For anyone who's seen Tig Notaro live or who attended any number of film festivals where her short film Clown Service screened last year, a sketch on last week's Saturday Night Live, in which a depressed birthday boy played by Louis C.K. pays a clown to perform for him alone in his living room, was eerily familiar. In her short film, Notaro plays a down-in-the-dumps woman going through a breakup who hires a clown to cheer her up. While Notaro's film ended with a moment of quirky solidarity between her character and the clown she hires and C.K.'s sketch, titled "Birthday Clown," ends on a twisted note, the meat of the pieces, down to the set and the way they were shot, is remarkably similar.
Notaro, the lesbian comic whose heartrending stand-up set delivered just days after she discovered she had breast cancer became a symbol of strength and resilience, confirmed in a statement to Entertainment Weekly what many viewers had been thinking -- that the clown sketch was suspicious at best, especially since her film screened at the Vulture Comedy Festival, a two-day lineup of the hottest new comedy series and films. Here's what Notaro said in her statement:
It has been impossible for me to ignore the cacophony of voices reaching out personally and publicly about the potential plagiarizing of my film Clown Service (a film that I screened at Largo in Los Angeles for over a year and it premiered at Vulture's Comedy Festival in NYC as well as numerous film festivals around the country and I am currently screening on my national tour).
While I don't know how all this actually happened, I did find it extremely disappointing.
Here is what I can tell you:
First off, I have recently learned that a writer/director who was fully aware of Clown Service when I was making it, actually worked on Louis C.K.'s clown sketch that is in question.
Secondly, Louis C.K. and I have not communicated in any way for nearly a year and a half.
And finally, I never gave anyone permission to use anything from my film. I hesitated to even address any of this, but I think it is only right to defend my work and ideas and moving forward, I plan to continue screening Clown Service with the joy and pride I always have.
C.K. has worked with Notaro, having hosted her stand-up show on his website in 2012. He was also named as an executive producer on her Amazon series One Mississippi, but he has yet to comment on allegations that SNL stole Notaro's work. As Vanity Fair reported, SNL has been taken to task before but never apologized for airing sketches and jokes that resembled other comics' work, including a "Tiny Hats" sketch that was allegedly lifted from comedians Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim.
While there's no official proof that SNL and C.K. lifted Notaro's work, although the similarity, when watched back to back, is damning, if there was in fact joke stealing at play, it's important to note the harmful assertion by people like writer Christopher Hitchens that women aren't funny. To then take the work of a queer female comic and brand it as one's own, especially when the star of the possibly purloined sketch is a straight white man, adds insult to injury for female comics who already have it tough in the business.
Stand-up comic Megan Koestler handily summed up the disparities in the stand-up world between male and female comics in a piece on Vice.
"If you're a broad without a Netflix special to your name, the chances of you being able to monetize your stand-up, in even the piss-worst clubs of the most obscure Midwestern enclaves, is minuscule," Koestler wrote. "If you're a male comedian, however, the bar for being considered at the Laff Dumpster in Left Bend, Indiana, is not particularly high."
Watch Clown Service below.
Now watch the SNL sketch below.