Tig Notaro on Louis C.K. ‘SNL’ Controversy: ‘I Just Want to Stake My Claim’

Tig Notaro Louis C.K.

Earlier this week, fans pointed out similarities between a recent “Saturday Night Live” sketch starring Louis C.K. as a lonely guy who hires a clown and comedian Tig Notaro’s 2015 short film “Clown Service” about … a depressed and lonely woman who hires a clown to cheer her up.

While C.K. has yet to respond, Notaro released a statement saying she couldn’t ignore the “cacophony of voices reaching out personally and publicly about the potential plagiarizing of my film.” (A representative for “Saturday Night Live” declined to comment.)

Before she headed south to start production on the second season of her Amazon series “One Mississippi” (which counts C.K. as an executive producer), Notaro opened up to Variety about the controversy and why the film is so important to her.

Why did you decide to speak out about “Clown Service” and the “SNL” controversy?

It’s more a feeling of I just want to stake my claim and be like this is a film I made. It’s been out there and touring around and screening for awhile now and I don’t want to stop doing that. People were like, “Oh, were you going to sue?” That’s not even crossed my mind. It was people contacting me who were saying I’ve seen this movie of yours and so that’s the only reason I thought god I have to go back out on tour and this is my opener of my national tour and I’d look like a fool.

Amy Sherman-Palladino’s new Amazon series, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” suggests that, at least at the time that show is set, comedians use each other’s material all the time.

I’m not one to accuse or quickly do anything, but if other people around me are pointing (it out) and I find out (I know) other people involved (with that sketch) … Look, I made this movie. It’s out there. I’m proud of it. I worked my a– on it and I wrote this 20 years ago. I have it registered. It’s not some silly sketch I wrote.

You won an award for that film at Iowa City’s Landlocked Film Festival. What does that award mean to you?

I think there’s a part of me that’s still a failure drop out because I failed three grades and dropped out of high school, so I don’t expect too much from myself or my work. It’s always oh that’s fun. Even getting into standup, I felt successful when I just did an open mic. I don’t have huge expectations for myself. They’ve grown over the years. Winning that award was fun. It was touching. It felt nice. The documentary they made about me on Netflix, I didn’t think anyone was going to see that. I didn’t think I was going to win an award for “Clown Service.”

Don’t a lot of comedians have this self-doubt?

I don’t know what it is. I truly got into comedy because I loved the art form. People responded to me as though I was funny. I really just wanted to do it. I was never focused on [winning awards]. People say it all the time, but it’s genuine [for me] that it’s a fun bonus.

Is it hard for comedians to accuse others of plagiarism, especially in a standup act?

I’m not quick to call people out, especially if it’s observational. When it’s something directly from your life, and obviously things directly from your life can happen in other people’s lives, [that’s different]. For me, personally, it was tricky finding out that somebody [I knew] – my sister-in-law’s ex — worked on that. It started to get fishier and fishier. Whenever any of these comics are calling people out, I pretty much roll my eyes because it’s a hard thing to pinpoint.

Can you copyright a standup routine the way you can a script?

I have no idea. I’ve never looked into it. There’s jokes of mine where people are like, “Oh, I’ve heard something similar,” and I drop it and move on.

Do most people do that?

I’ve heard about people saying that it’s too strong of a joke in their set and they’ll keep it. I wouldn’t do that.

Is it hard for you to drop a joke?

If it’s something that’s not directly from my life, I don’t feel that attached to it. At most, I’m like, “Ah man I really liked that.” But not like no way, I’m holding onto that. I don’t want to be doing sets or making movies or TV shows that are too similar to something else.

It’s like I have a 15-minute story about running into Taylor Dayne, the pop singer, that I’d much rather invest in that than some observation that I made. There’s no weight there. That’s from my real life. It’s a thing that happened, similar to the clown thing.

I was just telling Stephanie [Allynne, Notaro’s wife] that have you ever notice that in one city, there’s two different classic rock stations? I was driving and I’ll flip back between the two and it’ll be “the home of classic rock” and then you go to the next one and it’s “the only classic rock.” It’s like, why are you guys battling this out? One of you had to know there was already a classic rock station. Why are you trying to convince me that I should not change my channel? It’s a serious, hilarious thing to me that these stations are “the home of hip hop. Go nowhere else for hip hop.”

That’s a stupid observation that, if I really wanted to, get in there and try to write a joke about. And if somebody was like, I’ve heard that, then I’ll never do that again. But if somebody was like, “I’ve heard about something running into Taylor Dayne” repeatedly, I’d be like I’m going to go ahead and show proof that I’ve been doing that.

There’s the argument that everything is derivative …

Somebody wrote something like “you might have come up with it first, but you’re so clearly influenced by Louis that it’s basically you ripping off Louis.” No, I did this years ago and it’s registered. Twenty years ago, I registered the script and I didn’t know Louis C.K. existed. No, I’m sorry. Your argument doesn’t hold up.

And, I’m sorry, Louis didn’t create darkness and morose. I love darkness. I love dark, I love dramatic, I love documentaries. I follow reality probably more I follow comedy. All those arguments, I just don’t know what to tell you … It’s all I have and I want to continue screening it with confidence and joy because I love that film and people worked very hard on it.

Has Louis contacted you this week?

We don’t …

You still don’t talk? He’s an executive producer of your show.

Yeah … He doesn’t have anything to do with the show.

That sounds like a difficult situation.

It’s truly not. I’m proud of the film. I’m proud of “One Mississippi.” Everyone that is directly involved with the show works so hard on it and I wouldn’t change anything that’s happening right now. I’m very happy. If the show goes onto another season, terrific. If people don’t want it anymore, I’ve lived through worse and I’m very happy and content with where things are.

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  1. Wrecking Balls is a new novel about two comedians who fall out over a stolen joke idea.

  2. nxdoyle says:

    Until a few mins ago, I had not seen Tig’s short film. Having previously seen Louis’s SNL sketch, I figured it only fair to watch Tig’s, at least to a point where possible plagiarism appeared, or where it became apparent the claim was frivolous.

    It is 100% ripped. There is no cryptomnesia going on here. If it were just the premise, while still dodgy, it could be easier just to leave it be. But it’s not just in the premise, it’s got Tig’s fingerprints and DNA all over it.

    The thievery is bad enough, but allegations against Louis, little harder to swallow. Did he write the SNL sketch? If so, terrible in so many ways. If not, someone in the writers room should be fired.

  3. Brian says:

    I think most plagiarism claims are silly but this is pretty indefensible, especially as the person who developed the sketch is connected to Tig. And hideously mean comments, even if you don’t agree with Tig, Jesus Internet!

  4. Monica Drake says:

    Unbelievable that some people can’t see the direct heavy influence, and based on his history of knowing her work well…yes, it’s hers. It’s hard to imagine a high profile, very wealthy white guy like him would rip off a woman’s art, but sure looks like it.

  5. I’m a clown and was once hired to perform for one person. Should I try and sue as well? Nope. I’m developing a show based on my book and real life experiences doing parties, should I sue Louis CK for doing Baskets? I agree with the other comments that the premise is the same but done differently.

    P.S. I think Louis CK has a clown fetish.

  6. This is a non story that Tig is using to get press cause she’s not feeling famous enough. I love that SNL and CK don’t even bother to respond. Believe me, they know about her serious issues

    • Brian says:

      You’re that internet stalker who claims Tig made up her cancer for publicity aren’t you? You really need to get some help and get over it.

  7. Shawna waldron says:

    This was a story that Mickey Rooney suggested for me to do twenty five years ago. It’s not a rocket science Idea. It’s a clown. You hired it to make you feel better. Jesus. It might be the second oldest premise ever…..

  8. John Paine says:

    The short and the skit share a premise. However, the tones are different, many of the smaller jokes within them are different, and they end on radically different notes. That is not plagiarism!!!

    No one has the creative right to a premise or a scenario. You only have a right to your interpretation of how that scenario plays out. These scenarios are similar, but differ in detail from beginning to end. Being inspired by something is not the same as stealing. Riffing on something is not stealing. And on top of the fact that it’s not stealing/plagiarism, it’s highly unlikely that Louis even had much of a hand in writing the sketch.

    They are both good and highly enjoyable for what the are. Which is a comedic drama with a sweet, maybe even hopeful, ending, and an “all about the laughs” dark comedy skit… Not the same work, not even all that close aside from the initial premise. Nothing to see here folks… Everybody go home!

  9. Momo says:

    I watched both and there is nothing similar except a sad person ordering a clown. The stories are nothing like each other.

  10. Casey Roger Curtis Bennett says:

    Was it Louis who ripped her off or was it the writer/director of SNL who ripped her off? Plagiarism sucks, but I doubt he wrote it. I would think he would have avoided the whole thing had he known the short film already existed — you know, because the internet tends to notice these things and call them out.

  11. Rob says:

    I don’t think the host writes the skits, she should shut up about ck writing it. I mean of all the snl ck hosted, the best part was always the monologue, it’s bluntly clear he doesn’t write the skits.

  12. Dopamine says:

    I watched Tig’s video first, and as it played out, I felt I had seen this premise before. Perhaps my own thought of hiring a clown as an adult, or perhaps from the billion hours of entertainment that has been flashed before my eyes in 40 years. A commercial, a cartoon, I don’t know where, but the idea wasn’t exactly original as I watched it. That said, I enjoy Tig’s version having laughed at some of the jokes.

    Then I watched CK’s version and I desperately tried to find the plagiarism and couldn’t. I also enjoyed it and laughed throughout the three minute skit.

  13. Craig says:

    So so many SNL sketch makes fun of something that exists. Fatal Attraction KellyAnne Conway, Celebrity Jeopardy, Fox and Friends… That’s why SNL is funny and relatable. To me, Tig just seems upset something she did was made fun of, just like Donald Trump hates Alec Baldwin’s impersonation of him. It’s a satire sketch comedy show, come on… You can’t tell me Fox and Friends gives permission for every joke that’s made of them.

    • jefftheconmanconners says:

      What a stupid argument you have made. All of those examples are well known, this is a video she shows on her tour. What is it like to go through life so monumentally stupid?

  14. An adult having a party like a child isn’t an original idea. It’s about implementation. CK’s version on SNL was great, and Tig can have her own version. BTW- I’ve watched One Mississippi and it’s good. Just saying the idea isn’t original.

  15. David Castillo says:

    I like Louis, but some of his jokes resemble other people’s work quite a bit.

  16. Carrie says:

    The Mrs. Maisel remark is a surprising misreading of the pilot – Maisel’s husband may alledge that comedians use other material all the time, but the subtext of those conversations is that his stealing is wrong – only hacks use other people’s material uncredited, while comedians willing to put in the legwork never would. It’s not an era-dependent issue at all.

    It may serve the interviewer well to watch again.

  17. David Smith says:

    Tig is overcompensating for her lack of attention.

  18. As someone who has seen Tig live with the film as her opener on tour, I can tell you one, her film was much funnier and typically morose as she mentioned and two, it was blatantly ripped off by CK. I’m surprised he hasn’t called to simply apologize rather than let it fester like this. Tig hasn’t done anything wrong and is being rather mature about it from my perspective. She hasn’t threatened to sue, just seems like she wants some validation and answers – which she deserves.

    • how nice she hasn’t gotten Lavely and Singer on Louis or SNL. Your comment is very rich considering how Notaro causes all sorts of misery and injustice, and then ignores anyone that tries to clear it up. Stop pretending Louis CK or SNL would know about her shitty little short film… In no world is she that famous or well known. Glad to see Notaro getting roundly criticized(and ignored) on this. Couldn’t happen to a better person

    • John Paine says:

      Exactly how do you think being a big enough fan to go see her live increases your credibility as an objective observer?… Lol

      The premise is the same, but the tone and details are totally different. The short is certainly more heartfelt and dramatic, and I think it’s a fine piece of work. But the skit is definitely funnier, probably because it’s all about the jokes from beginning to end

      But that’s not even the point. The point is that they are so different in everything except the initial premise (and even those differ in detail) that at most you could say that the skit was inspired by the the short. But it’s nowhere near close enough to call it a copy.

  19. full circle says:

    Not around is biting the hand that feeds her because as a pernicious narcissist she despises that everyone knows Louis CK made her and she would have gone nowhere without him. It drives her crazy that she could not be a star without all those famous friends and the non stop gimmicks

  20. Alex says:

    Tomorrow after they trash Trump and his admin this will be forgotten.

  21. Lucky says:

    I get it that as Cath below says Tig is getting some press out of this, but Louis is such a big part of why she is successful, from bootlegging her historic ‘cancer’ set which skyrocketed her career to being a producer on her show, she’s getting mighty close to biting the hand that feeds. Everyone borrows from everyone, there’s no such thing as an original idea, just try to do it best and put your personal spin on it.

  22. full circle says:

    Notaro has a documented history of false accusations, pettiness and deranged levels of jealousy of other comedians. She’s such a self aggrandizing phony it’s incredible. A fascinating story of what she did to a much more talented comedian will be spread far and wide soon. Keep an eye out.

  23. Cath says:

    SNL sketch wasn’t all that funny. And look she got a whole article in Variety because of it. Since I had no idea a) there was a controversy and b) had never heard of her before I would say the public “outrage” was a win. Comedians are notorious for “stealing” from each other. Flattery or outright theft? Depends on one’s perspective.

    • full circle says:

      She admitted, that the whole go topless at comedy club to show she has scars was a publicity stunt. What a gross publicity stunt. The opposite of comedy really. She lies in this article and pretends she’s happy and content with where she is in her career. Truth is she’s the most bitter and unhappy person you can meet. I see that most people see through her cynical cancer exploitation “comedy” … . GO people.

  24. Joan Barone says:

    The 3:30 SNL clip was painfully too long. I can’t imagine a 14 minute short on this joke. Iowa City Film Festival? Is there a category for corn porn?

  25. Cheese Cake says:

    I knew Louis CK was unfunny but, until now, I hadnt realized just why that is. He’s just not original or funny as a comedian. #truth

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