So, whose line is it anyway?

'Stolen joke' saga rolls on

The tale of the 'stolen' joke that won £25,000 on Virgin Radio took another twist yesterday, as it emerged that the comic who claimed it as hers was NOT the first to tell it.

Emma Lynch from Battersea, South London, took the top prize in the radio station’s gag competition for the line: “The last time I went on holiday I flew with BA. It was an absolute nightmare. He kept shouting, ‘You crazy fool. I ain’t gettin’ on no plane!’”

Comic Roisin Conaty fired off a furious letter to producers – claiming it was her joke, which she could no longer use after it was given national airplay, and seeking compensation for the breach of copyright.

However, yesterday several comics staked their claim to the line, further muddying the waters about ownership of material.

Scottish comic Des Clarke, pictured, has perhaps the best claim to the joke, having first told it on the BBC’s Live Floor Show in 2002 – two years before Conaty recorded it for Radio 1’s The Milk Run.

It has formed part of his set ever since, and he repeated it 28 Acts In 28 Minutes,  on BBC Three earlier this year

New comic Simon Douglass also tells a similar joke and even humorous website Jinx say they thought of it, too.

The site’s Fraser Marshall said: “Jinx featured that joke in a considerably tighter form over two years ago.

“Since Roisin’s being such a twat about it, we're considering suing her for imagining only she could have come up with such a terribly clever play on words.”

Conaty, concedes that Clarke came up with the pun before she did, although inquiries she made before performing it suggested it was original.

However, she says it doesn’t matter whose joke it is, but the principle of Virgin Radio encouraging listeners to call in with other people’s material – and rewarding them so handsomely for it – is wrong.

The station even told her the rules of the competition, which attracted 40,000 entries, did not insist on the gags being original, which she sees as an incitement to rip off comics’ work.

“It could have been anyone’s work they stole – and that’s the point,” she said. “I bet you could go through those 40,000 entries and put a comic’s name to every one of them.

“£25,000 is more than most comics earn in a year, but competitions like this treat all the work and effort that goes into writing jokes as if it was nothing.

“Any joke worth that amount of money is definitely going to be written by a comedian. They have to pay royalties for every song they air – it should surely be the same for jokes.”

Virgin chose not to comment on the claims yesterday.


Published: 31 Mar 2005

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