â€œSaturday Night Liveâ€ aired last October a sketch about a pumpkin patch where the employees, much to the consternation of the proprietor, engage in sexual intercourse with the product. â€œThe Pumpkin Patchâ€ was lewd, funny, and seasonally appropriate. But according to Nick Ruggia and Ryan Hoffman, it was something else â€” theft.
Ruggia and Hoffman are the founders of the sketch troupe Temple Horses. Since their first collaboration in 2011, the two New York comedy scene veterans have filmed more than 60 sketches together, many of which are available on their YouTube channel, which boasts more than 3,000 subscribers. Ruggia and Hoffman claim that two of those sketches, â€œNot Trying to Fuck This Pumpkinâ€ and â€œPet Blinders,â€ were plagiarized by â€œSaturday Night Live.â€
â€œImagine, one day you come home and it looks like somebodyâ€™s robbed your house,â€ Hoffman told Variety. â€œWhat do you want from that situation? We feel like somebody took our stuff, and this isnâ€™t the kind of thing where you can just get it back or call your insurance company to have it replaced, so at this point weâ€™re just speaking out about it.â€
An NBC spokesperson declined to comment. A â€œSaturday Night Liveâ€ source noted that â€œThe Pumpkin Patchâ€ and the other â€œSNLâ€ sketch in question, â€œPound Puppy,â€ were penned by different writers, but did not identify who wrote either sketch.
In a letter sent to NBC last month and obtained by Variety, Ruggia and Hoffmanâ€™s attorney Wallace Neel laid out in detail the alleged similarities between the Temple Horses sketches and those that followed them. In the case of â€œNot Trying to Fuck This Pumpkinâ€ and â€œThe Pumpkin Patch,â€ each opens with the protagonist owner of a pumpkin patch doing business. In each, said owner then confronts a group of multiple men and one woman, accusing them of performing indecent acts with his pumpkins. The behavior is denied, and the owner scolds the accused â€” pointing out in each case that children are nearby. In each sketch, the offenders are ultimately barred from the pumpkin patch.
Ruggia and Hoffmanâ€™s sketch was first uploaded to YouTube in October 2014 â€” four years before â€œThe Pumpkin Patchâ€ aired on â€œSNL.â€
In the Temple Horsesâ€™ â€œPet Blindersâ€ and the â€œSaturday Night Liveâ€ sketch â€œPound Puppy,â€ a fictional product is being sold that prevents pets from watching their owners perform sex acts. In the former, the product is a blind that goes over the petsâ€™ eyes. In the latter it is a large, dog-shaped blinder that the owners climb inside in order to have sex while obscured from their petsâ€™ field of vision. Each sketch, as the letter points out, uses â€œ[three] separate settings for pet-interruption, introducing the pet ownersâ€™ dilemma.â€ Each sketch uses a dogâ€™s-eye-view and reverse shot. In each, a labrador retriever, a mid-size dog, and a custom-breed dog is used.
â€œPet Blindersâ€ was uploaded to YouTube in Sept. 2011. â€œPound Puppyâ€ first aired last month.
According to the Ruggio and Hoffman, an NBC attorney responded verbally to Neelâ€™s letter roughly a week after it was submitted, saying that an internal investigation found that the writers of â€œThe Pumpkin Patchâ€ and â€œPound Puppyâ€ had independently developed the ideas for those sketches and found no similarities to the Temple Horses sketches that would be protected by copyright law. The â€œSaturday Night Liveâ€ source said that NBC is in the process of drafting a formal response asserting those claims.
â€œThis is not â€˜parallel constructionâ€™: Two separate instances of wholesale lifting of concept, setting, characters, plot, and outcome in the same season do not happen by coincidence,â€ Neel wrote in the Feb. 27 letter, which continued, â€œSomeone(s) at SNL is plagiarizing material.â€
Allegations of joke theft is a recurring issue in the comedy world, across various mediums. The most recent instance involves claims of plagiarism against the FuckJerry Instagram account, with comedy editor Megh Wright spurring a movement to unfollow the popular Instagrammer. A number of high-profile comedians and celebs are in support of the effort, encouraging their followers to #fuckfuckjerry.
When it comes to â€œSNL,â€ this is far from the first time that the longtime sketch comedy show has been suspected or accused of stealing other comediansâ€™ work. As just one example, â€œTim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!â€ enthusiasts called out â€œSNLâ€ in 2010 on social media for similarities between two sketches involving tiny hats.
In 2017,Â fans of Tig Notaro noted similaritiesÂ between her 2015 short film â€œClown Serviceâ€ and an â€œSNLâ€ sketch featuring Louis C.K., in which the protagonists of both pieces areÂ lonely, and hire a clown to cheer them up. Notaro said that one of the writer-directors who developed the â€œSNLâ€ sketch had already been aware of â€œClown Service,â€ and called the situation â€œextremely disappointing.â€
Ruggia and Hoffman are less well known. Temple Horsesâ€™ â€œPet Blindersâ€ sketch has amassed a little more than 4,800 views on YouTube since its 2011 debut. The pumpkin sketch has nearly 29,000 YouTube views since being uploaded four and a half years ago. â€
In each case, Ruggia and Hoffman learned about the alleged plagiarism from friends the morning after the â€œSNLâ€ sketch aired. When â€œThe Pumpkin Patchâ€ premiered in October, the two comics recognized it as strikingly similar to their work, but decided not to pursue any action in response.
â€œWe felt like nothing good would come from addressing it, and also we were afraid of potential repercussions, and we were kind of afraid of being dismissed by our peers, even though everyone we showed it to said it was blatant,â€ Hoffman said. â€œSo we decided to let it go.â€
But their thinking shifted after â€œSNLâ€ aired â€œPound Puppyâ€ last month. â€œIt was twice in the same season, and we felt that at this point, that we didnâ€™t really have a choice but to address it,â€ Hoffman said. â€œAnd we donâ€™t really want to be involved in a mess like this, but thereâ€™s a certain point you have to stand up for yourself and your work.â€
â€œPumpkin Patchâ€ and â€œPound Puppyâ€ now have more than 1.48 million and 700,000 views on YouTube, respectively.
â€œIn an ideal world, weâ€™d get what all artists want: attribution and compensation,â€ Ruggia said. â€œWe tried to settle this amicably and quietly, but we feel like the mechanisms for dealing with this in comedy really need to change. These situations arise way too frequently.â€