You mess with Harpo Marx, you get the horns.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Getting April Fool's Day Right

Normally, you'd expect to find some bogus, wild, alarming, made-up story on a humor Web site on April Fools Day. Not here. We do that sort of thing 365 days out of the year, so what would be the point? No one ever believes that anything we write here has even a passing acquaintance with reality. That's how we (and our lawyers) like it.

Still, at some point between now and April 2nd, someone is going to try to pull the wool over your eyes just long enough to shout two of the most annoying words in the English language: "April Fools!" You need to be ready to beat them to the punch.

What follows is a short primer on how to do just that.


The Dictionary of Unfortunate Ideas Unfortunately Short April Fools Day Primer - 2010 Edition

There are three types of April Fools Day pranks: superficial, shocking, world-class.


The superficial prank is the most common variety. Everyone's done something of this kind. A man comes home from work and announces to his family he has just been fired. April Fools! A woman reveals to her boyfriend that the birth control failed. April Fools! Barack Obama tells Michelle he thinks he'll let Joe Biden give the State of the Union address next year. April Fools!

Child's play. Still, if your ambitions are low and you don't have a lot of time to plan (in other words, you're a lazy doofus) these types of gags can offer a modicum of amusement, and are generally quick and painless enough to avoid harsh, retaliatory beatings.* The simplest approach is to have a story that sounds vaguely plausible but is strange enough to cause significant mental consternation in the listener. Credible props will enhance the effect.

Success can be readily determined by the victim's immediate response. A vague moment of confusion is considered minimal success. A raising of eyebrows and widening of the eyes is considered well-played. Gnashing of teeth, garment-rendering, and/or loss of control of bodily functions denotes a skillful application of the gag.

The key to any superficial April Fools Day prank is a good premise.  The following are some suggestions.

  • I hope you aren't easily grossed out by skin conditions (at this point, gingerly roll up sleeve)
  • I can't believe President Obama resigned and went to play for the Knicks. Sure he'll get plenty of playing time, but...
  • Who would have ever thought that (name of most masculine person in office/group) was really a woman trapped in a man's body?
  • They're remaking Planet of the Apes again a Jim Carrey vehicle.
  • I know some of you may consider this reckless of me, but (Joan Collins/Gary Busey) has agreed to marry me and I'm going for it. 
  • Why on earth would Wheel of Fortune replace Pat Sajak with Donald Trump? Why not just call it Wheel of Bankruptcy?
  • Did you hear that Wal-Mart is giving away free malt liquor today?
  • I'm so upset.  ABC is cancelling Lost before the final episode airs.  What are those Philistines thinking? (Stand well back before using this one, especially if the victim is holding hot coffee.)

A shocking April Fools Day prank is one designed to cause extensive mental confusion and dismay, and possibly hyperventilation. Readers Digest recently did an article on pranksters and the common thread in most of these pranks is the heartless desire to see others completely lose it. For example, from the same Readers Digest article, see Tom Mabe's phone prank. These are the kind of pranks you pull and then stand around waiting for the inevitable lawsuit, fistfight, or worst of all, retaliatory prank. Just think of the one Jay Leno pulled, convincing NBC executives to change their prime-time and late-night schedules not just once, but twice! Use with extreme caution.


A world-class April Fools Day prank is quite simply one so good that people are completely unaware for years afterwards that they've been pranked. In some cases, people still believe the prank! Some classic examples:

  • The BBC broadcasts a story about "Swiss spaghetti trees." Spaghetti trees, yes. However, Swiss spaghetti trees?
  • Amerigo Vespucci dupes mapmakers into naming the new world America, after himself, instead of Columbia, after Columbus.
  • King George I convinces the British that he'd be a perfect example of an English king, despite his complete inability to pronounce "Wolverhampton" correctly.
  • The Broadway success of Evita!
  • Some guy convinces people that eating extremely hot peppers is a good idea. (Seriously, I believe this one.  I add it merely because others are convinced it was a prank. Like the moon landing.**)
Clearly, these types of pranks take detailed planning and clever execution.  I listed my favorite world-class pranks at this time, last year. See what you think, but for my money, these are yet to be beaten.

For additional April Fools assistance see here and here.

 *The idiots who peddle fake winning lottery tickets to friends are the exception to this rule. Those people deserve sound physical thrashings.  Since physical violence of this sort is generally considered immoral, an acceptable alternative is a long vacation in a Turkish prison.

**Kidding! kidding. I know it was real. The last thing I need is Buzz Aldrin beating the hell out of me.