1979 Study of Black Humor from Stepin Fetchit to Richard Pryor
Comedians are always complaining about other comedians stealing their material:
The proof of the quality of the black comedy of this era, perhaps, is best reflected by its numerous imitators. "A lot of bootlegging was going on," wrote the late Godfrey Cambridge in a Tuesday Magazine article. "White performers took the rudiments of Bert Williams' act and stylized them into successful formulas. This was the case with another Negro act called Butterbeans and Susie. Butterbeans originated the routine about the guy with the dumb wife who is always being bugged by her, and this later got translated as George Burns and Gracie Allen." Many other black old timers contend that the list of comedy routines borrowed from performers on the TOBA circuit could be expanded indefinitely; the point is that during this time black entertainers were creating comedy routines that, usually in the hands of others, would become American comedy classics. As for adopting other performers' routines, since comedy bits are not easily copyrighted, it is not an unusual practice. Years later, for instance, at the Blue Angel in New York City, Nipsey Russell, Slappy White, and Timmie Rogers reportedly showed up at a Dick Gregory performance with a tape recorder openly displayed on their table. They watched the show with apparent contempt, then left. Later, Slappy White wrote Gregory, a letter saying, "We wanted to find which of our material not to use anymore."