On Sunday, before enjoying the advertising pageantry of the Super Bowl, standup comedian Ted Alexandro woke up to messages asking if he’d seen a sketch on Saturday Night Live. “All the messages had varying ways of phrasing ‘they stole your joke’ or they took your joke’ or ‘they did the same joke,’” Alexandro told VICE.
The SNL sketch in question is a produced digital short, featuring the week’s special guest, Dan Levy, as well as several cast members. It’s a sultry advertisement for Zillow, where couples become sexually aroused by viewing lavish real estate listings. Alexandro has a 2019 bit with the same premise, which also name-drops Zillow.
The SNL sketch sounded familiar enough to several people that they flagged the sketch to Alexandro. Upon review, Alexandro also saw the similarities, so he cut together a side-by-side clip, and asked NBC to Venmo him a million dollars.
Alexandro’s full special, CUT/UP—where the Zillow joke appears—was released in September 2020. It's approaching 100,000 views on YouTube, while SNL’s days-old Zillow sketch has almost 3 million views. Much of Alexandro’s comedy would be difficult to adapt for an SNL sketch, so he’s happy for the publicity, though he does not expect to receive $1 million from the National Broadcasting Company. NBC did not respond to a request for comment from VICE.
“As ridiculous as it has all been, it almost works in the artist’s favor,” Alexandro said. “You almost have to hope that SNL steals your stuff, because that's the only way people are gonna find your special.”
It's not the first time a comedian has questioned SNL’s source of inspiration. In 2017, Tig Notaro heard from a “cacophony of voices reaching out personally and publicly about the potential plagiarizing” of her short film in an SNL sketch featuring Louis C.K. Other times, the coincidence is chalked up to “parallel thinking,” as comics riff on a common pop culture prompt. A Washington, D.C., comedian, T.J. Ferguson, also tweeted his own Zillow joke from 2019, though the details from Alexandro’s seem closer to the televised sketch.
VICE spoke to the comedian about his sketch, the status of his million-dollar request, and why he decided to post about it.
VICE: If I remember correctly, you're not a huge SNL viewer. So I wanted to know how you found out about this sketch originally.
Ted Alexandro: I don't set my alarm to watch SNL. And secondly, I have a one-year-old. I don't pay attention. If something comes across my timeline, maybe I see [it.] But this was just a bunch of messages from people telling me that SNL had done a sketch with the joke that I had done on my special.
Do you remember when you first performed that bit?
The set that appeared on my special was from November 2019. My special, CUT/UP was a mashup of a bunch of different sets. I looked up the date, and that was from November of 2019. That was the finished polished bit, so I'm sure I was performing it for months prior.
Like you said on Twitter, there are a lot of SNL writers who work out of the Comedy Cellar as well. Is that something that's come up with your colleagues, something like this happening to them?
That's been the worst kept secret in comedy for a while; that they have a history of their writers stealing bits or ideas that other comedians have done. Things that people have submitted in their packets to SNL. I've heard all sorts of things, and people have even messaged me since I tweeted yesterday. I've probably gotten close to a dozen messages from comedians saying, “I had the same thing happen to me.”
That's something I've heard as well, but it seems like one of those things where people are willing to eat it, because they don't want to be seen cursing out NBC.
Yeah. It puts you in a precarious position. But I think it's also indicative of times we live in. When you're a freelancer, so many people have to just swallow some form of being taken advantage of, or some form of their work being just appropriated or used in some way without their consent. But yeah, that's the kind of the nature of a life in the arts, but a life in capitalism in general, where you're expected to not rock the boat, and there's a good chance you'll be taken advantage of in some capacity.
Has NBC gotten back to you regarding your request for a million dollars
[laughs] No. No they have not. I wasn't expecting them to, that's why I made it a joke and requested a million dollars. Because they're a corporate behemoth. We were saying they've been accused of things in the past. So this is probably just business as usual. But for me, it was more important to for the record, to put it out there. This sketch garnered a lot of attention and people were saying it's the funniest sketch of the night or even of the season and, the best commercial parody they've seen in a while, all this stuff. That further gave me the motivation to put together that little video, juxtaposing my bit with their sketch to show people that I had done it prior. And, some people even said, I did it better, that was flattering. I just wanted to make sure people knew that I had done the bit in 2019. And the special came out in 2020.
And part of the backdrop, too, quite honestly, is because of the landscape of comedy, and entertainment; my specials are not bought by Netflix and I think that's in no small part because of my involvement in activism and social justice movements like Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street. Because my specials are not on Netflix, and they're released for free on YouTube, there's a greater likelihood that if they do steal, it's not identified as my bit. If it was on Netflix, and millions of people had seen it, maybe they'd be less likely [to take it.]
Like you were saying the request for a million dollars being a joke, defangs whatever they come back with as a response, because you already have an audience. This is clearly done in good faith.
I'm a comedian. And while I do want to call them out and make clear that I had done a bit on my special a year prior, I wanted that to be clear but I also wanted to make it funny. It's a nod to Mike Myers's Dr. Evil character, who is based on Lorne Michaels. That's why I said one million dollars, I thought it would all tie together as a bit of a wink to that.