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Comedian Quinn Dahle vs. hackdom: the case against comic piracy

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Comedian Quinn Dahle

Comedian Quinn Dahle (pronounced ‘Dale’) has done very well in San Antonio. He’s been a finalist in the Funniest in South Texas Competition, garnered numerous applause breaks, and performed to sell-out crowds at both our comedy clubs. While making large audiences here laugh isn’t completely unique (it happens every week), what makes this achievement extraordinary is the fact that Quinn Dahle — has never actually been to San Antonio. His jokes preceded him via an ambitious local comic who kept returning from touring with amazing new material: Dales' material, it turned out.

Now, stealing material is not always a clear issue in comedy, especially with more and more comics hitting the stage across the country. It is not uncommon for many different comedians to share similar point of views on a variety of topics. The best comedians are able to find their own unique take on a subject that resonates with an audience, while OK comedians are able to get laughs sticking to the broad generics. Bad comedians are either still in the developing stages of their craft or convinced that the Tonight Show will “totally dig these rape jokes!” Comics who outright steal are usually those too frustrated or lazy to write their own material and see theft an easy way out.

The problem with hacks is the fact that for many years the general American public hasn’t really cared if a comedian steals or not as long as they're funny. Denis Leary was able to build a profitable acting career after lifting the majority of his standup from the late Bill Hicks, while Robin Williams had his management on standby to pay off  comedians lodging complaints. Both garnered great success with little to no repercussions for their theft.

What’s actually stopped a lot of comic piracy recently is the advent of YouTube, social media, and the standup community itself. For years Carlos Mencia was notoriously known as a joke thief, able to mine hours of material from the sweat of others. That is until he was confronted by comedian Joe Rogan and a film crew on stage in front of a live audience at the famed Comedy Store. The video went viral, creating public awareness towards the concept of “hacking,” and eventually reached millions through an episode of South Park.

Just a year ago a YouTube video of Nick Madson doing Patton Oswalt’s act word for word spread like wildfire amongst fans, utterly destroying his chances of ever working a professional or even amateur stage again.

Doug Stanhope recently had his act stolen by one Troy Holm who frequently blogged Stanhope’s bits as if he wrote them himself. In response Stanhope unleashed his entire rabid fan base quickly shutting down Holm’s Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr blog. Stanhope even went so far as to alter his own Wikipedia page by replacing his name with Troy Holm’s, completely lampooning the thief’s efforts at stealing his accomplishments.

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