USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘practical joke’
Childhood
Game

Pickle

  1. The main piece: Pickle

“This is a game that happened in my neighborhood every summer growing up. We called it ‘Pickle.’ All the kids get together, you need a tennis ball and a group of people. Two people are selected…it’s kinda like monkey in the middle but more violent. So the two chosen people are playing catch with tennis ball in air. Everyone else starts running and the throwers try to hit them. A tennis ball doesn’t hurt that much, so it’s fine. No need to be worried.

“Actually, you know what, it’s the opposite of monkey in the middle. Hmm, interesting. Yeah cuz you’re not trying to be in the middle, you wanna be running. We would play for hours and there’s no score, no winners, losers, anything like that, just a fun thing to do. We only played it during the summer, I don’t know why. Kinda had all the kids in our neighborhood, all the different age groups, genders. You’d see a 4 year old playing with a 15 year old.”

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Etc.

“No origin, just something I played growing up. I guess the kids in the neighborhood were already playing it when I was born. It was just happening, no person whose idea it was. It already existed. Happened in Tiburon, CA. It’s a city near San Fran.”

  1. The context of the performance

“Well, I guess it’s kind of like controlled violent outbursts. It’s a way to blow off steam for kids bored during the summer.”

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

This game sounds like a friendly neighborhood tradition that ends up arising in many closer communities. It provides a way for children of the neighborhood to build relationships independent of age, background, or gender because everyone learns it from the vernacular tradition. Just like siblings often have physical games and altercations when they are young, a violent game like pickle naturally draws the players together and gives everyone a sense of belonging when they are all running from the ball.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is a 22 year old American male and grew up in Tiburon, where he spent lots of time with his father and grandfather, as well as the other kids in his tight-knit neighborhood. His primary language is English, and he currently resides in Los Angeles.

Legends
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Clinton Road

Item (direct transcription):

In New Jersey, one of the few things New Jersey has is… um… New Jersey has the most haunted road in the United States: Clinton Road. It’s a haunted road, and it goes really long.

The reason it was haunted and that hype started up was because of just the terrain and how, just, like, rural it is. That’s where a lot of murderers go and bury the bodies of their victims. So, like, there’s a lot of, like, lost souls there that haunt the road.

I remember going on it. Like, my friends and I. There was a couple of us, and we were going down it. And then, we were just like… okay. And you have to go at night, because that’s the full experience. We went at night. And it fogs up there a lot, and the reason is because there’s a lot of trees and apparently, like, throughout the day there’s a lot of sun out, but all the shade makes the ground stay cool. So it cools down a lot quicker, so the dew point’s a lot lower… or some shit like that. So it like, fogs up easier that normally.

And, umm, we went through it once. It was our senior year. And uh, frickin’… nothing like scary happened. It was just, like, our paranoia. It’s like, “What was that!?!” “What was that!?” “What was that?!” But then one incident… one incident… we were going down the road, and we come across an intersection. With a stop light, alright? And when we approached it, it was red. So we stopped. And then we were just like, “This is a trap!” Cause, like, we thought it was just jammed. That light was long. Or maybe it just appeared long to us. But like, at least from our perspective it was really long. So we were just like, “Nah… nah… this can’t be. It can’t be.”

So we kept looking around, and then Matt—fucking Matt—Matt opens his door, and we were just like, “What!!” But he’s just like, “Nah, I’m just gonna check it out, you know?” So he opens up the door and he walks—there’s no other cars around us—so he opens up the door and he kinda just like walks around. And we’re just like, none of us wanted to get out of the car. I still had my seat belt on. That shit was not coming off. And we’re just like, “Matt! Matt! Get back in the car! This could turn green any second! Matt!” And then umm, at one point, Shabab [the driver] was just like, “Fuck this.” ‘Cause the light had turned green. Matt was still outside the car. I think he was just fucking with us. But then Shabab just started driving away, and Matt was like, “What!?!” [Laughing.] Oh my god! [More laughing.] He didn’t go far. He wasn’t that mean. And then he backed up. And that scared the fuck out of me, too, you know. I’m like, “No, no, Shabab, we can’t leave him. No, no, we have to explain this to his parents!” [Laughs.]

Background Information:

The informant says that Clinton Road is a very well-known “touristy spot” within New Jersey. However, he believes that no one outside of New Jersey really knows about it.

At the very least, he believes that there really are dead bodies of murder victims buried there.

Contextual Information:

The informant treats this story as a cherished memory and hilarious story to tell to friends.

Analysis:

The legend of Clinton Road’s haunting is clearly connected to semi-ritualized visits to the road by high school students. The informant himself participated in such a visit, as well as the practical jokes that accompanied it. This pattern (i.e. a legend, a ritual, and a practical joke) matches typical traditions surrounding American haunting legends.

Also, the informant directly associates his knowledge of and participation in this legend with his identity as someone who grew up in New Jersey. He believes that the legend is something shared only within the state.

Game
Humor

Oreo Practical Joke

As a practical joke on friends and family Grant as a child would lick the inside of an Oreo out and refill it with white-colored toothpaste. He would then put them back inside the Oreo container and offer them to people.

 

Background: Grant is a twenty-two year old raised in Los Angeles, CA with one younger sister.

Context: Grant told me this joke over lunch talking about funny things we would do as kids.

Analysis: In my opinion, practical jokes are so heavily connected to youth and a lighthearted motive that usually they are just funny and not something to ever get upset over. Especially with the practical joke Grant would play, it is ridiculous to be genuinely mad; more so than getting angry, you just want to get them back with another practical joke. Practical jokes have always been something I find intriguing because I could never think of one off the top of my head or ever have the courage to play a practical joke on another person. I think practical jokes are a compelling element of folklore because the willingness to play a practical joke and which practical joke you choose is a revealing element of someone’s character

general
Humor

Lights off on Elm Street

Folk Piece

“The movie nightmare on Elm Street was filmed in my town, on Elm Street. One of the things that’s been a legend on elm street is that cars would be driving on Elm Street, like at night, and there would be a car behind them and they could see it and they could see it, and then all of a sudden it would just disappear. And suddenly someone would appear in front of their car. It was just like super freaky, and I don’t know, that’s just one of the stories that I’ve heard. So my friend tried to like fuck with people at night because he had an all black car that was really quiet. So he could like drive up right behind people and when there was nowhere to turn or anything he would turn off his lights and just roll on behind them and people would like pull over and freak out that he was like gone, but he was actually there the whole time”

 

Background information

The informant began by saying “Well, my town is boring, I don’t think we really have many cool stories or anything… Well, we did have Elm Street from that movie.” She had said that she’d never seen the movie, but that it had an impact on the way that people thought about the street. Especially kids her age, that weren’t born for another decade after the movies’ premiere, would tell stories of Elm Street, but not necessarily ones that originated from the movie.

 

Context

“No, it wasn’t just my friend, a lot more people did it. But, like, he just drove down it a lot and yeah, he did a few times.” She said that the prank itself was done by a lot of people, mostly older high schoolers, though. She had never witnessed it herself, but only heard about it.

 

Analysis

Pranks, or practical jokes, are performed for a variety of different reasons. In this circumstance, the prank is driven by a legend about a mysterious figure that would appear in front of people’s cars on the street where A Nightmare on Elm Street takes place. The legend is so widely known, that the exploitation of a plot point in the story can lead to drivers becoming very scared. It is interesting to note that A Nightmare on Elm Street doesn’t have a scene where there are cars driving down the road and the lights turn off. The original authored story transformed the street itself into somewhat of a legend, which in turn was exploited as a prank. This transition from authored material, to legend, to prank could be explored further with more data from other town members.

Also interesting is that older high schoolers are the one performing this prank. Presumably, these are drivers that had just acquired their license and are given some autonomy. That they take this new found freedom and also exploit it for humor and rebellion shows why this might be such a popular prank in this town.

Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Practical Jokes on Halloween

Original Script: “Okay…so like this is annoying. Like SO annoying and it happens every damn Halloween, I SWEAR. And I love Halloween! But, okay, so I like scary movies, I just like the adrenaline rush that they give me. I don’t know. But there are some creepy ass movies that really scare me. Like ones with clowns or creepy girls that crawl—something about the crawling just freaks me out. I usually watch them with my stepdad, Chuck. Anyways, there was this movie called Mama, and it was not that scary. EXCEPT, when she crawled upside down in a long dress with her hair covering her face—similar to a crab walk but creepier. IT REALLY FREAKED ME OUT! So during Halloween, Chuck got this GRAND idea, to play a joke on me. I was in my room minding my own business, it was nighttime. THEN, the power went out, and I’m like ‘oh what the hell’ because whose power randomly goes out. I was pissed. So I open my bedroom door to ask Chuck what was wrong. Because I was trying to binge watch on Netflix on all the ‘scary’ movies they had. Mind you, my room is at the end of the hallway, directly across from the stairs. So I get no response, and it is creepy as hell so I take another step out of my room. And hear something creaking up the stairs. I step again, and there is a freaking look a like Mama crawling up the stairs. I screamed SO loud, and kept screaming. But then Chuck—who was dressed as the lady—starting laughing and fell down the stairs. I was so pissed. Now it is funny. But I was literally so pissed. Like good, you should of fallen down the stairs. AND like how the hell did he crawl like that? Did he practice? AND THAT’S NOT ALL. The Halloween before that, I opened my bedroom door and there was a creepy clown standing thing in my room—like a thing you get from the Halloween store! I should have been prepared. This Halloween, I am going to make sure Chuck get’s his just-deserts. I am starting to plan NOW. In freaking MARCH! I can’t wait.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Jenna grew up in Chandler, Arizona with her family. About two years ago, she moved across country with her mother and now lives in Milford, Pennsylvania. Jenna loves stuff about ghosts, and she is always willing to see if the legends are true. She has gone on a many legend quests but have yet to hold them true until this one. She is now a senior in high school and eighteen years old and plans to go to California in the fall. Jenna loves scary movies and is not scared of many things—besides those stated in the above piece of folklore. According to her, she plans on pranking Chuck this year, 2016, around Halloween.

Context of the Performance: Halloween

Thoughts about the piece: I felt that this particular piece of folklore that I collected was rich in the folkloric terms we had learned in our Forms of Folklore class. Foremost, there is the precedent of the practical joke, where there is a victim—Jena—and initiator—Chuck—and a dope—the scaring of another person. There is the obvious separation of groups, the people who think it is funny, like Chuck, those who are on the inside of the joke and those who are the unsuspecting casualties, like Jenna, who are outside of the joke.

However, it is interesting to note the occurrence when this practical joke transpired. In Milford, Pennsylvania, where Jenna lives, contrary to popular belief, it really does not start snowing until the end of November. Thus, there is this transitional period from fall to wintertime. Additionally, while Halloween does mark the end of a season, there is seemingly coherent transition between everyday life as well. For example, the marathon of Halloween movies on ABC Family will start to transition into Christmas time movies, the radio will start singing Christmas carols, and department stores will stop selling their Halloween decoration and start to set out Christmas decorations. (It is probably the perfect time for a practical joke such as this, because one would have to question Chuck’s sanity if he dressed up like a dead woman crab walking up the stairs on a regular basis).

Pop culture happens to play an interesting role in this joke as well. As Jenna had noted, the movie Mama (2013) directed by Andrés Muschietti, personifies woman “creepily.” Especially, in horror films, the ghosts and/or dead creatures are most often portrayed as being female: The Ring (2002) and The Grudge (2004). Furthermore, there is also the portrayal of clowns being scary, even though they were supposed to be a child’s entertainment at parties. In pop culture, these clowns are often portrayed as being murderous: It (1990), Amusement (2008), and Poltergeist (1982). There are even designated costumes at Halloween stores, or aisles, that say “Ghost Woman” or “Murderous Clown.” Hence, while in the past these might of not been scary costumes, and or events, in today’s society, the realm of scary, even the “horror” genre has completely changed.

Finally, it is important to note that this practical joke has almost become a tradition in Jenna’s household. Chuck has played this joke on her for two Halloweens in a row, and Jenna had stated that she plans on a practical joke this coming Halloween, where Chuck is the unsuspecting victim and Jenna is in the know.

Childhood
Customs
Game
general
Humor
Initiations

Hebrew School Pranks

The informant is a 95-year old man who grew up in Davenport, right near downtown with his parents and two brothers. His father came over from Russia and owned a grocery store in Davenport. He now lives in Skokie, IL with his wife and caretaker. He has three sons and 9 grandchildren.

Informant: “In Hebrew school they liked to play tricks on teachers. The tricks were different but they always happened. In my Hebrew school we always used to pull pranks if a substitute teacher came. The school was getting all new desks. The new desks were in the basement of the temple. They didn’t bolt them down to the cement floor, they just had them loose. When the substitute teacher went to go to the toilet, all the other guys in the class (there must have been 20 of us) moved their desks way back. And I was not going to participate in it, that kind of tomfoolery. So I kept my desk right where it was. He comes back, he’s from English this teacher, and you know he has thee gray gloves. He comes back in and sees sall the rest of them all the way back and sees me by myself up front and he looks around and tells me to come up to the front, “come up here and get your punishment.” He hit me across the face with his gloves.”

 

Thoughts:

This story reflects the insider/outsider mentality that is often involved in pranking. Pulling pranks on substitute teachers is a way of bringing closer together the pranksters (the students in the class) and in a sense, is the students’ way of demonstrating their power. It could also be seen as a sort of initiation right for new teachers, or for substitute teachers, into the class. Practical jokes create a situation and distract from a lesson, something students are often very keen on doing.

 

Humor

Soda Prank

Context: A friend from high school and I were talking over Skype, and during that conversation she told me about some pranks she had pulled on her college friends during the school year.

Interview Transcript:

Informant: There’s one that I do on my friend, where I… he’s obsessed with Dr. Pepper, so I took Sprite, and I poured soy sauce in it, and I gave it to him, and he got very upset, and it was hilarious.

Me: That’s brilliant. Where did you get that idea?

Informant: I got it from like, a website.

Me: Which website?

Informant: I don’t know. You could find it. Then like, another time, we took worcestershire sauce and, um, we filled the bottle half way with Dr. Pepper, and put worcestershire sauce in it, and soy sauce, and some other sauce, and we tried to get him to drink it, but on accident, someone else drank it.

[Laughter]

Analysis:

This prank provides an example of a practical joke that students play on their friends. This informant performs the prank on people she is already close with rather than as a hazing ritual. The prank is also simple and does not cause harm to the target beyond annoyance. It gets its appeal from tricking the target into thinking they are accepting a gift when in reality they are receiving something disgusting.

Humor

No Soap, Radio (Joke)

Two elephants are in a bathtub. One elephant says to the other, “Please pass the soap.” The other elephant says, “No soap, radio!” 

My informant  first heard this joke from her father, who’d been telling it for as long as either she or he can remember. My informant told me that her father used to say this joke to her all the time, and it would always make her laugh. It wasn’t until she turned 12 or so that she realized she had absolutely no idea what the joke meant. She would ask her dad again and he’d just laugh and say the punchline again, “No soap, radio!” As if it were incredibly obvious. After bothering him about it for a long time, she finally told me her that he, in fact, had no idea what the joke meant either. It was just something someone had told him years ago and had stuck with him. The point of the “joke” is that there is no punchline, it’s just a practical joke, meant to provoke a reaction from the person who hears it. Either the person hearing the joke will assume a false understanding of the joke–“Oh, hahaha, I get it!”–and thus becomes the butt of the joke himself, or they will confess that they don’t get it, and therefore feel left out.

The joke is best when told with a wingman. Way when the joker says the punchline, the wingman laughs, which encourages others to laugh–even if they have no idea what they’re laughing about.

My informant tells me her entire immediate family knows this joke, and once in a while they’ll employ it on an unsuspecting stranger. “Everyone always falls for it and laughs the first time,” she said, “and so even after, when you’re on the ‘inside,’ it’s never mean-spirited…everyone is always embarrassed about the time they laughed!”

Humor

Loose Goose

Loose Goose

 

Practical Joke/Senior Prank

 

When discussing pranks by high school Seniors, my informant shared one his friend conducted. The following is a transcript of our interview:

 

Informant: “ It was the closest thing to a decent Senior prank that came out of our school. One time my best friend’s older brother captures a goose when he was a Senior, and there was down by the river, I live close to the Willamette River, and there’s this beach park thing where these giant geese hang out, and they’re fucking mean. You try to feed them but they are really pushy so they’ll attack you unprovoked, I swear to god they want to kill you, so this guy goes down there and captures a goose, I think he lured it into the parking lot over like two hours with a bunch of bread, so in the parking lot they do kung fu stuff and put it in their care and I’m pretty sure it was dangerous and probably a little illegal, so they put it under a blanket and brought it into the school and released it into the cafeteria. No one to this day knows who was responsible for releasing the goose.  It was super angry and ran around and shit all over the place because it couldn’t get out. The custodian had to come out and capture it – it was pretty spectacular I hear. “

 

My informant said that, although he did not partake in conducting any practical jokes as a high school Senior, a large pastime for his group of friends was dreaming up pranks to pull on the school.

 

Capturing an animal to desecrating the school, this prank is an act of rebellion against the school. Empowering the student, this demonstrates the administrative body’s inability to control the student population, and serves as vengeance for the house of work demanded of students. Also, this makes a mockery of an otherwise serious space, defacing the school on a less physical level.

 

Humor
Legends

Crickets

Crickets

Senior Prank/Practical Joke/Story

 

During a conversation about Senior pranks in high school, my informant recounted a Senior prank he heard happened at a neighboring school. The following is a transcript of our interview:

 

“Informant: There were two highschools, lakeridge was across the lake and we were rivals with them, but I had heard for Their Senior prank they got a thousand crickets and released them into the ventilation system and for the next month there were still cleaning up piles of crickets. Apparently it was horrible. Teachers were getting really pissed because they would chirp away in the back of the Class room, so during awkward lectures and speeches there would be crickets going in the back.”

 

My informant said that Senior pranks were often a topic of conversation in school.  Though he did not do any pranks, he said that he and his friends would often talk about them, trading stories they had heard from other schools.

 

This is an act of rebellion, using animals to desecrate the school.  This empowers the students, who are subjected to the authority of administrative bodies. Breaking down the seriousness of the school setting, the crickets chirp in the back of Classes. Often associated with awkward silence or the silence of an unentertained crowd, cricket chirping disrupts the Classroom and criticizes teachers by comparing them to boring things.  The act of a prank of a school illustrates the students’ empowerment through disobeying rules established by the administration and express students’ annoyance.

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