The French comedy circuit is in crisis after a mystery online whistleblower shamed some of the country’s best-know stand-ups to admit they had stolen their jokes from their British and American counterparts.
Millions have tuned into anonymously posted CopyComic videos of household French names apparently brazenly plagiarising the likes of Lee Evans, Robin Williams and Jerry Seinfeld.
In some cases they merely translate word for word the gags while passing them off as original material.
Among those upbraided for plagiarism is Jamel Debbouze, a wildly popular comedian who is known in the UK for his serious part in the film Days of Glory.
Debbouze can be seen copying Dave Cappelle, the American comedian and using the same gestures from a 2000 show.
Another alleged repeat copycat is Gad Elmaleh, who was married to Princess Charlotte of Monaco and now has a successful career over in the US. In one montage, he can be seen aping George Carlin, the American comedian, from a 1996 sketch.
The first to be outed was French star Tomer Sisley. An implacable eight-minute Youtube video showed how he lifted jokes from a string of American comedians. He later admitted to having copied between “20-30 per cent” of his gags.
Didier Bourdon, a well-known French comic actor who was part of the famous Les Inconnus troop, described the industrial plagiarism as “flabbergasting”.
“If you want to imitate someone and change a few things, that’s kind of alright,” he told Le Progrès. “But Elmaleh didn’t even bother changing the names. Today with internet how can you think you’re going to get away with it? I just don’t get it.”
“Everyone in the circuit knows that you have to pay for quotes,” producer Jean-Marc Dumontet told Nouvel Obs. Elmaleh has not directly answered the allegations of plagiarism except to say he does use material elsewhere as a “starting point” for his own sketches.
He dispatched his lawyers to order Twitter to unmask the whistleblower in February for “stealing” his material, to no avail.
The controversy has been gradually building steam for the past two years but has just taken a new turn over claims by a producer and wife of one of the targeted comedians to have unmasked the whistleblowers as fellow comics Kheiron, Baptiste Lecaplain, and Mo Maurane.
All have denied being behind CopyComic but welcomed outing plagiarists. Elmaleh’s lawyers succeeded in having a French court order Facebook to hand over data regarding CopyCat in April but the whistleblower has still not been identified and told NouvelObs this week he intends to remain anonymous and continue regardless.
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