Who Remembers When There Were Shared Comedy Bits?

There is a lot of concern these days about intellectual property rights. Artists don’t want their work copied, sampled, superficially reproduced, etc., and have someone else profit off it.

But that wasn’t always the case, even within the last 100 years or so. A memory of old reruns I watched as a kid bubbled up this weekend where I recalled seeing an old vaudeville bit performed by a number of comedians. It is called by different names, but the line common to all the bits is “Slowly I turned,” as someone is set off into a homicidal rage upon hearing a key word.

I most clearly remember it from I Love Lucy, but I saw other comedians do it as well:

Abbott and Costello did it

The Three Stooges did it

According to Wikipedia, a lot of other folks did it or referenced it as well.

I started to wonder when the dynamic changed. I would guess it was when increasing mass media made entertainment more lucrative. When you go from having everyone making a passable living using a shared bit on the vaudeville circuit in front of a relatively limited audience to a limited number of people making a lot more money doing a bit that far larger audiences can view and go on to associate more exclusively with a single artist or comedy team, people may start to get a little protective.

I am not sure if that is actually the case of what happened. It is just a theory I had. I would be interested in learn more if anyone knows.

In the context of today where everyone is replicating the same dance or challenge for their Tiktok video, I wonder if there might be a shift back toward shared entertainment content. Though that is much more simple in theory than reality given that there have been controversies of white influencers getting credit and monetary rewards from copying the dance moves of black creators.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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