A practical joke or prank is a trick played on people or people, generally causing the victim to experience embarrassment, perplexity, confusion, or discomfort.[1][2] The perpetrator of a practical joke is called a "practical joker" or "prankster".[1] Other terms for practical jokes include gag, rib, jape, or shenanigan. Some countries in western nations make it tradition to carry out pranks on April Fools' Day and Mischief Night.[3][4][5][6][7]

Practical joke involving completely blocking someone's doorway with phone books

Purpose edit

Practical jokes differ from confidence tricks or hoaxes in that the victim finds out, or is let in on the joke, rather than being talked into handing over money or other valuables. Practical jokes are generally lighthearted and without lasting effect; they aim to make the victim feel humbled or foolish, but not victimized or humiliated. Thus most practical jokes are affectionate gestures of humour and designed to encourage laughter. However, practical jokes performed with cruelty can constitute bullying, whose intent is to harass or exclude rather than reinforce social bonds through ritual humbling.[8]

Description edit

A life-sized cardboard cutout of Pope Francis peeks through an office window, giving off the illusion that the supreme pontiff is inside staring back at the viewer

A practical joke is "practical" because it consists of someone doing something that is physical, in contrast to a verbal or written joke. For example, the joker who is setting up and conducting the practical joke might hang a bucket of water above a doorway and rig the bucket using pulleys so when the door opens the bucket dumps the water. The joker would then wait for the victim to walk through the doorway and be drenched by the bucket of water. Objects can feature in practical jokes, like fake vomit, chewing-gum bugs, exploding cigars, stink bombs, costumes, whoopee cushions, clear tape, and Chinese finger traps. A practical joke can be as long as a person desires. It does not have to be short-lived.

Practical jokes often occur in offices, usually to surprise co-workers. Examples include covering computer accessories with Jell-O, wrapping a desk with Christmas paper or aluminium foil or filling it with balloons. Practical jokes also commonly occur during sleepovers, when teens play pranks on their friends as they come into the home, enter a room or even as they sleep.

American humorist H. Allen Smith wrote a 320-page book in 1953 called The Compleat Practical Joker[9] that contains numerous examples of practical jokes. The book became a best seller – not only in the United States but also in Japan.[10] Moira Marsh has written an entire volume about practical jokes.[2] She found that in the US males perpetrate such gags more often than females.

Student prank edit

Bicycles hanging high as the result of a student prank in Lund, Sweden

University students have a long association with pranks and japes.[11] These can often involve petty crime, such as the theft of traffic cones and other public property,[12] or hoaxes.[13][14][15]

Theft edit

A statue of the Duke of Wellington in front of the Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow, which is famous for having had a traffic cone repeatedly placed on its head since the 1980s.

One classic target of student theft are traffic cones. The issue of the theft and misuse of traffic cones by students has gained enough prominence that a spokesperson from the UK National Union of Students stated that "stereotypes of students stealing traffic cones" are "outdated".[16]

Some universities have gone as far as to devote entire pages of legislation and advice for students with regards to the consequences and laws involving the theft of traffic cones.[17] Misuse of traffic cones in Scotland has even resulted in serious physical injury.[18]

The traffic cone theft issue came to such a head in the United Kingdom in the 1990s that it was brought up in parliament.[19]

In 2002, Fife Constabulary declared a "traffic cone amnesty" allowing University of St Andrews students to return stolen traffic cones without fear of prosecution. A police spokesman had said that the theft of traffic cones had become "an almost weekly occurrence".[20]

Other forms of theft that can cause safety issues include the theft of stop signs.[21]

Famous examples edit

One practical joke. recalled as his favorite by the playwright Charles MacArthur, involved American painter and bohemian character Waldo Peirce. While living in Paris in the 1920s, Peirce "made a gift of a large turtle to the woman who was the concierge of his building". The woman doted on the turtle and lavished care on it. A few days later Peirce substituted a larger turtle for the original one. This continued for some time, with the surreptitious substitution of bigger turtles into the woman's apartment. The concierge, beside herself with happiness, displayed her miraculous turtle to the entire neighborhood. Peirce then replaced the turtle with smaller and smaller ones, to her bewildered distress.[22] This became storyline of the 1990 Roald Dahl children's book Esio Trot.

A hack in progress in Lobby 7 at MIT
Shimer College students pushing a VW Beetle into a campus building

Successful modern pranks often take advantage of the modernization of tools and techniques. In Canada, engineering students have a reputation for annual pranks; at the University of British Columbia these usually involve leaving a Volkswagen Beetle in an unexpected location (such as suspended from the Golden Gate Bridge[23] or from the Lions Gate Bridge[24]). In response, other students at that university often vandalize the engineering students' white and red concrete cairn.[25] Engineering students at Cambridge University in England undertook a similar prank, placing an Austin 7 car on top of the University's Senate House building.[26] Pranks can also adapt to the political context of their era.[27] Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have a particular reputation for their "hacks".[28]

Not unlike the stone louse of Germany, the jackalope in the American West has become an institutionalized practical joke perennially perpetrated by ruralites (as a class) on tourists, most of whom have never heard of the decades-old myth.[29]

In the 1993 film Grumpy Old Men, two neighbors and former friends, John and Max, play cruel practical jokes on each other. Their rivalry escalates when a beautiful new neighbor is involved as both set their sights on her. In that film's 1995 sequel, Grumpier Old Men, John and Max have cooled off their feud. They later play cruel practical jokes on a beautiful, determined Italian owner who's trying to turn the former bait shop into a romantic restaurant.

The 2003 TV movie Windy City Heat consists of an elaborate practical joke on the film's star, Perry Caravallo, who is led to believe that he is starring in a faux action film, Windy City Heat, where the filming (which is ostensibly for the film's DVD extras) actually documents a long chain of pranks and jokes performed at Caravallo's expense.[30]

In the UK, a group that calls itself Trollstation plays pranks on people, including police officers and government employees. They record their escapades and upload them to YouTube. In one such video, one of the groups actors poses as a palace guard. Some of the actors have been fined or charged.[31]

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b "Practical joke". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 2012-05-27.
  2. ^ a b Marsh, Moira. 2015. Practically Joking. Logan: Utah State University Press. ISBN 978-0-87421-983-8
  3. ^ "Japes of the great (book review of April is the cruellest month: The history and meaning of All Fools' Day)". The Economist. April 2, 1988. Retrieved 2011-04-18.
  4. ^ "A Brief History of 'Mischief Night'". 30 October 2015.
  5. ^ "What's the Night Before Halloween Called? It Depends on Where You Live". 29 October 2014.
  6. ^ "Do You Call October 30th Mischief Night or the Devil's Night?". 25 October 2018.
  7. ^ "Yes. The Night Before Halloween Is a Real Holiday | At the Smithsonian | Smithsonian Magazine".
  8. ^ Kádár, Dániel Z. (2013). Relational Rituals and Communication: Ritual Interaction in Groups. Springer. p. 156. ISBN 978-0230393059.
  9. ^ Smith, Harry Allen (1953). The Compleat Practical Joker. Morrow. ISBN 0-688-03705-4.
  10. ^ "The Publishers Weekly". Publishers Weekly. Vol. 209. 1976. p. 2:24.
  11. ^ "Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library : FAQ Student pranks". Archived from the original on 2008-04-14. Retrieved 2021-04-06.
  12. ^ Bidmead, Claire (2001). "Nightmare on student street". Higher Education and Research Opportunities in the UK. Archived from the original on May 31, 2006. Retrieved 23 November 2010.
  13. ^ Saltzman, Jonathan (December 24, 2005). "Student's tall tale revealed". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 23 November 2010.
  14. ^ Nightwork: A History of Hacks and Pranks at MIT by T.F. Peterson (Paperback – 2003)
  15. ^ If at All Possible, Involve a Cow: The Book of College Pranks by Neil Steinberg (Paperback – 1992)
  16. ^ "Rowdy students 'must be tackled'". BBC Online. 24 January 2006. Retrieved 23 November 2010.
  17. ^ "Worcester Students Union – The Home for Worcester University Students". Archived from the original on May 5, 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-19.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  18. ^ "Falling road cone injures student". BBC Online. 19 November 2006. Retrieved 23 November 2010.
  19. ^ "House of Commons Hansard Written Answers for 11 Dec 1996 (pt 15)".
  20. ^ "Students urged to cone clean". BBC Online. 23 May 2002. Retrieved 23 November 2010.
  21. ^ "Stop sign theft is 'not a joke'". Sandusky Register. 26 Feb 2023. Retrieved 14 Nov 2021.
  22. ^ Fun Fare: a Treasury of Reader's Digest Wit and Humor. 1949. p. 36.
  23. ^ Curiel, Jonathan (February 5, 2001). "Beetle Overboard! / VW hung off GG Bridge in prank". SFGATE.
  24. ^ "The Golden Gate prank by UBC engineering students may have been the best ever - Macleans.ca". www.macleans.ca. Retrieved 2020-10-08.
  25. ^ "99 things to do at UBC – Painting the two Cairns". www.ubyssey.ca. Retrieved 2021-07-06.
  26. ^ "From Hermes to bonsai kittens". The Economist.
  27. ^ "Priceless pranks". The Economist.
  28. ^ Kravets, David. "April 1, 1998: Disney to Buy MIT for $6.9 Billion". Wired.
  29. ^ Deutsch, James (2014). "Jackalope". In Levine, Timothy R. (ed.). Encyclopedia of Deception. SAGE Publications. p. 555. ISBN 978-1483306896.
  30. ^ Hyden, Steven (2013-11-12). "The Greatest Trick Comedy Ever Pulled". Grantland. Retrieved 2015-01-23.
  31. ^ "Jail sentence for YouTube pranksters". BBC News. 2016-05-16. Retrieved 2021-10-22.

External links edit

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