On this week’s South Park, they made fun of Inception, including a scene in which the characters from the movie try to explain the overcomplicated plot to an incredulous outsider. CollegeHumor did a parody video featuring the characters from the movie explaining the intricacies of the plot in a very similar way with almost-identical lines, and some of the writers at CollegeHumor think the two are a little too similar for comfort. Did South Park rip them off?
The CollegeHumor video, entitled “Inception Characters Don’t Understand Inception,” was posted back on August 1st and has since been viewed nearly 700,000 times, so it’s not some obscure video that the South Park guys definitely never saw. While the idea for both takes on the movie, that it’s overly complicated, doesn’t seem to be unique enough that it’s impossible that both sets of writers came up with it independently, there are some specific lines and full stretches of dialogue that are almost exactly the same.
Update: Looks like it was an honest mistake by the South Park guys.
Ariadne: That doesn’t sound so hard. Cobb: It is.Ariadne: Why?Seito: Aaarrgh!Arthur: We don’t have time for this!Ariadne: Okay, fine, so next we’re going into Arthur’s dream, and then what?Eames: Then we go into Fisher’s dream.Ariadne: Okay got it.Cobb: But Fisher will think we’re in Browning’s dream.Ariadne: Okay. Wait, who’s Browning?
Here’s a sample from the CollegeHumor script:
Stan’s Mom: That doesn’t sound very difficult.Cobb: It is.Stan’s Mom: Why? Seito: Aaarrgh!Arthur: We don’t have time for this! Stan’s Mom: Okay, fine. So you’re gonna take my son to a dream within the dream, then what?Eames: Then we go into your husband’s dream.Stan’s Mom: Okay… Cobb: But your husband will think you’re in Hasselback’s dream.Stan’s Mom: Okay wait, who’s Hasselback?The CollegeHumor crew is justifiably convinced that there’s a connection between the two pieces. Senior Writer Dan Gurewitch said that “South Park essentially plagiarized” their video:
I’m conflicted, because I absolutely adore South Park. I admire Trey Parker and Matt Stone more than almost anyone currently working in comedy. To give them the benefit of the doubt, I’d say maybe it’s an homage - I’d be honored - but while our sketch was popular, it wasn’t nearly the national phenomenon it’d have to be for them to parody it. Maybe it was some staff writer, and Matt and Trey aren’t aware of the source material? Or something?
And from the South Park clip in question:
So what do you think? Is this a case of two groups of people coming up with the same jokes at the same time independently, or did the South Park guys pull from the CollegeHumor video, either intentionally or unintentionally?
My feeling is that the chances of them ripping the video off intentionally and hoping to get away with it are pretty slim. Matt Parker and Trey Stone have been writing episodes of South Park for years, and if there’s one thing that’s obvious it’s that they don’t have much trouble coming up with ideas. But the similarities are so striking, one does wonder if one of them saw it and subconsciously included some of these ideas in their script. Entire sections of dialogue are essentially identical, which is hard to explain away.
Recently, SNL was accused of ripping off Tim and Eric with a sketch about tiny hats, which was a more specific joke idea but placed in a sketch that was very different than the original that they were accused of stealing from.
It’s doubtful that any professional comedy writers have any desire to plagiarize their peers, but with so much more comedic content out there, they do have to be careful about treading on ground that’s already been covered by other people. On the other hand, that large amount of comedic content includes a whole lot of jokes, and if someone else comes up with a similar joke the immediate reaction probably shouldn’t be accusations of plagiarism. People come up with similar jokes, especially about ubiquitous pop cultural objects such as Inception. So the question is this: how similar is too similar? When entire sections are pretty much exactly the same, can it be explained away with group thinking, or is this clear evidence of plagiarism?