It turns out that the long-running lawsuit against Conan O’Brien over joke-theft accusations has reached a conclusion — one that won’t involve a trial with witnesses like Andy Richter and Patton Oswalt. In a piece published at Variety today titled “Why I Decided to Settle a Lawsuit Over Alleged Joke Stealing,” the TBS late-night host finally opens up about the joke-theft allegations brought against him by Alex Kaseberg. The case been dragging on since 2015, and O’Brien discusses his, TBS, and Conaco’s decision to settle instead of allowing the case to proceed toward what he calls a “potentially farcical and expensive jury trial in federal court over five jokes that don’t even make sense anymore.”
In the Variety piece, O’Brien says that he and his writers had “never heard” of Kaseberg, his blog, or his Twitter account and emphasized that “[s]hort of murder, stealing material is the worst thing any comic can be accused of, and I have devoted 34 years in show business striving for originality.” Later in the piece, O’Brien stresses how common parallel thinking is in comedy when it comes to jokes about current events, and he recalls a time when he, David Letterman, and Jay Leno all told the same Dan Quayle joke on their late-night shows: “Back then, no one sued anyone because each of us knew that topical comedy often follows a pattern — it’s an occupational hazard. You try hard to avoid it, but sometimes, comedians inadvertently step on each other’s feet.”
O’Brien also says that he and his team had proof that one of the four jokes Kaseberg accused him of stealing was actually written before Kaseberg posted it online, and since the case against O’Brien’s show began, the Conan writers assistant found 15 Kaseberg jokes that were allegedly very similar to jokes that had already aired on Conan. “Did we counter-sue? No, we did not, because I knew he had not ‘stolen’ from us,” O’Brien writes, “just as we had never stolen from him.”
O’Brien says he believes that “the vast majority of people writing comedy are honorable, and they don’t want to steal anyone’s material because there is no joy, and ultimately no profit, in doing so. However, when you add the internet and an easily triggered legal system, the potential for endless time-wasting lawsuits over who was the first to tweet that William Barr looks like a toad with a gluten allergy becomes very real.” Ultimately, what matters most to O’Brien is sticking up for his writers’ integrity: “They are remarkably hard working and decent people, and this episode has been upsetting for them, and for myself.”
Read the full piece over at Variety.