What’s the Big Deal About @ProdigalSam?

If you’re one or more of the following:

– a Christian,

– on Twitter,

– a lover of comedy,

you’ve probably heard all about the recent @prodigalsam kerfuffle. If you haven’t, here’s the scoop:

A 30-something southern campus pastor named Sammy Rhodes started tweeting jokes a while back. He got pretty popular, and eventually had over 130,000 followers.

Recently, someone noticed that he’d taken a joke from a different Twitter comedian, slightly tweaked it, and then tweeted it without attributing it to the original poster, so this person started a Tumblr called Borrowing Sam to display his transgressions.

Then, as happens when the internet is involved, the whole thing blew up. Everyone from Patton Oswalt to bloggers like us have weighed in, and now it’s time for Cult of Clair to have a little conversation about this whole thing:

Lauren:  ok… thoughts on @prodigalsam…

Laura:  first of all, let me just say that it is SO WEIRD when a “christian celebrity” ends up in the “normal” news

or really any celebrity of a minor subculture that is familiar to me

and even weirder in this instance because it was two different subcultures butting up against each other

Lauren:  yes, agreed

because i follow many of the parties involved – sam, kelly oxford, patton oswalt

they rarely intersect

Laura:  exactly! and i follow aaron belz too

and they are all from totally different spheres

Lauren:  and yes, it’s weird, because i have an understanding of who these christian “celebs” are, but i’m guessing most non-christians don’t really

Laura:  plus, of course, CT was involved

Lauren:  yes! and i though aaron belz was just a totally random blogger… like us

Laura:  only marginally–they ran an interview with prodigalsam the day the whole thing exploded

i mean he’s not well-known or anything

but within christian literary circles he is

Lauren:  so the interesting thing to me is, sam has never attempted to be specially “christian” in his posts, which is actually very refreshing to me

i mean, i guess he would randomly tweet something about Jesus or something, but generally, he wasn’t trying to be a “christian comic” in the sense of, using christian content

Laura:  it actually took me a long time to realize he was a christian

back in the days before he took to posting personal defenses on his tumblr

Lauren:  agreed

so here’s a question for you

is there a difference between coming out and saying, i’m a comedian! and then doing comedy — and simply being a funny person who puts funny material out there?

in terms of understanding the “rules” of the comedy sphere

Laura:  that is an excellent question!

Lauren:  i ask because, it seems like a lot of the backlash has been about him not “getting it”

Laura:  and one that i certainly do not know

but that won’t stop me from having opinions!

Lauren:  right on. let’s hear it.

Laura:  i don’t think, in this case at least, it is different

his tweets were clearly meant to be funny

they were one-liners, puns, etc.

they were clearly jokes, not just observations some people happened to find funny

and to the best of my understanding (and moral conscience), stealing jokes = not okay

Lauren:  oh yeah, totally agreed

i think we’re entering this new world where a lot of people are specifically “twitter comedians”

so maybe these people don’t have the experience that traditional comics have – like improv groups, classes, stand-up, etc

of course, they should have an understanding of right and wrong

just an interesting observation

so let’s talk about this whole “riff” thing… i have another question for you.

so yet another person in one of the circles i engage with (twitter-wise) is derek webb – someone we both like

and he has been a vocal supporter of sam

i think (and i’m not him obviously, so i hope i’m not misrepresenting his opinions) that he’s a proponet of… what shall we call it… creative sharing

Laura:  i haven’t heard him discuss that topic specifically

that is interesting

Lauren:  like someone had tweeted at him saying, what if someone stole your song and just changed the words? and he basically said, he’s fine with “derivative work”

like he’d be fine with someone re-recording his music, or changing it to make it their own

so i thought that was an interesting perspective, from an artist

but that begs the question, doesn’t whether or not the “thief” attributes the original writer/artist make all the difference?

to me, it does

maybe to him it doesn’t

Laura:  yeah…what is someone remade his album, pretty much exactly, and released it under the same name and everything?

but without mentioning him?

but then also, what about cover bands

Lauren:  right. to me, that’s huge.

Laura:  essentially prodigalsam was a twitter cover band

with more originals than covers, probably

Lauren:  right. but then, his twitter handle should’ve been “theriffer” or something

Laura:  in those cases it’s pretty well known who they’re covering


it’s in how you market yourself

Lauren:  right! they’re famous BECAUSE of who they’re covering

well, not famous

but, that’s how they get attention

Laura:  basically, i think what he did in “covering” or “riffing” on other comedians’ tweets, he did a pretty uncool thing

but maybe the backlash from the twitter comedians/their fans was disproportionate to the crime

especially since he was not attempting to profit monetarily off it

Lauren:  i agree

i think that the act of consciously taking someone else’s material and making minor tweaks to it is clearly wrong

and here’s the thing – he seems like a legit funny and smart guy. if he were some unoriginal dummy, i could understand how he’d do that and maybe not realize he shouldn’t be

Laura:  here is the other issue i find so fascinating in all of this: it highlighted how different groups call an outlier to repentance

the comedians were pretty much, attack attack attack

sick the dogs on him kind of stuff, just ruthless and vulgar and cruel

the christians were like forgive forgive forgive

without really digging into the moral implications of what he did

i think aaron belz actually had a pretty good approach, as far as finding a middle ground

Lauren:  right

and, as a christian, if you genuinely don’t think he did anything wrong — IF others clearly say you did, don’t we have a responsibility to take that seriously?

Laura:  we do! we should be taking our moral decisions very seriously!

Lauren:  not to get too theological here, but i feel like, the proper response in cases like this is to repent and ask for forgiveness anyway

even if maybe YOU don’t feel like you should

Laura:  i mean, you could repent for having hurt people

even if you aren’t convinced you did wrong

Lauren:  yes

Laura:  but i think that hurt him

he didn’t do that

Lauren:  what hurt him?

Laura:  he didn’t seem repentant at all

for anything

Lauren:  oh! yes, agreed

he didn’t sound like he thought he did anything wrong

Laura:  the whole thing struck me as particularly funny because i haven’t found his feed all that entertaining for the past few months anyway

i considered unfollowing him so many times, because i didn’t think his tweets were very funny

and also he repeated himself so often

or told subtle variations on the same joke

THAT’S a crime against comedy!

Lauren:  it is!

and i feel the same – i think he’s entertaining, but he had gotten to the point of re-using jokes too often

i think there are really two layers to the whole “re-using comedy formats” thing…

the first is like, the very basic level – like, the concept of a knock-knock joke

yes, somebody came up with that specific format, but by using it, you’re not stealing – you’re using an accepted comedic vehicle

same thing as like, mockumentary-style shows like the office

you can have a show in that same format, but not be stealing

but once you get to the point where you’re taking that basic format AND the creative thinking that goes behind the execution, it’s a different story

at that point, there’s no creative thought on your end

which is, i think, what bugs me the most about him not understanding why “riffing” is bad

Laura:  right

you’re just filling in holes

or, in his case, slightly altering the sentence structure

Lauren:  right

Laura:  it’s so baffling, because twitter is a medium that makes it SO EASY to share the creativity of others with your audience

it’s called a retweet, dude

Lauren:  exactly!!! that’s what’s most confusing to me

and personally, i really enjoy when comedians retweet others, because if i like the tweet, it gives me a new person to follow

Laura:  yes! exactly

maybe this is the heart of the crime, here

he was depriving people of actually knowing these sources of creativity

they weren’t popular or famous enough on their own (the jokes, that is)

to make a “cover” an acceptable thing

Lauren:  yeah! and even if you’re stealing from people more famous than you (for instance, i saw he ripped off louis ck once…), you should still give them credit

so, i’ve come up with my conclusion about “covering” others

(at least, my conclusion for today)

Laura:  i want to add one more thing–while it’s pretty clear he blatantly and knowingly ripped off famous comedians with whom he was familiar

it also seems feasible that many of the similiarities can be chalked up to 2 people making similar jokes

people keep pointing out tweets from people he didn’t follow, who had barely any followers themselves, that they made 2 years before his, and trying to point to them as proof that he was ripping off others

and i DO think it’s possible — they were pretty easy jokes

Lauren:  oh, for sure

some of them were certainly simple enough that two people could’ve come up with them

Laura:  okay back to your conclusion though

i think it’s time for conclusions

Lauren:  it’s like how i just thought of this awesome invention for a women’s cocktail ring that has a button and it shoots out a mini knife, so she could easily stab an attacker

and i told dave, and he said that already exists

but i’d never heard of it beore


so, yes, it’s possible

ok, my conclusion!

Laura:  or like when i had an idea for a breakfast tapas restaurant!

Lauren:  so, in terms of covering someone, or riffing them, i think it’s OK as long as the person you’re covering is SO well-known, that your audience will know exactly who you’re covering, even if you don’t attribute it. a good example is when the civil wars covered “i want you back” at their concert – they never attributed the song to the jackson 5, but any 20+ american knows that song, and knows it’s by the jackson 5

however, when it’s not immediately clear that A. you’ve taken the joke from someone else, or B. who the original tweeter/artist/whatever was, it’s not ok

you must attribute!!

Laura:  i am going to go ahead and just sign off on that

because i 100% agree

and i also want to add that you should apologize when you have offended people

Lauren:  YES! i agree

i think it all goes back to empathy – if a big group of people strongly disagrees with you, you can’t simply brush them off

you have to try to see where they’re coming from

Laura:  yep

ding ding ding

Lauren:  one final question for you

when/if sam comes back to twitter, will you follow him?

or, continue following him

Laura:  probably, at first at least

out of curiousity


Lauren:  same

as you said, i follow many other comedians who i think are much funnier

but, i’m curious to see how it plays out

Laura:  as am i



to quote tracy jordan

i think we got it!

Lauren:  hawley out!


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