Joke-stealing in the world of comedy is a murky, dirty business.
Countless comedians through the years have been accused of it and it's a stain that never leaves. However, turning an accusation or a rumour into an actionable legal case is something that hasn't really happened - until now, that is. THR reports that Conan O'Brien and his team of writers are now on their way to court over claims that they stole jokes from Robert 'Alex' Kaseberg, a comedy writer who has done work over the years for the likes of Jay Leno, the New York Times and the Washington Post.
The case put forward by Kaseberg's lawyers is that the writer asserted copyright over five jokes, written by him from December 2014 to June 2015. However, Team Coco's lawyers claim that the jokes in question - one of which was about Caitlyn Jenner's gender transition - were using facts and commonly available expressions, and as such, can't be considered as protected.
In her statements, Judge Janis Sammartino said that "although the punchlines of the jokes are creative, they are nonetheless constrained by the limited number of variations that would (1) be humorous (2) as applied to the specific facts articulated in each joke’s previous sentence and (3) provide mass appeal. This merits only thin protection. The standard for infringement must therefore also be some form of 'virtual identity.'"
The case is pretty serious, with experts being cited to determine the level of probability that Conan's writing staff fell upon the same joke as Kaseberg. Moreover, witnesses will likely be called for the trial that'll include some recognisable names and faces. According to THR's report, Team Coco is planning on calling comedian Patton Oswalt as an expert witness and Conan himself will likely take the stand at some point.
Judge Sammartino has now moved the case forward to trial, which will likely kick off some time after August - unless there's an out-of-court settlement between Kaseberg and Team Coco.