Practical joke

Practical joke

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A practical joke is a mischievous trick played on someone, typically causing the victim to experience embarrassment, indignity, or discomfort. Practical jokes differ from confidence trick
Confidence trick
A confidence trick is an attempt to defraud a person or group by gaining their confidence. A confidence artist is an individual working alone or in concert with others who exploits characteristics of the human psyche such as dishonesty and honesty, vanity, compassion, credulity, irresponsibility,...

s in that the victim finds out, or is let in on the joke, rather than being fooled into handing over money or other valuables. Practical jokes or pranks are typically lighthearted, reversible or non-permanent, and aim to make the victim feel foolish or victimized to a certain degree. However, practical jokes may also involve cruelty
Cruelty can be described as indifference to suffering, and even positive pleasure in inflicting it. If this is supported by a legal or social framework, then receives the name of perversion. Sadism can also be related to this form of action or concept....


The term "practical" refers to the fact that the joke consists of someone doing something physical, instead of a verbal or written joke. For example, the joker who is setting up and performing the practical joke, might hang a bucket of water above a doorway and rig the bucket using pulleys such that, 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
Practical joke device
A practical joke device is a manufactured prop or toy intended to confuse, frighten, or amuse individuals as a prank. Often, these objects are harmless facsimiles of disgusting or terrifying objects, such as vomit or spilled nail polish...

 can also be used in practical jokes, like fake vomit
Fake vomit
Fake vomit is a flat plastic disc with indentations and protrusions designed to look like mucus or vomit. It is a practical joke often used by pranksters to disgust victims....

, chewing gum bug
Chewing Gum Bug
A chewing gum bug is a practical joke gag used to play tricks on people, usually adults. The appearance is of a 5-pack of chewing gum, with one stick of gum remaining. The trick works when the prankster tricks the victim into pulling out the last stick of gum...

s, exploding cigar
Exploding cigar
An exploding cigar is a variety of cigar that explodes shortly after being lit. Such cigars are normally packed with a minute chemical explosive charge near the lighting end or with a non-chemical device that ruptures the cigar when exposed to heat...

s, stink bomb
Stink bomb
A stink bomb or stinkbomb is a device designed to create an unpleasant smell. They range in effectiveness from simple pranks to military grade or riot control chemical agents.The Guinness Book of Records lists two smelliest substances...

s and whoopee cushions
Whoopee cushion
A whoopee cushion, also known as a poo-poo cushion and Razzberry Cushion, is a practical joke device, used in a form of flatulence humor, which produces a noise resembling a raspberry or human flatulence. It is made from two sheets of rubber that are glued together at the edges...


In Western culture, April Fools' Day
April Fools' Day
April Fools' Day is celebrated in different countries around the world on April 1 every year. Sometimes referred to as All Fools' Day, April 1 is not a national holiday, but is widely recognized and celebrated as a day when many people play all kinds of jokes and foolishness...

  is a day traditionally dedicated to performing practical jokes.

Famous practical jokes

The American humorist H. Allen Smith
H. Allen Smith
For the congressman see H. Allen SmithHarry Allen Wolfgang Smith was an American journalist and humorist whose books were popular in the 1940s and 1950s, selling millions of copies....

 wrote a 320-page book in 1953 called The Compleat Practical Joker (ISBN 0-688-03705-4) that contains many examples of practical jokes. A typical one, recalled as his favorite by the playwright
A playwright, also called a dramatist, is a person who writes plays.The term is not a variant spelling of "playwrite", but something quite distinct: the word wright is an archaic English term for a craftsman or builder...

 Charles MacArthur
Charles MacArthur
Charles Gordon MacArthur was an American playwright and screenwriter.-Biography:Charles MacArthur was the second youngest of seven children born to stern evangelist William Telfer MacArthur and Georgiana Welsted MacArthur. He early developed a passion for reading...

, concerns the American painter and bohemian
Bohemianism is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people, with few permanent ties, involving musical, artistic or literary pursuits...

 character Waldo Peirce
Waldo Peirce
Waldo Peirce was an American painter, born in Bangor, Maine.Peirce was both a prominent painter and a well-known character. He was sometimes called "the American Renoir"...

. Peirce was living in Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 in the 1920s and "made a gift of a very big turtle
Turtles are reptiles of the order Testudines , characterised by a special bony or cartilaginous shell developed from their ribs that acts as a shield...

 to the woman who was the concierge
A concierge is an employee who either works in shifts within, or lives on the premises of an apartment building or a hotel and serves guests with duties similar to those of a butler. The position can also be maintained by a security officer over the 'graveyard' shift. A similar position, known as...

 of his building." The woman doted on the turtle and lavished care on it. A few days later Peirce substituted a somewhat larger turtle for the original one. This continued for some time, with larger and larger turtles being surreptitiously introduced into the woman's apartment. The concierge was beside herself with happiness and displayed her miraculous turtle to the entire neighborhood. Peirce then began to sneak in and replace the turtle with smaller and smaller ones, to her bewildered distress. This was the storyline behind Esio Trot
Esio Trot
Esio Trot is a 1990 children's novel written by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake.- Story :Mr. Hoppy is a shy old man who lives alone in an apartment. For many years, he has been secretly in love with Mrs. Silver, a woman who lives below him. Mr. Hoppy frequently leans over his balcony...

, by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl was a British novelist, short story writer, fighter pilot and screenwriter.Born in Wales to Norwegian parents, he served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, in which he became a flying ace and intelligence agent, rising to the rank of Wing Commander...


Modern and successful 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
University of British Columbia
The University of British Columbia is a public research university. UBC’s two main campuses are situated in Vancouver and in Kelowna in the Okanagan Valley...

 these usually involve leaving a Volkswagen beetle in an unexpected location (such as suspended from the Golden Gate Bridge and the Lions Gate Bridge). A similar prank was undertaken by engineering students at Cambridge University, England, where an Austin 7
Austin 7
The Austin 7 was a car produced from 1922 through to 1939 in the United Kingdom by the Austin Motor Company. Nicknamed the "Baby Austin", it was one of the most popular cars ever produced for the British market, and sold well abroad...

 car was put on top of the Senate House
Senate House (University of Cambridge)
The Senate House of the University of Cambridge is now used mainly for degree ceremonies. It was formerly also used for meetings of the Council of the Senate...

 building. Pranks can also adapt to the political context of the era. Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a private research university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. MIT has five schools and one college, containing a total of 32 academic departments, with a strong emphasis on scientific and technological education and research.Founded in 1861 in...

 (MIT) are particularly known for their 'hacks'
MIT hack
Hacks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are practical jokes and pranks meant to prominently demonstrate technical aptitude and cleverness, or to commemorate popular culture and historical topics. The pranks are anonymously installed at night by hackers, usually, but not exclusively...



Not everyone enjoys practical jokes. Robert A. Heinlein
Robert A. Heinlein
Robert Anson Heinlein was an American science fiction writer. Often called the "dean of science fiction writers", he was one of the most influential and controversial authors of the genre. He set a standard for science and engineering plausibility and helped to raise the genre's standards of...

 once wrote that "A 'practical joker' deserves applause for his wit according to its quality. Bastinado is about right. For exceptional wit one might grant keelhauling
Keelhauling is a form of punishment meted out to sailors at sea...

. But staking him out on an anthill should be reserved for the very wittiest."


  • The Complete Book of Outrageous and Atrocious Practical Jokes by Justin Geste (ISBN 978-0-385-23044-5)
  • Cubicle Warfare: 101 Office Traps and Pranks by John Austin (ISBN 978-0-06-143886-8)
  • The Complete Practical Joker by H. Allen Smith
    H. Allen Smith
    For the congressman see H. Allen SmithHarry Allen Wolfgang Smith was an American journalist and humorist whose books were popular in the 1940s and 1950s, selling millions of copies....

     (ISBN 978-0-89966-931-1)
  • The Practical Joker's Handbook by Tim Nyberg (ISBN 978-0-7407-4198-2)
  • Prank University: The Ultimate Guide to College's Greatest Tradition by John Austin (ISBN 978-0-307-33843-3)
  • Prank the Monkey: The ZUG Book of Pranks by Sir John Hargrave (ISBN 978-0-8065-2780-2)
  • Pranks by V. Vale
    V. Vale
    V. "Valhalla" Vale is a writer, keyboard player and, as Vale Hamanaka, was a member of the initial configuration of Blue Cheer, prior to that band becoming famous as a power trio. He is the publisher and primary contributor to books and magazines published by his company, RE/Search Publications...

     and Andrea Juno (ISBN 978-0-940642-10-2)
  • If at All Possible, Involve a Cow: The Book of College Pranks by Neil Steinberg (ISBN 978-0-312078102)
  • Nightwork: A History of Hacks and Pranks at MIT by T.F. Peterson (ISBN 0-262-66137-3)
  • The Official Handbook of Practical Jokes by Peter Van Der Linden
    Peter van der Linden
    Peter van der Linden is a technologist and author. He has worked for companies such as Sun Microsystems and Apple Computer, and has written books on Java, C, Linux, and practical jokes. He is currently an Android Technology Evangelist for Motorola Mobility.- External links :*...


  • One Hundred Men and a Girl
    One Hundred Men and a Girl
    One Hundred Men and a Girl is a 1937 musical comedy film, written by Charles Kenyon, Bruce Manning and James Mulhauser from a story by Hanns Kräly and directed by Henry Koster...

  • Carrie (1976)
  • Porky's
    Porky's is a 1982 comedy film about the escapades of teenagers at the fictional Angel Beach High School in Florida in 1954. It was released in the United States in 1982, and spawned two sequels: Porky's II: The Next Day and Porky's Revenge! and influenced many writers in the teen film genre...

  • April Fool's Day (1986)
  • Men at Work
    Men at Work (film)
    Men at Work is a 1990 American action comedy film written and directed by Emilio Estevez, and starring Estevez and his real life brother Charlie Sheen.-Plot:...

  • Dirty Work (1998)
  • Super Troopers
    Super Troopers
    Super Troopers is a 2001 crime-comedy film directed by Jay Chandrasekhar, written by and starring the Broken Lizard comedy group . Marisa Coughlan, Daniel von Bargen and Brian Cox co-star while Lynda Carter has a cameo appearance...

  • Jackass: The Movie
    Jackass: The Movie
    Jackass: The Movie is a 2002 American reality film directed by Jeff Tremaine with the tagline "Do not attempt this at home." It is a riskier and uncensored continuation of the stunts and pranks by the various characters of the MTV television series Jackass, which had completed its unique series...

  • Jackass Number Two (2006)
  • Jackass 3D
    Jackass 3D
    Jackass 3D is a 2010 American 3D comedy film and the fourth film in the Jackass series. It was released on October 15, 2010 by Paramount Pictures and MTV Films to American theaters and marked the 10th anniversary of the franchise, which started in 2000...



  • The Howard Stern Show
  • The Jerky Boys
  • The Phil Hendrie Show
    The Phil Hendrie Show
    The Phil Hendrie Show is a comedy talk radio program. The show is syndicated throughout North America on Talk Radio Network. It is known for outrageous guests, the majority of whom are fictional and voiced live by the host, Phil Hendrie...

  • Rickey Smiley
    Rickey Smiley
    Rickey Smiley is a standup comedian, television host, actor, and radio personality best known for his prank phone calls. The calls feature Smiley disguising his voice and carrying on a conversation with the recipient of the call....

  • Roy D. Mercer
    Roy D. Mercer
    Roy D. Mercer is a fictional character created by disc jockeys Brent Douglas and Phil Stone on radio station KMOD-FM in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Douglas, who performs Mercer's voice, uses the character as a vehicle for comedy sketches in which he performs prank calls. Seventeen Roy D...

  • Touch-Tone Terrorists
    Touch-Tone Terrorists
    The Touch-Tone Terrorists is a series of prank phone calls comedy CDs.-About:The Touch-Tone Terrorists are actually one man, Pete Zoghi who also goes by the name of "RePete"...

  • Tube Bar prank calls
    Tube Bar prank calls
    The Tube Bar prank calls are a legendary series of prank calls. Performed in the mid-1970s, John Elmo and Jim Davidson made a number of phone calls to the Tube Bar in Jersey City, asking the proprietor if they could speak to a named customer. The given names were homophones for other, often...


Real people

Some notable people have developed reputations as pranksters in addition to their career accomplishments, or in some cases have made pranking their primary work. Some "full-time" pranksters are comedians or entertainers, while others are more concerned with social activism or protest movements.

People listed below as "pranksters" seem to spend most of their "working day" planning or perpetrating practical jokes, whereas others listed below have careers not otherwise related to pranking.

See also

  • April Fools' Day
    April Fools' Day
    April Fools' Day is celebrated in different countries around the world on April 1 every year. Sometimes referred to as All Fools' Day, April 1 is not a national holiday, but is widely recognized and celebrated as a day when many people play all kinds of jokes and foolishness...

  • Dreadnought hoax
    Dreadnought hoax
    The Dreadnought Hoax was a practical joke pulled by Horace de Vere Cole in 1910. Cole tricked the Royal Navy into showing their flagship, the warship HMS Dreadnought to a supposed delegation of Abyssinian royals...

  • Gag name
    Gag name
    A gag name is a false name used to elicit humor through its simultaneous resemblance to a real name on the one hand, and to a term or phrase that is funny, strange, or vulgar on the other hand. The source of the humor is the pun and double entendre; frequently, the humor arises when an unknowing...

  • Merry Pranksters
    Merry Pranksters
    The Merry Pranksters were a group of people who formed around American author Ken Kesey in 1964 and sometimes lived communally at his homes in California and Oregon...

  • Pieing
    Pieing is the act of throwing a pie at a person or persons. This can be a political action when the target is an authority figure, politician, or celebrity and can be used as a means of protesting against the target's political beliefs, or against perceived arrogance or vanity. Perpetrators...

  • Pranknet
    Pranknet, also known as Prank University or Prank U, is a Canadian-based anonymous prank calling virtual community responsible for damage to hotels and fast food restaurants of more than $60,000 as well as multiple instances of telephone harassment. It was founded by a man who later referred to...

  • Prank call
    Prank call
    A prank call is a form of practical joke committed over the telephone. Prank phone calls began to gain an America-wide following over a period of many years, as they gradually became a staple of the obscure and amusing cassette tapes traded amongst musicians, sound engineers, and media traders...

  • School prank
    School prank
    A school prank is any of several common pranks primarily occurring in an educational setting.The effect and intent of school pranks may range from everyday play and consensual bonding behavior to hazing, bullying or assault, including sexual assault....

  • Senior prank
    Senior prank
    A senior prank is a type of organized prank pulled by the senior class of a school, college, or university to cause chaos throughout the institution. The pranks are usually carried out at the end of the senior school year as a going away mark on the school, and in some cases have become something...

  • Snipe hunt
    Snipe hunt
    A snipe hunt, a form of wild-goose chase that is also known as a fool's errand, is a type of practical joke that involves experienced people making fun of credulous newcomers by giving them an impossible or imaginary task...

  • Student prank
    Student prank
    University students have a long association with pranks and japes. These can often involve petty crime, such as the theft of traffic cones and other public property, or hoaxes...

  • The Yes Men
    The Yes Men
    The Yes Men are a culture jamming activist duo and network of supporters created by Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos. Through actions of tactical media, The Yes Men primarily aim to raise awareness about what they consider problematic social issues. To date, the duo has produced two films: The Yes Men...

  • Yippies