“Saturday Night Live” 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. “The Pumpkin Patch” was lewd, funny, and seasonally appropriate. But according to Nick Ruggia and Ryan Hoffman, it was something else — 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, “Not Trying to F—k This Pumpkin” and “Pet Blinders,” were plagiarized by “Saturday Night Live.”
“Imagine, one day you come home and it looks like somebody’s robbed your house,” Hoffman told Variety. “What do you want from that situation? We feel like somebody took our stuff, and this isn’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 we’re just speaking out about it.”
An NBC spokesperson declined to comment. A “Saturday Night Live” source noted that “The Pumpkin Patch” and the other “SNL” sketch in question, “Pound Puppy,” 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 Hoffman’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 “Not Trying to F—k This Pumpkin” and “The Pumpkin Patch,” 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 — pointing out in each case that children are nearby. In each sketch, the offenders are ultimately barred from the pumpkin patch.
Ruggia and Hoffman’s sketch was first uploaded to YouTube in October 2014 — four years before “The Pumpkin Patch” aired on “SNL.”
In the Temple Horses’ “Pet Blinders” and the “Saturday Night Live” sketch “Pound Puppy,” 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 pets’ 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 pets’ field of vision. Each sketch, as the letter points out, uses “[three] separate settings for pet-interruption, introducing the pet owners’ dilemma.” Each sketch uses a dog’s-eye-view and reverse shot. In each, a labrador retriever, a mid-size dog, and a custom-breed dog is used.
“Pet Blinders” was uploaded to YouTube in Sept. 2011. “Pound Puppy” first aired last month.
According to Ruggio and Hoffman, an NBC attorney responded verbally to Neel’s letter roughly a week after it was submitted, saying that an internal investigation found that the writers of “The Pumpkin Patch” and “Pound Puppy” 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 “Saturday Night Live” source confirmed that account and said that NBC is in the process of drafting a formal response asserting those claims.
“This is not ‘parallel construction’: Two separate instances of wholesale lifting of concept, setting, characters, plot, and outcome in the same season do not happen by coincidence,” Neel wrote in the Feb. 27 letter, which continued, “Someone(s) at SNL is plagiarizing material.”
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 F—kJerry 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 #f—kf—kjerry.
When it comes to “SNL,” this is far from the first time that the longtime sketch comedy show has been suspected or accused of stealing other comedians’ work. As just one example, “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” enthusiasts called out “SNL” in 2010 on social media for similarities between two sketches involving tiny hats.
In 2017, fans of Tig Notaro noted similarities between her 2015 short film “Clown Service” and an “SNL” sketch featuring Louis C.K., in which the protagonists of both pieces are lonely, and hire a clown to cheer them up. Notaro said that one of the writer-directors who developed the “SNL” sketch had already been aware of “Clown Service,” and called the situation “extremely disappointing.”
Ruggia and Hoffman are less well known. Temple Horses’ “Pet Blinders” 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. “
In each case, Ruggia and Hoffman learned about the alleged plagiarism from friends the morning after the “SNL” sketch aired. When “The Pumpkin Patch” premiered in October, the two comics recognized it as strikingly similar to their work, but decided not to pursue any action in response.
“We 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,” Hoffman said. “So we decided to let it go.”
But their thinking shifted after “SNL” aired “Pound Puppy” last month. “It was twice in the same season, and we felt that at this point, that we didn’t really have a choice but to address it,” Hoffman said. “And we don’t really want to be involved in a mess like this, but there’s a certain point you have to stand up for yourself and your work.”
“Pumpkin Patch” and “Pound Puppy” now have more than 1.48 million and 700,000 views on YouTube, respectively.
“In an ideal world, we’d get what all artists want: attribution and compensation,” Ruggia said. “We 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.”
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