I love using quotes. That’s not exactly true because I never can remember them. There is nothing worse than somebody stumbling to remember a quote, just ask former President George W. Bush. So what I really should say is I love reading quotes.
I think it’s cool to see what other famous people said out stuff. That just makes it seem more important than if just some regular guy said it. (Noticed how I threw in other famous people? Like I’m already famous.)
“He who pursues fame at the risk of losing himself is not a scholar.”—Chuang Tzu (369 BC – 286 BC), The Great Supreme
Someone once told me that if you want to use a quote as your own, you have to credit the original author three times, “Then the quote is yours.” I think I like this rule, although I will tell you now, this rule doesn’t apply in comedy or in writing.
Most comics don’t have a sense of humor when you steal their material. For instance, one night I was with a group of friends telling a story about how I had gotten drunk for the first time and thought I was as smart as Albert Einstein. I started asking my friends what I perceived to be deep philosophical questions about the World, such as: “What is the first car in traffic doing up there? Is he just sitting there picking his nose or what? Maybe he’s getting a little road head. I don’t know, but I sure would like to know what the hell’s he doing up there?”
I was about 16 or 17 the first time I got drunk, and since I was telling a real story, I didn’t expect to hear, “YOU STOLED THAT FROM CARLIN!”
This was the first time someone had ever called me out on material stealing, although for the record, it wouldn’t even be close to the last. But the first time anything happens to you, you never know how you’re going to react. Since the rules were explained to me, and since I didn’t steal the bit on purpose, I didn’t feel that I had committed any joke-stealing crime.
“What the hell are you talking about?” I said to my 6’5”, skinny-assed comic, friend of a friend.
“Carlin,” he said. “As in George Carlin. That’s his bit. He did it back in the 70’s or at least the 80’s. Either way you can’t just take someone’s bit and use it as your own! That’s stealing. I mean, you at least got to give him credit for it.”
“First of all, who invited this guy?” I said, looking around to see who this clown was with, so I would know whether or not I was allowed to beat his ass. “Secondly I was 16! And drunk for the first time. It’s a real story! I wasn’t ‘doing a bit’. Smart ass! Besides I’m not a comic, I don’t have to live by your rules. My rules are if you quote a guy, you only have to do it three times then ‘the bit’ is yours!”
“Oh REEEALLY? Three times huh? Kind of like a joke genie? Rub it three times and it’s yours?” he said.
“That’s right! Or how Lenox Lewis knocks mother fuckers like you out: ONE, TWO, THREE!” I said, throwing shadow boxing combos at his face.
“Don’t get mad, I didn’t steal the bit,” he said.
“I’M NOT MAD!…fuck face.”
This guy totally ruined my mojo. Now I couldn’t go around saying brilliant things such as, “Don’t be afraid, the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself!” Or, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
Now I understood what people were talking about when they’d reply, “Ah! JFK, 1964.” And why they’d look at me funny when I’d say, “No, Doug Wallace, right now.”
You might be able to get away with stealing someone’s quote in conversation, but once it’s in print, as I found out the hard way, you better quote it and name your source. Luckily the, “Authorities” were not called in like the publishers threaten to do in their letter. All I did was use: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” Which for legal purposes, is by Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities and is also the longest damn sentence you will ever read. If I wrote some shit like that my editors would be jumping all over my ass, “Run-on sentence! Run-on Sentence!” they’d yell.
I used the Dickens line for an opening for a story I had. I had read that line several times and figured if the three time rule applied in conversation, it applied to writing as well. Apparently the publishers of Dickens felt otherwise.
People take this writing stuff way too seriously. They expect you to go around quoting where you got your inspiration? Who does that? And it’s very specific how they want it done. You need to say first, where you got it from—a.k.a. the title, then the author’s name, then page number, then the publishers name—God forbid you forget the publisher’s name. Then Quotation Police want you to list the copyright date, and then where the thing was published—like New York needs anymore publicity. It’s all a big clusterfuck. And no, I don’t remember where I got clusterfuck; though consulting Wikipedia, cluster-fuck is defined as: “A disastrous situation that results from the cumulative errors of several people or groups. In semi-polite company this is referred to as a Charlie Foxtrot. (From the NATO phonetic alphabet)” So I guess I probably got it from Dave—my Step-dad, who was a career Navy man. Props to Dave on, “clusterfuck.” The point being, remember to quote people where you should and don’t where you shouldn’t.
One place you are not supposed to quote people is in the middle of your conversation, “with your fingers.” That shit drives me crazy. You’re sitting there talking to someone and they say something like, “Politically Correct” and then they throw their fingers up in the air while they’re doing it. I hate that shit…“HEY! Wait a minute! YOU STOLED THAT FROM CARLIN!”