This past weekend, Saturday Night Live returned after a three-week hiatus with a strong, Louis C.K.-hosted outing, featuring a blistering monologue and a handful of standout sketches. One of those was “Birthday Clown,” featuring C.K. as a 53-year-old birthday boy who hires Bobby Moynihan‘s poor Dodo the Clown to perform his kid-friendly act for an older audience of one. It’s a hilarious bit of cringe comedy, anchored by C.K.’s signature exhausted deadpan and Moynihan’s creeping dread:
However, on the heels of the successful episode, some concern has been raised about the similarities between “Birthday Clown” and “Clown Service,” a recent short film starring Tig Notaro and Nathan Barnatt. “Clown Service” has a notably similar premise, with Notaro’s depressive requesting solitary clown service for her entertainment. While the Notaro version is certainly a more fully fleshed-out take on the same premise (13 minutes against the SNL sketch’s 3), the resemblance is definitely apparent before long:
The most immediately apparent difference is in the endings (SNL‘s is considerably darker), but the tones are also distinctly different, enough so that it’s possible (if suspect) that two disparate writers ended up landing on the same premise. Nobody concerned has commented publicly on the similarities as of this writing, although Notaro posted the following on her Facebook page on Sunday, along with a link to “Clown Service”:
“For all recent requests: Here is my short film CLOWN SERVICE (based on MY true story) that has been screened at Largo at the Coronet in Los Angeles for over a year AND it premiered at Vulture’s Comedy Festival in NYC as well as numerous film festivals around the country AND I am currently screening on my national tour. Please feel free watch and share.”
It could well just be happenstance, and as many have already noted, Notaro and C.K. have also worked together over the years, most famously when C.K. released Notaro’s famed special Live through his website. In any case, you can judge for yourselves whether the similarities are worth the minor outcry, and tune in next weekend when SNL four different timezones attempts to broadcast live in , which seems like a totally great idea that can’t go wrong at all.
Update: Notaro has issued a statement to EW.com. She says she “recently learned that a writer/director who was fully aware of Clown Service when I was making it, actually worked on Louis C.K.’s clown sketch that is in question.” Additionally, “Louis C.K. and I have not communicated in any way for nearly a year and a half.”
“It has been impossible for me to ignore the cacophony of voices reaching out personally and publicly about the potential plagiarizing of my film Clown Service (a film that I screened at Largo in Los Angeles for over a year and it premiered at Vulture’s Comedy Festival in NYC as well as numerous film festivals around the country and I am currently screening on my national tour).
While I don’t know how all this actually happened, I did find it extremely disappointing.
Here is what I can tell you:
First off, I have recently learned that a writer/director who was fully aware of Clown Service when I was making it, actually worked on Louis C.K.’s clown sketch that is in question.
Secondly, Louis C.K. and I have not communicated in any way for nearly a year and a half.
And finally, I never gave anyone permission to use anything from my film.
I hesitated to even address any of this, but I think it is only right to defend my work and ideas and moving forward, I plan to continue screening Clown Service with the joy and pride I always have.“