first place.