US talk-show host settles joke-theft suit

Conan O'Brien performs live at State Theatre on February 20, 2019 in Sydney, AustraliaImage copyright
Don Arnold/Getty

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Conan O’Brien was accused of stealing multiple jokes for his talk show

US comedian Conan O’Brien says he has settled with a San Diego man who accused him and the staff of his late night talk-show of stealing jokes.

Writer Robert Kaseberg sued O’Brien and others who work on Conan for allegedly stealing five jokes from Kaseberg’s Twitter feed and blog.

O’Brien explained his decision to settle the 2015 dispute in a column called “My Stupid Lawsuit” in Variety.

In the op-ed, O’Brien denied he or his staff stole from Kaseberg.

“Short 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,” O’Brien wrote.

“Had I, for one second, thought that any of my writers took material from someone else I would have fired that writer immediately, personally apologized, and made financial reparations.”

But the comic said that any overlap in jokes between he and Kaseberg was a coincidence.

“Different people around the world come up with the same joke all the time”, he argued, pointing to the scores of Twitter users for example who joked about “Kendall Jenner’s ill-fated Pepsi commercial”.

O’Brien said he ultimately made the decision to end the legal dispute in order to “forgo a potentially farcical and expensive jury trial in federal court over five jokes that don’t make sense anymore.”

Kaseberg released a statement, saying he was happy the matter had been resolved.

“I am proud my case helped shed light on an issue facing all comedy writers,” he said.

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Getty Images

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Conan O’Brien succeeded Jay Leno as the host of The Tonight Show

According to the complaint, the first of several disputed jokes was published by Kaseberg in January 2015: “A Delta flight this week took off from Cleveland to New York with just two passengers. And they fought over control of the armrest the entire flight.”

This joke, and others, Kaseberg claimed, later appeared in monologues in O’Brien’s show.

The deal was reached about three weeks before trial in federal court would have begun. Kaseberg had sought up to $450,000 (£400,108) in damages.

The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

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