Now that NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” has concluded Season 10 and crowned ventriloquist Paul Zerdin the winner, it should be smooth sailing for the performer from here on out. Unfortunately, that’s not the case as a pair of fellow ventriloquists are now accusing Zerdin of joke-theft.
According to BBC News, once Zerdin won the grand prize of the 2015 competition, he told the outlet that one of the only reasons he agreed to do the show was because no one back home in the U.K. would notice.
“I never thought it would be like this. I just thought I'd nip over to America, have a go at this talent show, and if it didn't work out then I could come home back to the UK and no one would be any the wiser,” he said.
Unfortunately, ventriloquists Ronn Lucas and David Strassman totally noticed and are now claiming that the 43-year-old puppet master didn’t come up with a lot of the material that propelled him to win “America’s Got Talent” and earned him the $1 million prize. According to Deadline, both comedians believe that Zerdin stole elements of their respective ventriloquist acts and passed them off as his own routines - and the evidence is pretty damning.
Take, for example, Zerdin’s quarterfinals routine in which he has a falling out with his dummy Sam. Zerdin storms off stage leaving the puppet to fend for itself, when suddenly it comes to life and he continues to voice the dummy from back stage.
A lot of people thought it was a hilarious bit, including Strassman who the outlet reports can be seen in the below video performing it almost exactly the same way on “The Arsenio Hall Show” in 1989.
Lucas, meanwhile, alleges that he obtained the rights to a joke from “Mystery Science Theater 3000” creator Joel Hodgson that involves using an audience member and a fake mouth apparatus that can turn anyone into a ventriloquist’s puppet. Similar to a joke used by Zerdin on judge Howie Mandel in the semifinals of “America’s Got Talent.”
Fortunately for those that are pulling for the act that captivated them during Season 10 of the reality competition, this may not be a major joke-theft scandal. For one thing, neither Lucas nor Strassman say they have plans to seek legal action against Zerdin, an act that a previous report from The Washington Post indicates wouldn’t have done them much good anyway.
In fact, it’s quite difficult to categorize this as theft at all given the huge amounts of reasonable doubt that Zerdin didn’t rip these jokes off intentionally. As CinemaBlend notes, both the animatronic puppet and the audience mask apparatus are commercial products available to the public. In fact, many other professionals still use them in their acts. Since Zerdin never claimed that he invented these bits, the entire debacle really devolves into an issue of creativity within the ventriloquist community. If only one person is stealing bits, that’s a problem - but if every ventriloquist is taking a little bit from each other, it’s hard to find fault with any one comic simply because he made $1 million from it.