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Is there any wrongs or rights to copy cat?

February 25 2012 at 7:08 PM
from IP address

Is there any legel rules of thumb to follow when venting?
I have seen some routines that are really fantastic on the you tube, but I am sure there is a line one must not cross. I am thinking the ones Ax shows on ideas is probably okay to borrow.!
There is only so much a person can and can't do with a dummy. So I was just wandering if there are any guide lines out there to follow. I do a lot of my own story board, and have borrowed ideas from Ax's ideas, but I am concerned about doing something, you know, that you aren't suppose to do. Being new at this, I really want to try and be on the up and up.

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Copy cat limits

February 25 2012, 8:07 PM 

Everyone borrows from the idea of others -- but it is the extent of the borrowing that matters.

Use your own ideas as much as possible. I often see gems in other routines I will take and modify to my style and my audiences... but I don't do another performer's material outright. Every idea out there started from one of 54 premises (learned that in my creative lit class in college) nothing is truly original anymore.

It all depends on the spin you put on the concept you use. I'm not Jeff Dunham, I'm not Ronn Lucas, Paul Zerdin Steve Petra (my hero)or Steve Axtell... but each of them has added nuance to my performances. I have used lines, but not entire routines...the end product is mine. I've never had anyone come up and say "Dunham or Lucas did it better," because the end result is not recognizable as theirs. I have put my own stamp on it.

Tony Borders


February 25 2012, 10:10 PM 

It is a little like recipes. If you hear that someone added oregano to their chicken you might tweak your recipe with oregano. But if you use their recipe it is still THEIR recipe.

Chances are usually high that if they put it in a book they sell, then they put it their knowing that others will use it. An instructional video, such as Steve Petra's new one, is also intended to spark ideas by giving some of his own as catalysts. But if a person purchased something like Terry Fator's DVD and started doing his routines from it, that's poor showmanship.

Look for the oregano and spice up your original things.


Wrongs and Rights

February 26 2012, 3:29 AM 

Thanks guys. I kind of thought it was like that. And that is how it very well should be.

crazy chris

Re: Is there any wrongs or rights to copy cat?

February 26 2012, 4:04 AM 

its a cucumber.... ON A STICK


Chris Wintter

Copy cat

February 26 2012, 8:20 AM 

I have no problem with anyone copying anything I do. The way I look at it, is why in the world should I care if someone is copying what I do and they live hundreds or thousands of miles away from me.

Chris Wintter

Performances on youtube

February 26 2012, 9:32 AM 

As far as I know I have not copied anything I have seen on youtube or anywhere else as far as I know.

But, the way I look at it is if someone does not want someone to copy something they do, then they should not post a video of it on youtube.


Steve Axtell

Borrow from OTHER sources

February 26 2012, 10:06 AM 

Since we are such a small group of performers, consider looking for ideas for gags and routines from other sources rather than from other ventriloquists. When you borrow ideas from another ventriloquist, it's hard to change it because it works so well. it's hard not to copy it line by line. Avoid it.

Many great old ideas have been recycled and updated. Consider borrowing from old comedy TV shows like sit coms... The Lucy Show, Green Acres, Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, etc. Also look at shorter routines on variety shows like the old Carol Burnett show, Early Tonight Show, Steve Allen, George Burns, Vaudeville, etc.

Bring those into your act and update them, and give it a spin that feels like it's original. Add something to it that's unique.


Mike C

wrongs or rights to copy cat?

February 26 2012, 12:12 PM 

I grew up with this discussion in the Magic Community

It is true we emulate our Heros, especially when "young" in a craft. It is sadly true it often gets you praise and support from laypeople, Wholesale copying though, never makes you popular with your peers, and there will come a time you want that.

For example, when Lance Burton caught the attention of the magic world with his elegant dove act, it was said by some "he wasn't doing much new", that a lot of it was "magic from catalogs". Well the vanishing candle was certainly a catalog piece and producing doves had been done, but Burton used these bits in ways no one else had, and more importantly, created a magnetic persona.

What was the reaction in Magic? With access to videos to copy, many magicians became "Burton Clones", "Xeroxing" the act right down to his dress, gestures and music. They impressed the lay public, and were even lauded by peers for their "technical achievement" (reverse-engineering an existing act I guess) but were openly scorned behind their backs for being unoriginal and piggybacking on Burtons years of development work.

Bookers might use them for engagements, Weddings, "fill" in variety shows, but they would NEVER be featured on "WORLDS' GREATEST MAGIC" specials, or major entertainment TV. The act was too recognizable, the performer thus too unoriginal, and worse, a thief.

Eventually, (and it took several years), their "respect" and support disintegrated, and nearly all "Burton Clones" disappeared. Some learned from it and found other niches in magic, doing acts that were completely different. Some packed the act away, referring to it with a note of shame as "my Burton act years". Several left magic entirely for reasons unknown. Magic Conventions wouldn't feature them. TV couldn't use them. Perhaps after copying the "Top", they had nowhere else to go.


From the pros view; there is actually a reason for posting trademark material on YouTube. To advertise product and build their Social networks of course. For feedback (good and bad) from fans, yes. But also TO STAMP THEIR NAME on that material.

You might copy a Zerdin or Dunham routine, but anyone finding your grainy off-angle footage might also find their original act on crisp, professional film, along with a date & year stamp noting it was done, (ahem) long before you. Perform a cloned act these days, and a phone videocam you have no control over could easily post it on YouTube to your eternal embarassment in the profession. Good luck getting it pulled. Perhaps Uncle Harry thought he was doing you a favor putting it up there as a "surprise". (Surprise!)


Ax is right suggesting you look outside the Vent community to other entertainment forms and even real life for inspiration. Many Magic lectures and articles about originality promote this idea too. I'm lucky to have friends who crack me up and allow me to bounce ideas off them. I think you do too.

I remember a Film from a Major company being panned by critics as being too "cliche'" and worse "derivative" of it's own past work! (That HAD to hurt!) To really suceed, you can't be "Mr. Derivative".

If you want real respect in the industry, become known as "the guy who does things nobody's done", or "The guy who tries crazy stuff and fails, but occassionally nails it better than anyone!" (I like people like this, life around them is exciting. Bob Rumba lives on the edge!).

Anyway, sorry for the long-winded post. A bit here, an idea there, that's to be expected. But a whole routine? A character design? No. Don't do it to yourself.

Tony Borders

more on Search

February 26 2012, 1:02 PM 

Nice posts! Very helpful and non-condemning. For more on this subject do a search in the forum for words that might interest you.


Steve Axtell

or use available helpful resources

February 26 2012, 2:18 PM 

I should also add that anything I do on my demo videos is yours and free to use... The Axtell website is full of ideas. Other vents like the late great Bill Boley, Tom Ladshaw and others who have written material for Vents, are selling you the right to use it. We have many How-to resources here:

AxTrax routines - the funny scripts are a free download here



DVDs -


John D Magician

find words here...

February 26 2012, 2:19 PM 

Tony, can we find words like %4#@%^ and *&^%!! somewhere in the topics here? GASP!!!!!

Tony Borders


February 26 2012, 2:34 PM 

An example of kinder words, John, would be routine, or the type of puppet you have (e.g. Kangaroo), or Christmas or Easter or ideas, etc. Many people have shared willingly on this forum, which is the reason it is still here after so many years! And the archives are still part of the search! Cool! Sometimes I put skits on here so I won't lose them. I know to come back here and find them. Always appreciate your humor, John.


Wrongs or rights

February 26 2012, 5:53 PM all you fellas. I am so grateful for all the information.
Ax, I have borrowed some of your free stuff to get me a little boost.
Most of my stuff I write on my own from my own mixed up world. I just need a little hand up once in awhile. I love the pros I see on you tube, well....some of them. But there is no way I would try copying their stuff. Little simple stuff, like Tony said to add some spice here and there. But, man a person would be nuts to try and copy a whole routine from one of the guys on you tube.
When I am looking at some of the you tube stuff. I am watching hand placement. Body language. Some stuff like that primarily to see how they walk and bend and give the puppet life. Not that I feel that is coying so much. It is more like learning to walk.
Like with the seal on Axell. I watched how Ax walked and worked the lower flippers, stuff like that. Those simple little movements like that bring life without words.

Mike C

Re: Is there any wrongs or rights to copy cat?

February 27 2012, 11:25 AM 

(Hey JohnD, are you a Montana Mystic? Got the notification this morning. Andrew N was in my McBride Class. Checked out your FB page and I gotta say you are a great looking Santa! Very pro looking show. I do Santa work also) -MC

John D Magician

No longer Santa

February 27 2012, 7:38 PM 

Gave up Santa back in 2010. Medical reasons. Having more fun and less pressure as Montana's Premiere Comedy Magician-Ventriloquist (says so on my card). Yes, I'm one of Norstrum's nutjobs. Had hoped to tour with him this summer but Doctor says otherwise.


We have a Santa

February 28 2012, 1:54 AM 

We have a Santa that goes to our church. He works out of Holdiay World in Santa Claus Indiana, sometimes. He also travels some during the Holiday season to act as Santa. He is such a nice man. He moved to our area a few years ago to be closer to his little Grand daughter. He had to always hide when getting ready for something local, so that his Grand daughter would not see him in costume at the house.

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