Nfld. & Labrador

SNL alleged ripoff of 22 Minutes sketch has 'lawyers talking,' Mark Critch believes

A recent Saturday Night Live sketch bearing a striking resemblance to a segment on CBC's 22 Minutes that aired in January could lead to legal action, according to comedian Mark Critch.

'You can't do that,' Critch, who writes and performs for 22 Minutes, tells CBC

Watch SNL's controversial and possibly stolen Prophet Mohammed sketch

8 years ago
Duration 3:46
SNL is taking heat for a controversial sketch from Saturday's broadcast that plays on the danger of drawing the Prophet Muhammad, but it's remarkably similar to an earlier punchline from CBC's 22 Minutes.

A recent Saturday Night Live sketch bearing a striking resemblance to a segment on CBC's 22 Minutes that aired in January could lead to legal action, according to comedian Mark Critch.

"I think lawyers are talking right now," Critch told CBC's St. John's Morning Show on Wednesday.

"You can't do that. I mean people have ripped people off before, millions of times, but this is word for word and DHX Media — which owns own 22 Minutes — said they want to protect their intellectual property."

The sketch in question involved a Win, Lose or Draw-style show where contestants were asked to draw the Muslim Prophet Muhammad — a blasphemous act according to mainstream Islamic tradition.

Critch, who writes and performs on 22 Minutes and who appeared in January's sketch, said that while the different comedy groups will often cover similar ideas, this case is different. 

"They did pretty much the exact same sketch," he said.

"Never ever, in all my years of of making fun of people, have I seen anything that's pretty much word for word," he said. 

"It's kind of like if two different high schools are doing the same production of a high school play, different actors but the same thing."

Possibly a writer looking to get noticed

Critch, who has first-hand experience on how the process of a comedy show works, thinks he may have an idea of how SNL came to do the same sketch.

Comedian Mark Critch said it's possible a writer at SNL saw the 22 Minutes sketch and pitched it in hopes of getting an idea tabled by the show. (CBC)

He said shows like SNL and 22 Minutes will have often have "pitch meetings" where writers submit ideas for the show, and that someone may have been desperate to get their idea considered.

"Sometimes it can be a lot of pressure, especially in something like Saturday Night Live," he said. "Maybe someone hasn't had something on for a couple of weeks, so they start to panic a little bit."

He speculated that someone may have gone looking online for ideas to pitch to the producers.

"Just to get something read at the table read is enough to keep you on for a few weeks sometimes," he said. "Maybe somebody had a look, found this, and thought 'OK, I'll pitch that.'"

'Watching the storm'

Comedy writer Jeremy Woodcock, who wrote the 22 Minutes sketch, said he first learned about the similar bits when a friend tagged him on Twitter after SNL aired.

Woodcock said it's not uncommon for writers to come up with similar ideas, but the shared specifics of the two sketches were striking.

"[SNL] have amazing actors and stuff so they had a lot more business going on, their show is three times longer [than 22 Minutes], but just when it would get to the situation, it was always the same situation of panicking and then the answer was the same," Woodcock told CBC's Q on Wednesday.

I get to let 22 Minutes or CBC and SNL sort of duke it out while I just sort of play in the sandbox and keep writing.- Jeremy Woodcock, writer

"I'm just watching the storm going around me and it's like … I just got this, what can make someone really uncomfortable, what's a thing that will make everyone think a little bit."

However, Woodcock said the positive feedback initially seen on social media to the SNL sketch bodes well for how he feels about his own writing, regardless of the circumstances.

While he said there are strong similarities between the two sketches, he'll let the battle play out between the respective networks.

"I'm in the enviable position of not having to think about that," Woodcock said.

"It was on a TV show, so I get to let 22 Minutes or CBC and SNL sort of duke it out while I just sort of play in the sandbox and keep writing because, it's theirs at this point."

2nd recent accusation of plagiarism against SNL

This isn't the first time this season that SNL has been accused of using someone else's intellectual property. In October, Los Angeles-based group The Groundlings publicly spoke out after a skit was aired on SNL that bore an uncanny resemblance to one of their own.

The sketch, which involved three backup dancers dressed up as Tina Turner singing Proud Mary. In both instances, the performers were wearing similar dresses, wigs and were even singing the same song. SNL later removed their version of the skit from syndication and the NBC website.

Critch said that example, like the 22 Minutes sketch, shows a troubling pattern with the writing at SNL.

"I think something's on the go over there," he said.

"Somebody's a bit desperate."