Is Gad El Maleh a #CopyComic?


        A student approached me after a class I was teaching and asked if I’d read a certain book. I had heard of it, but never read it. He was surprised, and said I sounded so much like the author. When I later read the book, I realized it was true…I was saying so much of the same things that were found in the book! After nearly every paragraph I would think to myself, “Exactly. Completely agree”, or “Yep. That’s what I always say too.” Now how did this happen?

Perhaps we were inspired by the same ‘original sources’. Maybe we both read similar books or listened to similar podcasts and had our thinking shaped in the same directions.

Or perhaps it’s just the old adage, ‘Great minds think alike’. We were coming to the same conclusions because they were wise and right. We both discovered the same truths, independently of one another.

Thankfully I have never published a book, so no one was accusing me of plagiarism, or stealing this author’s ideas. But what if I had? If his book was published before mine, everyone would’ve assumed I was a thief.

This is exactly what has happened to Gad El Maleh, the famous Moroccan-French comedian who has been highlighted in 2 videos on the YouTube channel CopyComic Videos.

Here are the reasons I think the videos are somewhat ridiculous and should not affect Gad’s reputation as a world-class performer:

1. People come up with the same ideas, independently

          Comedians observe their surroundings and notice humour, so it makes sense that people around the world would find humour in MANY of the same things. Any person who has walked in ski boots knows that it’s a funny experience, and LOTS of comedians have done bits about that. Who was the 1st one? And was EVERY comedian who has done a bit about walking in ski boots since then present when that 1st “walking in ski boots bit” was performed? NO, of course not. It’s highly possible that dozens of comedians could make jokes about an experience 100% independently of one another.

Jokes about women taking a long time to get ready before going out for the evening, jokes about parents of newborns being sleep-deprived, jokes about old people telling boring stories or driving poorly…this is low-hanging fruit that virtually every comedian has tasted. Everyone who has ever watched a lead guitarist make squirrely faces while soloing has noticed the humour. Don’t you think that a comedian who uses a guitar in their performance might imitate that? It’s a universal joke.

2. Independent people can have similar experiences

          Got a funny story of your luggage being lost on a trip? Ever been put on hold for a crazy long period of time? Ever waved at someone you thought you knew, but then realized it was a stranger?

You and I are different people, but we have probably had lots of similar experiences. If we were both comedians, we’d probably write jokes about some of them, and there’s a very high chance that if we both create hundreds of hours of content, there would be jokes that appear stolen.

CopyComic compared a joke of someone suspecting Gad of sneaking into a plane’s 1st-class section, with another comedian’s experience of someone suspecting he had snuck into their luxury condo building. Another comparison was Gad taking his kids to Disneyland and having Mickey Mouse ask him for an autograph, which Dave Chapelle also experienced.

I would guess that these are common experiences for famous people such as them. Either someone recognizes you and asks for an autograph or picture, or they don’t recognize you because you’re wearing a baseball cap & sunglasses, so they assume you don’t belong in their high-end, luxury environment.

Rich & famous comedians can have similar experiences, independently of one another, resulting in comparable jokes being told. Perhaps Gad heard Dave Chapelle tell this joke and thought, “Hahahaha, that same thing happened to me at Disneyland! It’s true – it’s a hilarious story that I can also share with my audience.” If that’s the case, who cares? Is a comedian supposed to throw out a funny, personal experience just because another comedian on another continent had a similar experience?

There is no central comedy organization that authorizes certain comedians to make jokes about specific topics. Jerry Seinfeld isn’t the only person licensed to tell jokes about airport security. Russel Peters isn’t the only person licensed to tell jokes about Indian culture. And Gad El Maleh isn’t the only comedian who tells jokes about Uber.

3. Original thought is extremely difficult to determineGad

          Over decades of life, we take in vast amounts of information. We watch video content, read books and articles, we attend classes and events, we have countless conversations, we listen to the radio…our 5 senses are constantly gathering data from our surroundings.

So when you create something, how do you know if it’s original, copied, or inspired by others?

Musicians love music, and have typically spent much of their life listening to music. No musician would argue that their music is 100% original…of course it’s inspired and influenced by the artists they love and listen to. Authors read books. Athletes not only play, but also watch sports. Directors love films and have been watching movies and reading scripts since they were kids. Does anyone produce something that wasn’t influenced or inspired by all the material they consumed in the past?

When I write blog posts or teach courses or create YouTube videos, I can’t even remember where some of my ideas come from! I’ve been reading personal development books for 20 years, I sat through hours of lectures during my MBA, I listen to podcasts and audio books, and I hang out with other businesspeople that share their knowledge, ideas, and experiences. My brain is a melting pot of vast amounts of information, and it’s highly possible that much of what I present is inspired by all the content I’ve consumed over the years.

Ever been listening to a song and thought, “Ah that part sounds just like __________ (another song)!” Ever watched a football match and thought, “Oh that guy has the same style as _________ (another athlete)!” When you read a non-fiction book, they constantly include quotes from other authors. But even the sections that are not in quotes are often similar to other books covering the same topic…there’s always overlap.

Ever been watching a movie and had it remind you of a film you’ve seen before? (“Ohhhhhhhh, the nerdy, unathletic girl turned out to be a supermodel when she changed her hairstyle…I did NOT see that coming.” Or “Ohhhhhhhhh, it looked like impossible odds, but the good guy DID end up winning and saving the planet! I did NOT see that coming.”)

4. Does Gad spend his life watching other comedians perform?

          The premise of CopyComic is that Gad has stolen his joke from the comedian he is being compared with. There’s a major problem with this. How could Gad possibly have time to consume this much material? Some of the examples are 40 years old! Some of the examples are from unknown comedians in tiny clubs. Some are in English, some are in French. The one thing I believe CopyComic should be admired for is the incredible amounts of research necessary to make videos like this.

You’ve got to remember that YouTube didn’t even exist until 2005. How could you watch 25-year old comedy before YouTube? Did Gad order dozens of DVDs and spend hours and hours watching HBO specials in order to steal jokes? Do you think he’s had as much time on his hands as the CopyComic YouTuber, to just sit there watching comedy content? Or has he been extremely busy the last couple decades since he’s a major superstar appearing in movies, tv shows, broadcasts etc.? Pretty sure the guy has a full schedule that doesn’t include ‘comedy plagiarism time.’

5. It’s smart business to copy things that work well!

Gad lived in Montreal for 4 years, and he discovered something that didn’t exist in France: American-style stand-up comedy, done in French. He loved it, and realized it could work in France. Good for him! Some say he pioneered stand-up comedy in France. It was not an original idea…but he was the one that brought it to a new market! Moroccans didn’t invent drive-through bank machines, but several Moroccan banks have adopted it. Moroccans didn’t invent nightly newscasts, but they’ve certainly adopted the format.

It’s a common business strategy to adapt something and bring it to a new market. If a late-night talk show works in America, perhaps it will work in France, Australia, or India? If a boy band is popular in America, perhaps boy bands could be popular in Korea or Japan? If a talent show is a big hit in the UK, perhaps it could work in Canada or Thailand? If a vlogger speaking about beauty or fitness products finds an audience in English, perhaps the same thing could work in Darija?

Now did Gad go beyond just the format of stand-up comedy and actually bring some MATERIAL across the Atlantic? Probably. And again I say – good for him! If an English-speaking comedian has a great bit that the entire French world is missing out on…why not translate it and put your own spin on it? I’m willing to bet there are comedians in India and China doing the same thing. It’s a brilliant idea, and I wish more Moroccans would adopt the strategy.

Again, keep in mind that YouTube is BRAND NEW to the world. It is less than 15 years old, and none of us had even heard of it for the first 5 years. Think of all the comedy that was being produced in North America or the UK during the 80s and 90s and early 2000s that was completely cut-off from the French-speaking world. To me, any clip of Gad translating a joke from English to French is just smart business.

Movies are dubbed. Books are translated. Music & sports are enjoyed universally. (I can watch Ronaldo or Messi no matter what language I speak, and I once heard a crowd of Moroccans in Rabat sing along to Maroon 5 word-for-word, though 99% of them don’t actually speak English!) Comedy is different. It takes a special talent to translate a joke and maintain the humour. (Just try typing a joke into Google Translate if you don’t believe me).

I admire Gad as a visionary entrepreneur who left Morocco, worked hard, and made it big. It makes me sad to see so many Moroccans selling him out as a thief just because of some weak and misleading YouTube videos. It’s a lot easier to sit in the café with your smartphone and form an opinion based on sketchy evidence, than it is to think critically and give the man the credit he deserves. Oh wait, was that last sentence inspired by a 110-year old Theodore Roosevelt quote? Does that make me a #copyblogger? 😉

Teddy Roosevelt quote

Watch a video I made about Gad El Maleh!