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

Mitch Hedberg. Photo: Jason Squires/WireImage

This post was first published in August 2018 and has been updated to reflect the completion of Good One season four.

Oooh doggy, joke stealing makes everyone so mad all the time. But, like all types of stealing, it sure seems like fun if you could know 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 fourth 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.

Laurie Kilmartin on Mitch Hedberg’s “Purple People”

I did accidentally steal a Mitch Hedberg joke and did it on Comedy Central. We had a show out of Gitmo. I’m so grateful because, obviously as we now know but didn’t at the time, it was a place of horrors, so Comedy Central never airs it. But it was a Hedberg joke I guess I had heard and I just absorbed and thought I wrote. So, I guess that would be the joke. I was doing it in San Antonio and this guy named Josh Snead said, “You know that’s a Mitch Hedberg joke. I open for him.” And I was so mortified. It was a joke about when people say, “I don’t care if someone’s black, white, green, or purple.” And then it was something like, “If they’re purple, you should care. They’re choking to death.” Or something like that.

Kenan Thompson and Bryan Tucker on Key and Peele’s “Substitute Teacher”

Kenan Thompson: I would say any Kate McKinnon sketch. She does such incredible work. It’s incredible.

Bryan Tucker: The Key and Peele substitute teacher sketch.

KT: Oh my God. Hell, yeah, that’s a good one.

BT: And I know you would do that well, because you’re so great at messing up names.

KT: Oh, yeah, “A-Aron.” “I swear if one of y’all says some dumbass name.”

BT: That’s just almost, like, a perfect sketch.

Nikki Glaser on Rachel Feinstein’s “Niece”

If I could steal someone’s joke? Boy. It would probably be Rachel Feinstein’s joke about … well, just Rachel Feinstein’s act in general I would steal. But she has this joke about her niece trying to get her to get in the tub with her and to get naked, because her niece is at that age where she just wants to see women naked and see what it’s like. She says that her niece coerces her like Howard Stern — like the way Howard Stern used to in the ‘90s. She’s like, “Come on, Rachel. We’re family.” Like she uses all these excuses, and Rachel’s like, “That doesn’t even check out.” Then at one point, her niece is coercing her and trying to woo her. Her niece goes, “You look like Wonder Woman.” Rachel is like, “Oh my God. I’ve kind of always thought that about myself. I’m glad someone said it.” Later on she was kind of bragging to her niece’s mom, her sister-in-law, like, “Cici said I looked like Wonder Woman.” She goes, “Rachel, she says that to everyone.” She goes, “You didn’t get in the bath, did you?” That line.

Chris Gethard on John Mulaney’s “The Salt and Pepper Diner”

“Salt and Pepper Diner.” John Mulaney. The Tom Jones joke. I love living a good ridiculous moment. And I love shitty teenage troublemaking. But with me it is a Jersey diner, driving everybody nuts.

Phoebe Robinson on Wanda Sykes’s “Waxing”

From Wanda Sykes I’ma Be Me special, she had this joke and I think it was about getting waxed. It was so funny. I’m trying to remember the imagery, but she said the feeling of the hair getting pulled out was just like when you see an animal running across the Serengeti and it just immediately gets eaten. It was just so funny. She’s really good at building bits like that.

Nick Kroll on Roger Hales’s “Asshole at the Party”

My early days in New York, there was a comedian named Roger Hales who I came up through open mics with. It was like Roger and Chelsea Peretti and a couple other people. Roger had a joke that I think about all the time that I still love. I’m gonna butcher it a little bit, but basically, like, you know when there’s an asshole at a party, and you’re like, “That guy’s an asshole,” and your friend is like, “No, he’s not an asshole, he’s just insecure.” And you’re like, “If he’s so insecure, then why is he drunk and throwing raisins at me? Shouldn’t he be at home doubting himself?” That joke always struck me as so true.

Rachel Bloom on Inside Amy Schumer’s “Milk Milk Lemonade”

“Milk Milk Lemonade” from Inside Amy Schumer feels like a very me song. [When I heard it] I was like, “Ahhh, damnit.”

Max Silvestri on Greg Johnson’s “Frequently Asked Questions? (Security in the Basement?)” and Leah Beckmann on Jessi Klein’s “Break Up”

Max Silvestri: Greg Johnson’s joke about going to the Wellesley library and there being a frequently-asked-questions list at the front desk of the library, a pamphlet you can take, and one of the frequently asked questions is “Security in the basement?” And just the idea that there were so many people coming into this library just being like, “Excuse me. Security in the basement?” that they had to put together, like, “We need to get a frequently asked questions list here. This is so frequently asked.” I think of the phrase “security in the basement” so crazy often. I have friends from college that were life acquaintances that used to come to Rififi shows [and] happen to see him that still, 15 years later, are like, “Do you ever see that ‘security in the basement’ guy?” It’s such a line that sometimes he’ll do the joke and forget whole parts of it. It’s almost like an abstract work now where he’s like, “I was at Wellesley and there was this paper that just said, ‘Security?’” He forgets whole details. I wish I could just have that joke. I wish I was [that] type of concise joke writer. Like Louis [C.K.] believes comedy is just noises and Chris Rock [believes it’s just] repetition. I don’t agree with any of that. But the noise of “security in the basement” is so addictive that I wish in my act that I had things that were more rhythmic.

Leah Beckmann: Jessi Klein has this incredible joke about how when you break up with someone, especially when you’ve broken up with them, you kind of believe always that they are still playing games and still want you. I’m gonna ruin the joke. It’s basically like he’s married and she’s sort of like, “You still want me. I’m still the number one.” But then after his second kid, she’s like, “Okay, maybe you’re done playing games.” The first kid …

MS: The first kid is still a little bit of tactic.

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.

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