What’s the proper protocol in terms of writing a joke into your script? I frequently hear jokes in movies that I’ve heard from friends before the movie came out. Is it public domain and it needs no clearance or should it still be researched just in case it has roots from a standup comic’s copyrighted routine?
Stand-up comics write their material, and written material is subject to copyright. But at a certain point, some jokes circulate out in the popular culture enough that I would argue they’re essentially public domain. But then again, I’m not a jury, so don’t take my advice as gospel.
If you can’t find a source for a joke, and you’ve heard it enough times and enough different ways that you feel it’s graduated to cultural meme status, you can probably get away with putting it in your script. Then the only question becomes, if you’ve heard it so many times, is it still original enough to be worthy of your script? Nothing is less funny than a joke that’s been played out.