We're no gag thieves

O'Briain hits back over HIGNFY joke

Dara O'Briain has hit back at claims he stole a joke from a lesser-known Scottish comic to use on Have I Got News For You.

Mac Star claimed O'Briain had pilfered a joke about Hitler and Churchill playing rock, scissors, paper - and wrote to his agents threatening legal action and demanding compensation.

However O'Briain, who hosted last Friday's show, says the gag was written by the show's team of writers - who had never even heard of Star.

"It's bad luck for him, and a shame he's lost a very good joke,” he said. “But this sort of thing is going to happen, and he shouldn't be slinging accusations of plagiarism around.

"This was the first week in history that Churchill, Hitler and the rock, scissors, paper game was in the news and one of the writers came up with this gag.

"It is a great gag, and if Mac Star is writing lines that good, he should probably get in touch with the producers of Have I Got News For You and ask for a writing job.

"But neither I, nor any of the writers, have heard his act. He's going to have to get used to the fact that separate people can come up with the same gag."

Star says he's been using the joke for two and a half years, and reckons it was worth at least £1,500 to the producers of Have I Got News For You.

He has vowed to continue using it, even though the seven million people who saw the topical quiz might think he stole it from the TV.

Star also claimed that the theft of gags from comic north of the border was a major problem.

"People go to Scotland and steal jokes from comedians here," he told  the Edinburgh Evening News. "I hope this will make people recognise it’s going on and make it stop."

Meanwhile, a gay rights group has called on the BBC to apologise for a gag about Sir Elton John that O’Briain cracked on the show.

Activists at OutRage! are furious over the comment made by O’Briain, who was guest host of Friday's show, about Sir Elton's role writing the score for stage musical Billy Elliot.

"Elton sees a little bit of himself in Billy," the Irish comic said, referring to the fictional 11-year-old ballet dancer.

OutRage! called it "offensive" and "a cheap shot".

"Like everyone else, we can laugh at ourselves when jokes are fair," said the group’s Chas Newkey-Burden, “but jokes that tap into prejudices that cast all gay people as sexual predators and a threat to children are dangerous and irresponsible.”

“Sir Elton is in a committed long-term relationship. There has never been any suggestion that he’s interested in pre-pubescent boys. What Dara O’Briain implied is not a joke, it is a libellous slur and should never have been aired.

“Innuendos like these could damage a person’s career. They also fuel paranoid and bigoted reactions to all gay people and have the potential to fuel violent attacks.

“Mr O’Briain should be forced to apologise or he should be removed from participation in BBC programmes. The BBC should apologise both to Sir Elton and to the wider gay community.”

A BBC spokesman said the line came from a team of writers, but declined to comment further until OutRage! had made their former complaint.

Published: 19 May 2005

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