Did “Bruno” Screenwriter Steal Jokes…From Himself?

28kscv6Like roughly 30 million dollars’ worth of other Americans, I saw Bruno over the weekend (my review is forthcoming). Without commenting on the film as a whole yet, one specific segment of the movie bothered me — and no, it wasn’t the gay sex, talking penises or shameless celebrity ambushes that’s causing controversy everywhere else. It was a joke that I had seen done almost verbatim three years ago on a television show called Dog Bites Man.

If you haven’t heard of the program, you’re not alone. After all, it debuted on Comedy Central in 2006 with less-than-stellar ratings, and — due to the costs and torturous filming process (hours upon hours of footage was shot, only to be trimmed to 23 minutes for each episode) — was quickly booted from the channel’s schedule. It is perhaps most notable today for its inclusion of rising star Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover), and in my own opinion — despite some inconsistencies — it was ahead of its time. It premiered about a year too early for people to pay attention.

In Bruno, the gay Austrian fashion icon is outcast from his home country after an embarrassing series of events, and migrates to America in search of a new career. One of his first attempts at fame is to tape a pilot for an, erm, “unique” interview/chat show. The footage, which is offensive and pornographic, is screened to a focus group; Bruno watches their repulsed reactions from behind a one-sided mirror, until he finally can’t take it anymore and barges into the room, startling the group members who have just slandered him. He attempts to win their favour by defending his goodwill and showing off his skills in front of them.

Watching this scene, I almost immediately placed it: I had seen it in Dog Bites Man three years earlier. In the program, which is based around a fake news crew placed in real situations, anchorman Kevin Beekin (geddit?) films a disgusting “public announcement” segment about physical health, and decides to screen it for a focus group. Of course, he’s watching their reactions through a one-sided mirror — just like Bruno — and erupts from the hidden area to confront his attackers (just like Bruno, too).

Was it mere coincidence? Something about the two scenes seemed far too similar, so I did some research. Turns out the TV show’s creator, co-writer and consultant, Dan Mazer, has a few films to his credit. Two names in particular stood out on his resume: Borat and Bruno. Not only did he write the screenplay for the latter, but he also produced it, and has generally had a hand in almost all of Sacha Baren Cohen’s endeavours.

The connections speak for themselves: Mazer literally re-packaged his own joke, which (judging by ratings) hadn’t even worked that well the first time, and attempted to pass it off to new crowds. Mind you, I’m not one of those fanatical people who get upset every time a joke is recycled somewhere, but it strikes me as awfully questionable that Mazer would do this — especially considering other cast and crew worked on that program, and they don’t deserve to have their own overlooked work carelessly regurgitated in another form.

But don’t take my word for it — judge for yourself. Here’s the clip in question, from Dog Bites Man, courtesy of Comedy Central:

Dog Bites Man
Focus Group
www.comedycentral.com

What do you think? Should Mazer have a right to recycle his gags, or is it poor form?

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