Did Conan O’Brien Plagiarize Jimmy Kimmel?

Conan O’Brien has to be happy. He has his writers back on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and he escaped the strike essentially unscathed, with Craig Ferguson still trailing behind him in the ratings (update!-Ferguson beat Conan last week… kind of, see here). Still, last night the show featured a funny, though short, comedy bit that left me scratching my head.

O’Brien (left) showed the clip of Jane Fonda on Today using “the C-word,” with the forbidden utterance bleeped out. He then went on to show other clips of Fonda, including one from her (in)famous workout video, with mundane words bleeped out to give the illusion of being what the FCC would call a “fleeting expletive.”

The bit itself was fleeting (I will link to the video when it is available), but more than that, it was essentially taken from the competition. Jimmy Kimmel, on his significantly less popular late night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live, has a regular bit called “this week in unnecessary censorship” where he takes ordinary clips from news and entertainment programs and adds bleeps to make them seem incredibly, ridiculously dirty. It is also very funny (see it here).

Now to be sure Kimmel (below) did not invent the unnecessary bleep, nor are other hosts forbidden from doing so, but it is hard to ignore the comparison. Kimmel has been doing it for a couple of years now and until last night I had never seen O’Brien do it at all.

O’Brien usually differentiates himself from his competition by taking classic bits and adding a twist. While Letterman and Leno both have cute, funny little newspaper gaffes on their shows, O’Brien would just make up fake ads and news stories for his version of the bit.

All of this makes the decision to run the Fonda/bleep bit all the more puzzling.

So, Conan, what gives? Was it all a misunderstanding? Coincidence? Did Matt Damon convince Conan to do it? Or is it inevitable?

Comedy hosts end up telling variations of the same joke all the time, is one little comedy bit that big of a deal? Probably not, unless you’re a big Kimmel fan. And I’m sure all three of them are pretty PO’d right now*.

* It’s actually closer to 2 million, but you know what I mean.