Conan O’Brien Sued: Jokes On Twitter Fair Use Game?

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UPDATE:  Big news!  Comedian Elayne Boosler has taken Alex Kaseberg’s side against Conan O’Brien in this lawsuit.  See her exchanges with Alex Kaseberg here on Twitter and Facebook.

Conan O’Brien seems irritated by the monkey on his back in his Twitter photo above.  How fitting.

I love Conan.  I laugh at his humor.  I love his instant witty lines with guests.  But he’s got to protect his show as original content.

Conan O’Brien is being sued for violating the copyright on a few jokes from a comedy writer’s Twitter feed. The guy who filed the lawsuit is Alex Kaseberg.  Here is Kaseberg’s side of the story.

Honestly, I’ve heard rumblings from comedians both ways whether or not to burn material on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube and share it with the world.

Previously, my opinion for comedians was to burn the material, make it sharper, keep writing, improve tight jokes and show the world your talent.  Now, I’m not so sure.

Conan O’Brien is not a thief.  In fact, I don’t think Conan wrote the jokes in question.  But someone did write the jokes.  Who wrote those jokes is the biggest question.  And is that writer on Kaseberg’s Twitter feed?  Does it even matter?

Kaseberg’s Twitter feed has 1,360 followers.  But, if you know Twitter, the feeds are public.  I can read all of Kaseberg’s jokes and not follow him.  In fact, he has a very funny joke about Bugs Bunny… but I’m not about to repeat it here.  But it’s nice to know he would call me first, before suing me.

Years ago, I took a stand-up comedy class.  Someone told me to watch a Vimeo from Ralphie May.  He has some great advice about NOT listening to jokes from other comics, NOT reading the material from other comics, and NOT allowing other comedians’ jokes to seep into your material.  Base your jokes on your own stories so you can never be accused of stealing.  It’s a big f… deal to be accused of stealing jokes in the world of comedy.

In the words of Ralphie May, “Don’t rip off other comics.  It’s bad news, man.”

I got it instantly.

At the time, I was living in comedy clubs, dissecting jokes, studying the timing of lines and watching comedians.  Within days of watching Ralphie May’s Vimeo, I saw a stand-up comedian deliver a stolen joke on a stage.  I cringed.  I had heard the joke somewhere else.  And I knew it had been told before.  It was this comedian’s strongest joke.  It was hilarious.  But the material belonged to someone else.

There is a business of comedy as described by Ralphie May, a successful comedian with a net worth of $2.5 million.  His jokes are original and they’re all based on his own experiences and his life.  He says he doesn’t even mingle with other comedians beyond his wife.

There are many comedians on my Twitter feed.  Some are famous, some are not.  I added comedians to my Twitter feed for an obvious reason: they’re funny.  I like to laugh and hey, life is tough enough.  Add some laughter to every day, I think it’s healthy.  Most importantly, I’m not a professional comedian.  I just like to laugh.  If I had the time, I would live in the local comedy clubs in Los Angeles and Burbank. There’s some amazing talent on stage.

But what about all of those one-liners thrown away on Twitter or Facebook?  Is it plagiarism to repeat them?  Is it plagiarism to spin them?  Is it plagiarism for a comic to use them in his or her set?  Is it fair use?

Trust me, in the world of comedy, there are rules.

Rule #1:  You don’t steal material.

Some comedians actually think material that they heard is their original joke.  They think about the content, twist it, make it funnier and they actually believe they created it.  If you tell that comedian that you heard the joke before, they’ll fight to the death claiming they wrote it because they have convinced themselves they wrote the original joke.  Accusing any comedian of borrowing a joke from another comedian is serious.  Unless you have video proof like Joe Rogan produced against Carlos Mencia, be careful accusing any comedian of theft.

At every comedy club in the country, guess what the topic of conversation is amongst comics this week: the lawsuit against Conan.  Every comedian will have an opinion one way or the other.  And I would bet it’s a heated topic backstage.

I love comedians. They’re hilarious and funny.  But don’t be fooled.  Behind those laughing facades are some very intense opinions that won’t be silenced. They’re smart.  They speak their minds.  And they make the world a little wiser.  They’re going to choose a side on this issue.

Comedy is tough work.  If you don’t believe me, try writing an original funny joke.  It’s work.  It takes years of practice and it is truly an art in creating specific word usage, timing and delivery. Every single joke a comedian writes takes rewriting and fifteen minutes of material takes time to develop.

I don’t know what happened in this case.  But I would bet that Conan will find out who wrote the jokes in question and tell his writing staff to stay off of Twitter.   Don’t read the jokes from other comedians or comedy writers.

Comedians should also take responsibility and decide what jokes they want to make public for potential fair use or copyright issues.  Twitter will now take down jokes in question if someone claims the copyright.  Comedians can’t be in every comedy club in the country, chasing everyone they think might have borrowed a joke.  But if they see one of their jokes on Twitter or national television, they’re going to be miffed.

Let’s think back to the situation with Carlos Mencia.  Revisit the confrontation with Joe Rogan on stage. No one sued each other back then, but the point was made.

Comedy is serious business.

Original Viral Content Hitmakers Part Three: PewDiePie

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PewDiePie is the big daddy of them all with a net worth estimated at $12 million.  He is 25-years-old and he’s a video gamer from Sweden.  His real name is Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg.  His fans love him on Reddit.

He has 38.2 million subscribers and 9.5 billion video views on YouTube.  He has 5 million followers on Instagram.  And 1.3 million followers on Vine.

He has an A+ rating on Social Blade where his estimated annual earnings range from $953K to $15.2 million.

He has TV and movie credits.  He was even uncredited in “Tomorrowland,” but I don’t remember seeing him in the film.  Someone must represent him, right?  But his representation isn’t listed on IMDB Pro yet.  Agents and managers should look into representing him immediately.

No one should think about PewDiePie making money, though.  At least, that’s what he says. He used to sell hotdogs. Then, everything changed when he started making videos of himself playing video games.

With the employment crisis and getting a good job, I say good for PewDiePie (Felix) for finding a way to support himself for the rest of his life.  Congrats, young man. You created your own career.

I know college-aged gamers who enjoy watching him play video games.  That’s right… that’s how he makes the most money. People actually watch a video gamer videotape himself gaming. Lots of people do it now.

His other videos are fun, too.

Original Viral Content Hitmakers Part Two: Cameron Dallas

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Meet 20-year-old Cameron Dallas from Chino Hills, California.  He has 8 million followers on Vine.  He has 7.1 million followers on Instagram.  He has 3.73 million subscribers and 124.9 million views on YouTube.  According to Social Blade, he makes up to $360.8K a year with his YouTube videos.  He’s represented by William Morris Endeavor, 26 MGMT, and several publicists.  He has appeared as an actor in both television and film.  His next film is The Outfield.

Logline for The Outfield: Three Varsity baseball players, who have been best friends since childhood, enter their senior year of high school and navigate difficult choices on and off the field, unknowing of their paths to be together or separate going into college.

Cameron Dallas definitely has a team in place for success.  His net worth is reportedly $1.2 million.  And it all started with his online original videos.

He even has a blooper reel.

And he’s been featured on TMZ… for being arrested.

Original Viral Content Hitmakers Part One: Nash Grier

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The kids who generate original viral content have millions of followers that could lead to box office hits.

Let’s start with 17-year-old Nash Grier.  He joined Twitter in 2011 and has 4.84 million followers. He has 12 million followers on Vine.  He has 4.47 million subscribers and 158 million views on YouTube.  He has 8 million followers on Instagram.

Here is Nash Grier’s take on his own story on Huffington Post.  Annually, he makes up to $286.5K on YouTube alone, according to Social Blade.  He’s paid big bucks for product placement promotion in his Vine videos.  And his net worth is reportedly above the $1 million mark.

He’s a successful private school kid that lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Welcome to the world of Nash Grier.

Hollywood noticed his following.  He’s represented by William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, 26 MGMT, and several publicists. His film “The Outfield” will be in the movie theaters in 2016.  The film also stars our next subject and original viral content hitmaker:  Cameron Dallas.

Big Names Going to Netflix and Amazon Studios… Is YouTube Next?

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The market is always changing and everyone is always open to a new opportunity.

Film folks used to stay in film.

Then, film folks went to cable.

The cable folks went to TV.

And the TV folks went to YouTube web series and the Internet.

At first, industry folks were leery about Netflix and Amazon Studios, but things have changed.

The Netflix success of “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black” changed everything.

Now, everyone seems to be streaming over to Netflix and Amazon pitching their projects.

Angelina Jolie is setting up an original picture at Netflix.

David E. Kelley is setting up a 10-episode series featuring Billy Bob Thornton at Amazon Studios.

Gerard Depardieu will star in a series on Netflix.

Spike Lee is casting his film at Amazon Studios.

The list goes on…

The playing field has transformed again.  And all of those people who were squeezed out of major studio deals need to go somewhere.

My prediction: The market on YouTube is going to be flooded with people trying to establish a web series and turn it into a deal at one of the major studios.  Everyone seems to have an idea.  And each idea is potentially profitable.

If you’re not familiar with SocialBlade.com, you should be.  Enter a YouTube user name and prepare to be stunned. Check out how much money you could making with each web series.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s reality, scripted, science or cooking show.  It may mean $$$$.

For example, The Slow Mo Guys are huge right now.  With 5.5 million subscribers and 575 million views, their yearly earnings are estimated between $46K and $741K on SocialBlade.  Impressive.  (In the time I’ve been writing this article, The Slow Mo Guys cash numbers have increased twice.)  But that’s nothing compared to other sites.

Video hosting services such as Vevo are huge and make big bucks.  Look at the number one listing and estimated earnings for TaylorSwiftVevo. ($1.1 million to $17 .3 million annual income – note numbers may increase at any moment.)

And if you’re a suit and you don’t know who PewDiePie is you’d better do your research.  It’s estimated he’s profiting up to $15 million a year with his video series. He’s how old?  25?

Check out the Top 100 list of YouTubers.

You Must Write Your Own Material: Amy Schumer Hits Homerun with “Trainwreck”

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Amy Schumer’s new film “Trainwreck” opened with a $30 million box office.  That’s impressive girl power. Especially for a film that reportedly had a budget of $35 million.

A Howard Stern interview with Schumer brought her to director Judd Apatow’s attention.  That led to a meeting of the minds on a film that Schumer would write.

It’s a lesson:  You must write your own material.

And use every connection in your arsenal to get films made in this town.

It’s who you know and who you … well, you know.

Only a few women in this town can open a film, that’s the truth.  It’s a short list.

Think about it.  Who is on that list?  It would have to include the world’s highest paid actresses.

In no particular order, my list would include the following women who can open a film:

Angelina Jolie

Meryl Streep

Jennifer Lawrence

Reese Witherspoon

Cameron Diaz

Kristen Stewart

Jennifer Aniston

Sandra Bullock

Julia Roberts

Melissa McCarthy

With this weekend’s box office, Schumer’s name has been added to that list.

There are other women who support strong opening numbers for films including Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, Kristen Wiig, Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Charlize Theron, Mila Kunis, Emma Stone, Kate Winslet, Nicole Kidman, Rachel McAdams, Shailene Woodley, Jennifer Garner, and Anne Hathaway.

Still, it’s a short list compared to their male counterparts.

Recently, Schumer told Howard Stern that big New York comedians such as Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, and Louis C.K. have helped her career.  Maybe they suggested she appear fearless by taking on Bill Cosby or making fun of Star Wars.  Both of those episodes garnered headlines.  And the headlines keep coming with Schumer and one of the Kardashians.  If you follow her on Twitter, she is generous with content, too.

Love her or hate her, you must admit Schumer has given herself a strong voice.

She says the unexpected.  She speaks her mind.  And she makes you laugh.  That deserves some serious box office.

El Chapo Escape Will Be a Movie

Update:  Ridley Scott to Tackle El Chapo for Fox

El Chapo is the talk of the world.  Stories about his escape from prison are being shared and re-shared on websites, blogs, and throughout online communities.  The story has gotten so big that it will most likely be made into a movie.  And it reminds me of another movie.

In “Shawshank Redemption,” the prisoners who escaped were heroes.

Tim Robbins character escaped but he wasn’t guilty.

Despite the fact that he is a convicted Mexican drug kingpin, some see El Chapo as a hero.

Which way you view El Chapo doesn’t matter.  The story of his latest escape is extraordinary, complicated and fitting of an incredible tale on the big screen.

How did he escape from prison?

A huge amount of money, a lengthy tunnel and a lot of inside and outside deals probably helped him find his freedom.

And now there’s word that possibly a little bird was used to test the air levels in the tunnel.  How do they know this?  A little dead bird was found in El Chapo’s trashcan after his escape.

I can already see the filmmaker’s shot following the little bird flying through the tunnel and up through the hole into El Chapo’s shower stall.  And then, most likely, El Chapo breaks the little bird’s neck and throws the bird into the trashcan so it doesn’t expose his escape plan.

For a moment you see him pacing back and forth … and then, like magic, he’s gone.  It looks like a film in the making…

Documentary Film: Employment Crisis and Reinvention on Skid Row in Los Angeles

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There is a crisis in gaining employment in Los Angeles. Reinventing yourself in your 40s is hard.

My friend, Michael, lost his job and in a common trickle down effect, he lost everything and ended up on Skid Row in Los Angeles.

I’ve known Michael for seven years through the funeral industry.  Starting over again and navigating the online employment application process is difficult.  The process requires hours of Internet access.  Many of the jobs that are advertised are already filled internally.

If you apply to jobs on Craigslist, you might get an interview but then be labeled as overqualified due to your college education and your age.

Even college students in their 20s are searching for paid jobs for six months to 18 months garnering only a few interviews.  Look at the chatter on Reddit.  There are a bunch of sad, frustrating, depressing tales of trying to find a paid job.  Some of those folks end up homeless like Michael did.

You must have perseverance.  You must keep going.  You must contribute in some way while you’re looking for a job.

In hoping to get Michael off of Skid Row, I wanted to tell his story to help him get a job offer.

This film is dedicated to all of the unemployed who are searching for jobs but are uncounted because they don’t qualify for unemployment benefits.  You are not alone.

Dead “Seinfeld” Actors: Exposure for Older Actors

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The main actors of the “Seinfeld” cast are alive and well.  They’re funny, they’re performing and they’re successful.

However, many of the “Seinfeld” character actors are now dead.

There’s a bigger picture to the story of the living and the dead from “Seinfeld.”  And that is this:  “Seinfeld” fearlessly featured middle-aged and older actors in the TV show.

This is rare.

In this world of ageism and judging people for their age rather than their experience, “Seinfeld” embraced using actors between the ages of 40 to 70 regularly.  It was also something families would know and feel familiar with in the context of storytelling.

Everyone remembers Uncle Leo and Morty Seinfeld because we know those characters in our own families. They sit at our dinner tables or they attend our family reunions. We laugh at the familiarity.  “Seinfeld” valued those older characters.

Today’s landscape is scaling younger and younger in television.  It works and there’s an audience for it, but for balance, where are today’s “Golden Girls” or shows featuring several memorable older character actors?

There’s an audience for every age group from teenagers to lifetime inspired.

When writing your script, think about adding an older character with some chutzpah.  Drop familiar breadcrumbs to help your audience connect by creating some real yet spirited characters they already feel they know.

Crisis in Employment: American Actors

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Is this Michael Douglas’ official Twitter account?  It looks like he was only active on Twitter for one year.  Most likely, that was a promotional choice.  Then, he dropped out of social media.  Why?

Michael Douglas is speaking out about the effects of social media on the careers of American actors.

Speaking to The Independent in the UK, Douglas said:

“There’s something going on with young American actors – both men and women – because the Brits and Australians are taking many of the best American roles from them,” he told The Independent.

“Clearly, it breaks down on two fronts. In Britain they take their training seriously while in the States we’re going through a sort of social media image conscious thing rather than formal training. Many actors are getting caught up in this image thing which is going on to affect their range.”

Douglas has a point.

In America, who are the most successful folks on the image meter?  Actors with lengthy training or the Kardashians?  Like it or not, it’s the Kardashians.  That’s the truth.  And how did they reach their success? Through a steady stream of social media. They aren’t actors, of course, but their net worth is huge.  Actors have attempted to imitate their quick rise to fame, rather than seek training.  I know many actors who have skipped training to find a fast track instead.  They’re hungry, but in a different way. Some still come from a trained background, but the truth is that any paid training may or may not pay off.

Look at college degrees.  If you have a college degree, there is no guarantee you will land the job that fits your degree.  If you have a history degree and you’re not a teacher, where are you going to find a job?  It’s the same challenge with theatre degrees.  So, some actors think:  Why take the training at all?  Why waste valuable years I could be on social media to garner attention instead?

In today’s job market, it’s more about networking and connections.  While I think Douglas is right, there’s also something to be said for self-promotion and networking with the right people.  Look how many successful actors from Australia that Australian actress Nicole Kidman has helped.  That’s smart networking.

It’s a game.  Play the game if you want to be in the game.  You must have some sort of training or experience and then attend events, join groups and network.  More than social media exposure, networking is the biggest component of successful game play.