Joke Theft (The Simpsons Paradox)
I was recently watching an episode of The Simpsons, entitled Secrets of a Successful Marriage, and it dawned on me: The Office stole one of their jokes. In the episode, zany old Homer ends up teaching a class on marriage. Hilarity ensues when the unassuming dope can’t think of any real advice and instead spills secrets about Marge. D’oh!
Ok, now for the joke stealing part. Well, in the episode, Homer tries on his teaching trousers by opening his marriage class with, “Now what is a wedding? Well, Webster’s dictionary describes a wedding as ‘the process of removing weeds from one’s garden,’” obviously accidentally reading the definition for weeding. Hahaha. Right? Well, Caroline Williams seems to have found it funny, because in 2007–13 years after Greg Daniels wrote it — she used an almost identical joke in season 3, episode 16 of The Office (Phyllis’ Wedding).
While toasting the new bride and groom, lovable dunderhead, Michael Scott opens with, “Webster’s dictionary defines wedding as ‘the fusing of two metals with a hot torch.’” And bam. Joke theft. Now…I don’t blame Williams entirely. The ‘Simpsons Did It’ trope is so well-known, South Park devoted an entire episode to it. It is possible Williams is such a dedicated student of television comedy that Simpsons jokes have simply osmosed into her funny. But this joke cuts it pretty close to a blatant ripoff. Surely we can’t expect comedy writers to cross-reference every hilarious thought that crosses their minds.
We can expect that. And don’t call me Shirley.