Posted on Sunday, October 24th, 2010 by Adam Quigley
Last week, South Park aired their Inception parody episode, entitled “Insheeption”. You can watch the full episode for free, in HD, at South Park Studios. If you were planning to check it out but haven’t yet, I’d recommend doing so now, as waiting until after the article could seriously diminish your chances of enjoying it.
Although, you may not even need this article to recognize the resemblance between a scene in the recent South Park episode and a comedy sketch from College Humor called “Inception Characters Don’t Understand Inception”, which has garnered over half a million views and was even posted on this very site. The writers at College Humor certainly noticed the resemblance, and were quick to assert that South Park ripped them off.
Read their accusation, as well as Matt Stone‘s response, after the break.
Dan Gurewitch, who co-wrote the sketch, noted the similarities of the scene on his personal blog. (The lines before the slashes are from College Humor’s video, while the lines after are from the South Park episode.)
We need to move to the next dream level before these projections kill us. / We need to move them to the next dream level before the projections kill them.
If we die, we go to limbo / …we can protect them from getting to limbo.
What’s that? / What’s that?
Shared unconstructed dream space. / Empty scary dream space.
So it’s a nightmare. / So like a nightmare.
That doesn’t sound so hard. / That doesn’t sound very difficult.
It is. / It is.
Why? / Why?
Aaarrgh! / Aaarrgh!
We don’t have time for this! / We don’t have time for this!
Okay, fine, so next we’re going into Arthur’s dream, and then what? / Okay, fine. So you’re gonna take my son to a dream within the dream, then what?
Then we go into Fisher’s dream. / Then we go into your husband’s dream.
Okay got it / Okay…
But Fisher will think we’re in Browning’s dream / But your husband will think you’re in Hasselback’s dream.
Okay. Wait, who’s Browning? / Okay wait, who’s Hasselback?
Gurewitch lets South Park off easy in his post. There are other interactions mimicked in the scene as well, such as the line: “Sometimes my thoughts of my dead wife manifest themselves as trains”. Also similar is the beat below:
CollegeHumor: “The complexity is what makes it all so brilliant.”
“Does it though?”
South Park: “It’s so complex and cool.”
“Just because an idea is overly convoluted and complex doesn’t make it cool.”
Taken as a whole, there’s no denying that South Park‘s replication of a specific sequence from Inception is nearly identical to the one featured on College Humor. And try as he might, Gurewitch was unable to rationalize the similarities.
I’m conflicted, because I absolutely adore South Park. I admire Trey Parker and Matt Stone more than almost anyone currently working in comedy. To give them the benefit of the doubt, I’d say maybe it’s an homage – I’d be honored – but while our sketch was popular, it wasn’t nearly the national phenomenon it’d have to be for them to parody it. Maybe it was some staff writer, and Matt and Trey aren’t aware of the source material? Or something?
In response to these accusations of plagiarism, co-creator Matt Stone admitted to The New York Times that he and Trey Parker used the video as a frame of reference, but didn’t realize the lines weren’t from the actual movie.
It’s just because we do the show in six days, and we’re stupid and we just threw it together. But in the end, there are some lines that we had to call and apologize for. It was like, ‘Let’s parody the gobbledygook – because honestly, that movie – all those explanations, and explanations of explanations. We thought their joke was that a lot of those lines were actually in the movie, and they were banging them against each other, and showing that the ‘Inception’ characters didn’t even know ‘Inception.’ That was a mistake, and it was an honest mistake.
So was it an honest mistake?
As far as the writers at College Humor are concerned, it was, and the issue has been resolved. “All is well,” says Gurewitch, having just gotten off the phone with Matt Stone.
He was extremely nice and apologetic. He explained that when they couldn’t get a copy of an Inception screener, they used our sketch as source material. They thought that the lines in our sketch were taken directly from Inception (and the joke was that they were arranged in rapid succession), rather than original lines written by us.
Look, I love Trey Parker and Matt Stone. I even singled them out last month for being pioneers of a budding subgenre. But even taking Matt Stone at his word here, his argument is flimsy. He claims that they were under the impression that the lines they lifted from the video were themselves directly lifted from the movie, which doesn’t work as a defense because (a.) the dialogue in College Humor’s video was blatantly refitted to form a coherent conversation that in no way reflected dialogue from Inception (which was then used nearly line for line in South Park), and (b.) the gag itself is exactly the same. Stone acknowledges that CH’s gag was built around having those exposition-based exchanges from Inception being slapped together in rapid succession. So, how exactly is that different from what he and Parker did with South Park? Aside of course from adding a joke about Matt Hasselbeck?
Regardless of what your stance is on the matter, nothing changes the fact that the South Park creators watched an internet comedy sketch that already made the same joke they were planning to, had no reservations about continuing forth with the joke anyway, and then worst of all, copied lines from said video without a second thought. Simple error in judgment or not, this is clear evidence of the show’s fading creative energy and inspiration.
Make up your own mind by comparing and contrasting the two clips below.
Before finding out about this incident, I would’ve chalked up any overly familiar gags on South Park to nothing more than comedic minds thinking alike. Now, part of me fears they copied the below video, too.