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May. 3 2010 - 4:13 pm | 2,022 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Patton Oswalt, plagiarism, and bad career choices

NEW YORK - AUGUST 18:  Comedian Patton Oswalt ...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Quick rule of thumb: If you’re going to annoy someone, you shouldn’t pick someone who spends his days and nights figuring out how to make every word land like a well-placed punch. That’s the lesson being learned by a guy named Nick Madson, who for reasons unknown decided to get up onstage in Davenport, Iowa, last week and pass off big chunks of some big-name comedians’ work as his own. The list of pilferees is pretty much a Murderer’s Row of the current comedy scene, and includes Louis CK, Dave Attell, David Cross, Maria Bamford and others. But I’m guessing the guy Madson really wishes he hadn’t crossed was Patton Oswalt, who holds a revered status among comedy types as a brilliant performer and the organizer of the Comedians of Comedy tours. He’d also make a pretty good lawyer. His takedown of Madson is swift and brutal:

I need to apologize to a Denver, Colorado comedian/actor named Nick Madson. I apologize for calling you a “thief”.

Yesterday I wrote a blog -“THIEVERY”- about Mr. Madson who recited, verbatim, a handful of my bits at a headlining gig at The Harrison Hilltop Theatre this past Wednesday, April 27th… Nick feels horrible.   I know this because he sent me a message on MySpace… This is where I have to apologize to Nick Madson. I’m sorry I merely called you a “thief.” You are also an asshole, sociopath and liar.

It gets worse.

The whole thing added up to a bad weekend for Madson, as the controversy spread from comedy-nerd hangouts like A Special Thing to mainstream blogs. And it wasn’t even a fair fight, really. Madson seems like a guy who has a lying problem, which is sad, and he only compounded things by trotting out a pallid iteration of the old “I’m sorry you feel that way” non-apology apology when Oswalt first came roaring after him. He also might have made a tactical error in going ahead with the plagiarism once it became apparent that there was a guy videotaping the performance, what with this whole YouTube thing the kids have now. (You can find it if you try. I can’t bring myself to link to it. It’s pretty hard to watch if you appreciate comedy, or have ever seen a professional comedian, or have a sense of humor.) Still, Oswalt’s open letter makes for good reading in a queasy sort of way. People in every line get their work lifted without attribution, and it’s always an affront. Madson’s biggest mistake might have been trying comedy  – a field where the best practitioners, like Oswalt, have a fetish for the truth.


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    I'm a writer in Santa Monica, CA. I spent some years at Newsweek and some more writing for TV. My freelance journalism has appeared in The New Yorker, Time, Slate, The Boston Globe, Fast Company, Fortune Small Business, Washington Journalism Review, American Journalism Review, American Heritage and TV Guide, and on PBS.

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