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Which Jokes Comedians Would Steal If They Could Get Away With It

John Mulaney. Photo: Netflix

Ooo doggy, joke stealing makes everyone so mad all the time. But, like all types of stealing, it sure seems like fun if you knew you’d get away with it. Which is why on Good One, Vulture’s podcast about jokes and those who tell them, we often ask comedians this very difficult question: If you could steal any joke from anyone ever and nobody would know and you wouldn’t feel bad about it (so it’s like it’s your joke and it’s always been your joke), what would it be? Over the course of the podcast, comedians’ answers have varied widely — from obscure to classic, from witty one-liners to winding stories — but all of them are pretty damn funny. Now that the show’s third season has wrapped up, we picked out some of our favorites. You can listen to the full archive of Good One podcasts on the HeadGum network, as well as Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.

Patton Oswalt on Gary Gulman’s “Abbreviating the States” and Shane Torres’s “Guy Fieri”

Gary Gulman has a joke about trying to figure out the state abbreviations. It’s such a gorgeous piece of comedy writing. I love it so much. If it could exist out of time and be mine, I would take it.

My runner-up would be Shane Torres’s joke about Guy Fieri and Anthony Bourdain. Oh my God. I remember seeing that and going, That’s a joke that was so good, you can’t even go, “Oh my God that was sitting right there.” It wasn’t sitting right there. It was so against what everyone’s conventional thinking was. He muscled through and got to there. Oh, God, it’s so great.

Kyle Kinane on Matt Knudsen’s “All You Can Eat” and Andy Ritchie’s “Huey Lewis”

There’s two, my two favorite jokes in stand-up. One is Matt Knudsen’s “Imagine ordering from a waitress everything that you get at a buffet.” And just him taking on the character of “Yes, I’d like to start with some spaghetti, two chicken wings, a Jell-o cube, and a few beets. And for my next plate, I will have a hard shell taco filled with ham cubes — I will take one bite of that and realize it was a horrible mistake. I’ll have some ice cream and I’ll have some salad …” And he just goes on and on and on about all the bullshit, and I was like, “Ooh, that’s so funny!”

The second one is Andy Ritchie. RIP Andy Ritchie. He passed away about a year and a half ago, but this one is one of those ones that just caught me off-guard. It’s “What if Ray Parker Jr. recorded the song ‘Ghostbusters’ without there ever having been a film Ghostbusters?” And he just pretends to be in the studio like, “All right, Ray. We’re ready to go on one, take one, rolling.” He’s like, “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts!” And they’re like, “Cut. ‘What’s he talking about? Are there ghosts? Is this a song?’” And just the idea of Ray Parker Jr. being a delusional, paranoid schizophrenic, singing about ghosts for no reason. Oh, that one, it still brings me joy. That premise brings me joy.

John Early on Jacqueline Novak’s reincarnation joke

Jacqueline Novak has such a genius joke about reincarnation that is so funny — it would always be a Jacqueline Novak joke, by the way. She has a joke about reincarnation, how funny it is. It’s so brutal that you spend your entire life trying to get on Johnny Carson, and then you die and then you’re immediately coming out of a jackal’s vagina. You’re just like immediately birthed in the fucking worst conditions on earth, like the desert, and you’re an ugly animal who can’t talk, but prior to that you were trying so hard to get on Johnny Carson. I think that is genius.

Ron Funches on Mitch Hedberg’s “Search Party” and “Escalator” jokes

Mitch Hedberg’s “Search Party of 3.” That’s one of my favorites. Just a silly, funny joke.

Or “an escalator can only become stairs.” Most of Mitch Hedberg’s material I would steal and make as my own and people would be like, “Yeah, that still makes sense.”

Aparna Nancherla on Greg Johnson’s “Dog Genders”

There are so many great ones. There’s one that Greg Johnson does about people messing up dog genders that really makes me laugh. I think it’s like, “People get so offended when you mess up a dog’s gender, where you’re like ‘Oh my gosh, is this your dog? He’s so cute.’ And they’re like ‘Actually, it’s a she and her name is Jeremy.’” It’s so silly but so funny.

Wyatt Cenac on Jerry Minor’s “Michael Winslow” bit

I don’t know if I would steal it. It’s one of my favorite jokes, though. There’s a comedian named Jerry Minor, and it’s not a stand-up joke. Jerry would do this thing onstage and he rarely would do it. He would come out and he would be introduced as Michael Winslow from the Police Academy movies. And so then he would say, “Hi, I’m Michael Winslow from the Police Academy movies, but I’m not here to talk to you about comedy today. I’m here to talk to you about something very serious. There was a man in Jasper, Texas, who was killed because of the color of his skin.” And he gets very serious and he starts to talk about it and he’s just like “It’s horrible in this day and age that racists still exist and that they thought it was a good idea to just get in their truck [starts making sound of a truck].” And then he continues to tell the story doing sound effects, and every time the audience laughs, he gets mad and he’s like, “A man died! Stop it!” and then he gets back into the story. The first time I ever heard him do it, I was rolling on the floor. It was, to me, the perfect joke by being both pointed and talking about something that was truly uncomfortable but also exists and that people are kind of happy to just take and put in the back of their minds, and he’s bringing it to the front where you can’t ignore it, but then also making it so silly and ridiculous. It was such a great joke.

Roy Wood Jr. on George Carlin’s “A Place for My Stuff”

George Carlin, “A Place for My Stuff.” That is one of the most masterful, in-depth jokes. He just breaks down how a house is just a place for your stuff, and then a suitcase is a smaller place for your stuff, and then a dresser, and then you get on an airplane — the layers. You sit back and look at it and you go “Damn, he’s right. We’ve just got a lot of shit we don’t really need.” And it’s a joke that is timeless in the sense that you can play that for someone right now, not tell them that this guy died years ago, and they would go, “Oh, that’s funny. Where can I go see him?” That joke still stands up.

Naomi Ekperigin on Chris Rock’s early work

I don’t have a specific one but if I could take a Chris Rock joke from Never Scared or Bring the Pain, I would. There is so much of that where I am like, That is brilliant.

John Mulaney on Joe Zimmerman’s “Andrew Jackson” joke

I would hook, line, and sinker steal this bit from a comedian named Joe Zimmerman about Andrew Jackson, where he just takes you through true facts of Andrew Jackson’s life and then has the best jokes about them. I’ve listened to it on YouTube like a hundred times. I have fantasies sometimes about doing it. I’ll be on the treadmill and I’ll be thinking about it being my joke. I wish it was mine so bad. I just love it. I was like, Oh, that’s so funny to take an audience through real facts about Andrew Jackson, who’s on no one’s mind, and then Joe Zimmerman brings him up and he tells you real things he did and has jokes off of them that are great, and it destroys. That is my absolute grand envy. I want that joke so bad.

9 Comedians Reveal Jokes They’d Like to Steal If They Could