Wagatha Christie™? My pun was recorded, but the joke is on me

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Three years, six months and 13 days ago, I tweeted the words “Coleen Rooney: Agatha Christie.” Well, that’s not quite what I tweeted. I placed a “W” before Agatha, creating a throwaway her pun that somehow went viral. To my amazement, the joke has been emblazoned on countless headlines around the world. You may be wondering why I presented my famous pun in such a tortured way. Well, I’m trying to avoid getting sued.

The world found out this week that Rebekah Vardy has trademarked the phrase-who-must-not-be-named, meaning she can make money using W****** C******* as a trademark or unleash money-hungry lawyers on anyone who dares to use it.

When I found out I was initially amazed. I didn’t even know it was possible to flag a joke. If jokes start to be accepted, British humor has a bleak future. Why did the chicken cross the road? I can’t tell you or I will lose my home.

But my astonishment was mixed with an unexpected admiration for Mrs. Vardy’s sheer chutzpah: not only had she lost the case, but the joke wasn’t even about her! It was Coleen who was called Stagatha Crispy. (Sorry. I’ll have to get creative if I write about a sentence I can’t legally commit to print.)

I’ve read the list of trademarked products and she’s not kidding. You lucky ones can expect Wagatha-branded doll clothes, scented stationery (?), drinking horns (!?), meat tenderizers, and Shinto shrines.

Given how comprehensive the brand is, I’m already bracing myself for the emotional torture of watching my disposable gag morph into a merchandising empire: at breakfast choosing between Wagaflakes and Rice Christies; picking up dog pies with my Poo Bagatha; reading the latest gossip on my glossy Wagazine… pure hell. Driven by fever dreams of this potential nightmare, I began to wonder if it was legal. Surely I, who first wrote the joke (and can prove it), have any ownership rights?

Here’s the legal part: you can record anything that isn’t copyrighted. There’s a possibility that I own the copyright to the phrase “Flabatha Wristie” (this is starting to bug me too now), but it’s also possible that you can’t protect a short phrase; in which case Mrs. Vardy is free to sell as many branded meat tenderizers as God sends.

It’s a legal gray area. And legal gray areas turn lawyers into panting cartoon dogs with hash marks in their eyes, drooling over potentially years of incredibly expensive arguing about whether or not a pun is copyrighted. You know how explaining a joke makes it unfunny? Try to have it taken apart for several years by lawyers. I know that’s why I got into comedy!

Part of me is tempted to act. If he continues to appeal, there’s a slim chance Rebekah Vardy could return to the high court. Just imagine! Back to where it all began. I have an agreement in principle that if it ever comes to that, I will dress like Coleen and my wife will sit in the gallery dressed as Wayne.

Many people have urged me to become a lawyer and I understand why; they find it unfair that if you’re rich enough, you can buy whatever you want, whether it’s for sale or not. Frustratingly, our legal system makes it difficult for anyone without deep pockets to fight back.

Related: Yes, I’m the Jester Who Coined ‘Wagatha Christie’ – My Gift to Headline Writers Around the World | Dan Atkinson

There’s a seductive fantasy where I take it to court, go all-out, and win a historic sentence: tubs are banged, gavels are banged, and pranks are let loose on the hills forever. But this isn’t some glamorous, sleazy ITV drama from the 80s, it’s real life. More likely I’ll end up enmeshed in a glutinous legal quagmire about the semantics of a silly pun, and 10 years from now when kids ask, “Why do we live in a tent?” I have to say it’s because Dad spent all his money trying to end the tyranny of the Wagatha branded drinking horns.

Thing is, I never felt like I ever owned “Dragatha Twisty” (the last one, I promise) in the first place. At least he had a life before captivity. It was fun while it lasted.

People who matter will always know the truth: In the decades to come, one of my grandchildren may look at the Wagatha-branded moon base and say, “My grandfather wrote that.”

• Dan Atkinson is a writer, producer and stand-up comedian

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