When we love a famous comedy series or comedian, it’s always tough to hear allegations of jokes and material being stolen. Of course, it’s easy to perform a bit and pretend that it’s your own, and we’ve seen people lose respect for plagiarizing comedy writing many times in the past. Comedians such as Dane Cook and Denis Leary, for example, have been accused of ripping off jokes and even full performances.
And beyond just comedians, even television shows and movies have been accused of stealing material. Case in point: The long-running NBC show Friends. Rowan Atkinson, most famous for his titular role in the Mr. Bean films and shows, is alleging that the comedy show starring Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, and other big stars actually took a bit from him. Do you think he’s telling the truth? Let’s break it down.
According to the site Typically British, Rowan Atkinson claims that he came up with the skit about getting a turkey stuck on your head first. In the 2020 ITV documentary honoring the actor’s career, he explained that he actually included the same joke during a 1992 episode of Mr. Bean.
The Friends episode in which Joey (Matt LeBlanc) and Monica (Courteney Cox) get a turkey stuck on their head, titled “The One With All The Thanksgivings,” premiered in 1996.
Then, according to Atkinson, when he made the 1997 movie Bean, he decided to reuse his joke. Since many people had seen the turkey bit in the 1996 Friends episode and then later saw it performed in the 1997 Mr. Bean movie, people assumed Rowan Atkinson was the one who stole the idea. However, the comedian maintains his innocence, saying he was the originator.
“When we made the Bean movie in 1996 we decided to plagiarise ourselves and use the turkey on the head joke again,” Rowan Atkinson explained. “Also shooting in the 1990s was Friends – and they stole the joke.”
Atkinson also added of the situation, “In the end, you can’t steal jokes. But jokes are there to be stolen, or to inspire. Inspire others.”
If you check out the scene in question from Mr. Bean, you can see that the comedian used the turkey bit in the 1992 episode “Merry Christmas, Mr. Bean.” Watch the clip below.
So did Friends indeed copy Rowan Atkinson, or is it all just a coincidence? That might be something we’ll never find the answer to.