With a hosting resume reaching back to 1993, it's no stretch to say that comedian Conan O'Brien is a fixture of the late night talk show circuit.
While, like Oprah, he may have reached that first-name-only level of fame, the comedian has recently been hit with what are perhaps the worst kind of professional allegations for someone in his line of work.
On Friday, a U.S. district judge ruled that a copyright infringement lawsuit — in which O'Brien is accused of stealing specific material from freelance joke writer Robert “Alex” Kaseberg — can proceed to trial.
As U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino wrote in her ruling on the case:
The laughter stopped in late 2014 and early 2015, at least for a spell, when (Kaseberg) began to notice similarities between his posts and several of the jokes used in the late-night television show Conan's monologues.
Specifically, Kaseberg has pointed to three jokes that he says O'Brien and his writers stole — jokes about Tom Brady, Caitlyn Jenner, and the Washington Monument.
For example, Kaseberg says that he posted his joke about Caitlyn Jenner to his blog on June 9, 2015, writing:
Three towns, two in Texas, one in Tennessee, have streets named after Bruce Jenner and now they have to consider changing them to Caitlyn.
And one will have to change from a Cul-De-Sac to a Cul-De-Sackless.
Soon thereafter, Kaseberg alleges that Conan used this very similar joke during his opening monologue:
Some cities that have streets named after Bruce Jenner are trying to change the streets’ names to Caitlyn Jenner.
If you live on Bruce Jenner cul-de-sac it will now be cul-de-no-sack.
While Chicago Tribune notes that it's typically “difficult to prove someone intentionally stole a joke,” Kaseberg's habit of posting his jokes to Twitter or to his blog provide a digital timestamp that may help him win his case:
For what it's worth, such joke-theft allegations aren't unheard of — comedians Carlos Mencia, Dane Cook, and even the late Robin Williams have all been accused of the same.
While O'Brien's representatives have said that the late night host will be “fully vindicated” of the accusations, a lawyer for Kaseberg — who says he wrote jokes for Jay Leno's “Tonight Show” for more than 20 years — told Vanity Fair that he already considers the early ruling “a victory for comedy writers, especially lesser known writers.”
Still, judging by the deal that O'Brien struck with TBS just on Wednesday, executives aren't counting out the “Conan” host quite yet:
The deal, which extends O'Brien's contract with TBS for another four years, will seek to expand the comedian's success “across all screens, including digital and branded content, podcasting, mobile gaming, pay TV and live tours.”
In their statement, the network wrote that their agreement will continue “O'Brien's reign as late-night television's longest-serving host through the year 2022.”