As soon as I write something, I find that someone has said it better. For instance, after writing "Steal This Joke," I found this gem from Arthur Godfrey's Stories I Like to Tell. (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1952, p.79) I'm not going to steal it or "spin" it as one compiler of jokes calls what we do; I'm going to borrow it, that is, quote it -- at least until I figure out a way to make it mine.
A 13-year-old high school boy originates a joke and puts it in his school paper. A press agent, home from New York for a vacation, sees his old school paper and clips out the joke. He sends it to a Broadway columnist who prints it. Someone else puts it in a book as something that happened to Alexander Woollcott or John Barrymore. A man acting as a toastmaster at a big dinner picks it out of the book and uses it. A radio writer at the dinner steals it and uses it on the show the next day. A night club comic hears it on the air and tells it at the club. A high school teacher, in New York for a fling, hears the joke at the night club and tells it to his principal when he gets back. The principal remembers seeing it printed in the school paper so he calls the boy in who wrote it and gives him a severe talking to for printing old jokes.
Godfrey doesn't know who thought this up either, but he uses it as an example of the life cycle of a joke. All humorists, including those who merely aspire to the name, recognize the phenomena. We laugh while going, "Now how can I steal, pardon, spin, this?"
As always, feel free to appropriate.
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