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The act of stealing creative bits is something that comes up almost too frequently in the world of comedy, from Saturday Night Live to Louis C.K. and Dane Cook to Conan. But it’s not often brought up where ventriloquism is concerned – mostly since ventriloquism isn’t often brought up in the first place – but that’s exactly what’s happening when it comes to the winner of the past season of America’s Got Talent, as he is being accused of stealing multiple acts from different ventriloquists.
On September 16, Paul Zerdin became the second ventriloquist to win America’s Got Talent’s $1 million grand prize. But he didn’t do so very honorably, according to longtime celebrated ventriloquists Ronn Lucas and David Strassman, both of whom say that some of Zerdin’s notable performances from the season were blatant ripoffs. Both men are currently saying they aren’t interesting in suing Zerdin for his alleged theft, and that he’s obviously a talented guy, but they don’t mind point out specifically where they felt they were ripped off.
To win the semifinal round, Zerdin brought a remote-controlled prosthetic jaw to the stage and used it to make Howie Mandel his joking and dancing dummy. It obviously won the crowd over, but that shouldn’t have been a surprise, since Lucas did an act just like it back in 2006 for Las Vegas crowds where he brought members of the audience up and made them joke and dance with the mask on. Here’s how Lucas told Deadline he put his act together in 1989, citing Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator Joel Hodgson for originating it.
He did a routine and pulled two guys up on the stage with rubber ape masks and had a squeeze bulb and lip-synced “Baby Love” and they were the backup singers. I got the rights from him and turned it into my own. After that, everyone was doing it, so I don’t know if Paul stole it from me or from somebody else who stole it from me. For a long time, I tried to protect it, but I finally gave up. Magicians publish their tricks – they have their names attached to them. But no one cares about giving ventriloquists credit.
Strassman’s ire comes from Zerdin allegedly stealing a bit that he did for The Arsenio Hall Show back in 1989, in which he leaves the stage and has his dummy “come to life.” Check out Strassman’s gag below.
And now here’s Zerdin’s take on it.
Similar, right? It’s no surprise that sources from America’s Got Talent co-producer FreemantleMedia say that Zerdin has been using both of those portions of his act for years, and that while he doesn’t claim to have invented either of them, they’re common in the ventriloquism game. So it’s not stealing if everyone is doing it, right? You guys be the judge.
All I’m saying is, at least he’s not copying off of anything that happened in James Wan’s Dead Silence.