Conan O’Brien is opening up about why he chose to settle a years-long lawsuit over alleged joke stealing while also maintaining his late-night show’s innocence.
On Thursday, in an essay published by Variety, the 56-year-old Conan host explained his decision to “amicably” settle the dispute.
In July 2015, O’Brien and his writers were sued by San Diego-based Robert Alexander Kaseberg, who claimed that the show “stole five jokes from his blog and Twitter account,” he writes.
“I will tell you what we told him, and what we subsequently swore under oath in a deposition: we had never heard of him or his blog or Twitter account, and we did not steal any of his jokes. Short of murder, stealing material is the worst thing any comic can be accused of, and I have devoted 34 years in show business striving for originality,” O’Brien continues.
He states that if he believed that any of his team members had in fact “took material from someone else,” he “would have fired that writer immediately, personally apologized, and made financial reparations.”
The host explains that he “delivered a joke about Tom Brady re-gifting his Super Bowl MVP truck to opposing coach Pete Carroll (trust me, Pete Carroll gags were hilarious back in 2015).”
That same evening, Kaseberg wrote the same joke on Twitter and “then claimed we had stolen four other jokes, though we had proof that one of them was written prior to his posts,” O’Brien writes.
O’Brien and his team were then hit with a federal lawsuit by Kaseberg.
“The fact of the matter is that with over 321 million monthly users on Twitter, and seemingly 60% of them budding comedy writers, the creation of the same jokes based on the day’s news is reaching staggering numbers,” he explains.
While O’Brien says he believes “that the vast majority of people writing comedy are honorable, and they don’t want to steal anyone’s material because there is no joy, and ultimately no profit, in doing so,” the internet has complicated things.
Ultimately, O’Brien says that the “saga” between him and Kaseberg ended with the duo “deciding to resolve our dispute amicably.”
Although O’Brien admits that he does “stand by every word” he wrote in the essay, the settlement came about because he “decided to forgo a potentially farcical and expensive jury trial in federal court over five jokes that don’t even make sense anymore. Four years and countless legal bills have been plenty.”
“What’s important to me, today, is defending the integrity and honesty of my writers,” he states in his conclusion. “They are remarkably hard working and decent people, and this episode has been upsetting for them, and for myself.”
Earlier in 2015, the host called out one of his writers on Twitter. In April of that year, a writer for the TBS show reportedly went off on the social media platform about the state of late-night comedy.
Andrés du Bouchet, who described himself as a comedian, writer and actor on his Twitter feed, reportedly wrote that “comedy in 2015 needs a severe motherf—ing shakeup” and that late-night hosts have “let the popular kids appropriate the very art form that helped you deal F—.”
He also called it “prom king comedy.”
The tweets were removed, but not before O’Brien weighed in with this retort: “I wish one of my writers would focus on making my show funnier instead of tweeting stupid things about the state of late night comedy.”
Conan airs weeknights (11 p.m. ET) on TBS.
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