Amateurs should keep jokes to themselves



By Eric Carven

NEW YORK – With talk shows returning to late night without their writers, is it time to dust off your favorite gags and submit them to the networks?

In a word, no.

NBC said on Monday that Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien will return to late-night TV on Jan. 2 – without the writers they rely on for monologues and sketches. And Carson Daly’s already putting out new script-free episodes.

Amateur jokesters might wonder if this means the window is opening – if just a crack – for their 15 seconds of fame.

NBC’s Web site makes it abundantly clear: You might as well keep your jokes to yourself.

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“NBC cannot accept, consider or pay for any unsolicited creative ideas or materials,” NBC says on the “Contact Us” page. “If you send something anyway, you waive any claims with respect to your submission. So why send it?”

Why indeed.

The reasoning behind the gag order on wannabe gag writers? Representatives from the “Tonight” show and “Late Night” didn’t want to comment on that. (There is a writers’ strike going on, after all.) But Gordon Firemark, an entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles, says it’s all about avoiding lawsuits.

“Someone submits their joke to Jay Leno’s people and two weeks later – or two years later – Jay does a joke that’s a variation, or maybe it’s exactly the same joke,” Firemark said, offering an example. “Maybe they did see the material that was submitted, and they should have contacted the person. But as often as not, the joke wasn’t really that original to start with.”

“The problem is that, because they made that submission, now the company has had access to that material,” the lawyer said. “And that’s the first threshold step in making a claim for copyright infringement.”

So it seems that getting your jokes on the talk shows is out of the question. How, then, can you make a splash in late-night TV without paying your dues as a professional writer?

The surest route is as simple as it is timeless: Land a starring role in a blockbuster movie.

If you can’t, at least make your way onto a reality show. And be as odd as you can be.