Humor is one of those things that is totally subjective and completely open for debate. A lot of people think that in order for something to be truly funny, it has to be risky or offensive. And while I don’t agree with that, safe humor is never quite as good as the jokes that walk a much finer line.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld seems to really be straddling that line lately. Over the last year he and wife Jessica have been embroiled in a heated legal battle over a cookbook, Deceptively Delicious, that Jessica appears to have blatantly plagiarized from author Missy Chase Lapine’s The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favourite Meal. Lapine has sued the Seinfields – but not just for plagiarism.
Though at the time she hadn’t made a single comment about the whole debacle, Seinfeld thought it appropriate to mock her mercilessly on late night television and make Lapine out to be some sort of whackjob; making some stupid joke that, “If you read history, many of the three-name people do become assassins.” In addition to the ideas and the recipes, Celebitchy pointed out that Jessica also stole some of the “personal” stories from Chase Lapine’s book.
The Seinfelds are also being sued for slander, and are using just about the stupidest defense strategy I’ve ever heard of.
Jerry Seinfeld insisted yesterday he ought to be the master of his own comic domain. Seinfeld didn’t slander the woman who accused his wife of ripping off her cookbook, he said in legal papers filed yesterday in Manhattan federal court. He was just mining the legal system for laughs – and supporting the right of standup comedians to do the same, he said.
Seinfeld cited several episodes of the “show about nothing” where he mocked frivolous lawsuits – including an episode where Kramer wins free coffee for life in a court settlement because he got burned on gourmet roast. His lawyers, who are trying to get the defamation suit against him tossed, pointed out that his flick “Bee Movie” also has a plot that revolved around a silly suit.
In the movie, a bumblebee voiced by the comic sues honey manufacturers for exploiting bees. And rock star Sting is hauled in as a witness. Seinfeld was hit with the slander suit because he called author Missy Chase Lapine, who claims his wife, Jessica, copied her cookbook, a “wacko” and “mentally unhinged celebrity stalker” on David Letterman’s show. Lapine, author of “Sneaky Chef,” is suing Jessica, too. Lawyers for Seinfeld insisted his suit is no joke – because the First Amendment protects humor. And the attorneys said allowing Lapine’s suit to go forward would make it impossible for other comedians to get laughs out of lawsuits.
[From the New York Post]
First off, the utterly ridiculous ideas from your not-all-that-funny-after-all show don’t actually hold any ground in the court of law. And while free speech should be protected, there are also slander laws for a reason, and Ms. Lapine is in no way treading over Seinfeld’s free speech by insisting that he not needlessly attack her.
Missy Chase Lapine would look like the victim here no matter what. But it’s truly shocking to see the way the Seinfelds have come after her. Jessica stole the idea for her book. Then instead of apologizing or doing whatever version of “making it right” she could think of, her husband goes on national television to tell the world that Lapine is crazy. Again, keep in mind that although other people had made a lot of comments about the two books at this point, Missy Chase Lapine had acted with utter decorum and dignity and hadn’t said one single word.
That takes more restraint than most people could ever summon. So it’s not as though the Seinfelds were defending themselves or responding to anything Lapine had ever said. They were just using this poor woman – who they’d already taken advantage of in a terrible way – to try to get a few more seconds of publicity (and money) for themselves. Their behavior is utterly disgusting, and calling it a free speech issue degrades true free speech arguments. I hope they lose a ton of money.
Here’s a side-by-side book comparison that Celebitchy did. Header of Jerry and Jessica at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. Images thanks to PR Photos.