USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘practical joke’
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.

Adulthood
Customs

Senior Ditch Day

Reminiscing about high school, my informant told me of a tradition/practical joke that Seniors in his high school would orchestrate.

The following is an transcript from our interview:

 

“Informant: Every year, for as long as I’ve known, the Seniors would have a Senior Ditch Day. After the Prarie State Achievement Exam, which all students in Illinois had to take, the Senior Class would skip school for a day. They would all go out to party or just do whatever they wanted. Many would go out somewhere the night before, and celebrate by drinking or smoking, and would use the next day as a skip day to sleep away the hangover.

My year, I spent the day with a couple friends, celebrating like those before me, but we didn’t get together as a group like other grades. Usually they go out to a campsite or someone’s house that’s really far away so they can’t get in trouble, but we just went to my friends house and were sneaky.”

 

My informant said he looked forward to this day for many years, excited by the idea of breaking rules, feeling free, and skipping work for a day. He said that even though the whole grade wasn’t together, he had a great time hanging out with his friends anyway.

 

The first thing to note is when this tradition takes place: because the examination has passed and these are Seniors in high school, they likely will not be punished. Even if they are punished, they won’t have to deal with the consequences for too long since this happens towards the end of their career. Celebrating the end of work (the examination done) the students skip school.  This helps the Seniors through a liminal period, since the administrations rules don’t have as much of an effect on them any more. Almost at the end of their careers as students, the Seniors illustrate that they are no longer children by escaping the confines of school and breaking laws (doing activities reserved for adults).

Simultaneously, this is a practical joke and an act of rebellion. These students break laws and disregard school rules. A show of power, the students, skipping school, demonstrate they cannot be controlled by the school’s authority.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Theater Occupational Stereotype: Crew Versus Cast

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “One actress friend of mine was in a play where she had to kill a canary in the second act. So for the first act they had a live canary in a cage and then at intermission the canary was supposed to be switched for a stuffed canary which was then killed during the course of the action. And one night, I don’t know what she had done to the crew but they were feeling evil and they left the live canary onstage to see what she would do. And of course she couldn’t kill the live canary, that would be mean. So she put it under a bowl in the kitchen portion of the set and left it on the drain board in the kitchen. Uh, which would have worked fine except for the rest of the act this bowl sort of went ‘THUMP! THUMP! THUMP!’ as the canary tried to get out from under the bowl.

There were also the people who, she had a quick change* that involved running out of one side of the stage, dropping her skirt, climbing out a window, running around the back of the theatre and changing various articles of clothing that were placed along the route as she went. And the last step in this quick change was to step into her shoes and pull up the full skirt that was on the ground right inside the door that she then made her next entrance from. And one night they nailed the hem of her skirt to the floor so that she couldn’t get in the door. So she played the whole rest of the scene from the doorway.”

Analysis:

My informant’s story reflects an aspect of theater culture that has been built on stories such as this and stereotypes of cast and crew members.  Cast members are those who are the performers such as actors or actresses and appear on stage.  Crew members are in charge of production side of theater such as scenic design or working as a stage hand.  There is a negative stereotype in theater that perpetuates the idea that cast members are high-maintenance and crew members are mean.  This of course is not true, and every interaction with an actor or crew member will be unique to what kind of person he or she is.  Generally these two sides of theater production work peacefully and collaboratively, as they are united with the common goal to put on a good story for the audience.  However the exchange of stories such as this help build a stereotype in each others’s mind that the other is difficult, or in this case that crew members like to play mean jokes on actresses.  This can lead to dangerous assumptions and conflict if problems in the production occur.

This is because working on a theater production can often be stressful due to time constraints or budget restraints, and people tend to look for someone else to blame the problem on, which is an unfortunate aspect of human behavior. For example when a show is having problems, it is easier to say that it is the fault of a difficult actress or crew member than to get down to the real problem.  And when someone puts the blame on a cast or crew member, the story is generally believed because in theater we have accepted these stereotypes without realizing we are generalizing people.

There are moments when these stereotypes seem to hold true, such as my informant’s story about the crew members.  In addition to that, I once worked on a television program where the musician was upset that the set was gold and not pink.  However, these occurrences are rare. But the stereotype that cast members are high-maintaince and crew members are mean is an aspect of theater culture that affects the way people interact with one another.

My informant was born in 1961, Connecticut.  He has more than 30 years of experience in theater and has worked on over hundreds of productions.  He continues to work on theater productions today, and serves as the associate professor of theater practice and technical direction at the University of Southern California. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

*Quick change: a term used in theater to describe a point in the play’s production where the actor must quickly change his clothes backstage before emerging back onstage.  Stand hands, also known as the backstage crew, often help the actor put on their costume to insure the speed and effectiveness of the quick change.

Game

Flip Tag

I was in my informant’s dorm room chatting to her roommate after class, and when I turned around, I found that my informant had flipped my backpack inside out, so that the straps and front pocket were now on the inside.

My informant learned this practical joke in middle school. She first observed the joke when it was done to her, and she subsequently performed it on others. She told me that this joke is typically played as a game of tag, so that when someone flips your backpack, you are now “it” and have to flip someone else’s backpack. The person who is “it” turns the victim’s backpack inside out, puts the contents of the backpack back inside, and zips it up. In another variation—the more annoying one, according to my informant—the entire backpack is flipped inside out and stuffed into the front pocket of the backpack. In this version, all of the contents of the backpack and the front pocket have to be removed since they won’t fit inside, and are left in a pile by the zipped-up backpack packet.

The flipping often occurred in class or at lunchtime, said my informant. Students played the game because it was a way to entertain themselves during the school day using the materials available to them. Everyone carries backpacks in middle school, so everyone is a potential victim. The goal, presumably, is to flip someone’s backpack without them catching you in the act. It probably takes skill to flip someone’s backpack quickly enough that they don’t notice, so this could be a way of impressing friends. Also, it could be a team effort to flip someone’s backpack, with someone distracting the victim while someone else flipped the backpack, turning the game into a “bonding against the outsider” scenario, with the victim being the only one who isn’t in on the joke. Because the flipping sometimes occurred during class, the flipper also had to be careful not to attract the teacher’s attention. The game is therefore a way of defying authority. The flipper also gets to go through the contents of the victim’s backpack, so part of the appeal of flip tag could be that it is a way to satisfy curiosity or invade someone else’s privacy under the pretext of a game.

Humor

Saran-Wrapping

Standard saran wrap will cling to itself, and using this property, it is possible to temporarily trap a friend in bed my tightly wrapping a few rolls around the width of their bed while they sleep.

 

My informant learned this practical joke when members of his club water polo team started to talk about it.  His teammates were also playing for their respective high school teams at the same time, and a few of them had just returned from a tournament in San Jose.  During the trip, they had succeeded in pulling this prank on the only freshman that played on their varsity team.  While away from home, the whole team shared a room of bunk beds for when they needed to sleep.  Early in they day, they pulled the freshman’s bed out from the wall, to make it easier to unroll the saran wrap around the width of the bed.  Once the freshman had fallen asleep, the rest of the team unraveled several rolls of saran wrap around the freshman, holding him in place.  The rest of the team woke up five minutes before the freshman and watched him struggle and scream a few times before he saw the saran wrap holding him down.

My informant thought this was awesome and he decided he would try it himself as soon as possible.  He told me that this prank can work as long as you share a room and it works best if the victim is sleeping on the top of a bunk bed because it’s easier to maneuver the saran wrap.  The victim will wake up and try to get up like usual, but none of his appendages will respond because they’re held in place under the layers of saran wrap.  They’ll be terrified, trapped, and paralyzed for a few moments until they figure out what has happened.  He also suggested that it’s used because the culprits bond as they plan the prank and it’s funny to watch the victim struggle in bed.

This prank closely simulates the human condition of sleep paralysis.  Someone suffering from sleep paralysis will experience temporary paralysis after they wake up.  It occurs when the brain awakes from REM sleep before the rest of the body.  The paralysis can last for a few seconds to a few minutes, until the person is able to return to sleep or completely awaken. To a person that doesn’t suffer from sleep paralysis, waking up with the inability to move can be terrifying.  One’s mind immediately starts to imagine life as a quadriplegic before looking for any reasonable explanation for the immobility.

I have a personal experience with this prank because my informant attempted to perform it on me.  We attended a weekend-long winter camp in high school.  On the first night, I woke up, it was extremely bright and it felt like there were daggers in my face.  I immediately thought to sit up and stop whatever was hurting my face.  There was a little resistance, and I sat up and saw my informant and friends laughing.  I punched a few of them before turning over and going back to bed.  In the morning my informant told me the group had tried to trap me in bed, but they could not get the saran wrap tight enough to hold me down.  Also, the group grew tired of waiting for me to wake up, so they shined a flashlight in my eyes.  When that didn’t work, they threw snow in my face.  This accounts for the brightness and the pain I felt on my face.  I was upset that I had been awoken from my sleep and that my face hurt from being covered in snow, but I was also glad that the group chosen to prank me over anyone else.  In this way, this was a rite of passage, as I had gone from an outsider to someone that was involved in their prank.  Similarly, the freshman mentioned earlier was accepted by his team in the same way.

Game
Humor

“The Thunderstorm”

While the victim is unsuspecting or away, perpetrators will fill an empty, large trash bin full of water.  Then, when the victim leaves to use a public restroom and selects a stall, the perpetrators will dump the huge amount of water over the door of the stall, flicker the lights, and bang on the sides of the stall, simulating a thunderstorm.  Of course, the idea is to completely drench the victim while they are absolutely defenseless, with their pants down. This will put the victim in a completely uncomfortable position, at least until they can change their clothes. 

 

My source first learned of this practical joke when he found himself victimized.  Last year he lived in an on-campus dormitory, where between 20 and 30 male students live on a floor together and share a large, public-style bathroom.  Another student had heard of this prank and had been dying all semester to pull it off.

At the time, my source had changed into some comfortable clothes and was about to settle down and type out a report for one of his classes.  As time passed, he had to use the restroom.  Of course, the other student had filled a trash can with water earlier in the day and was waiting for this exact moment.  With the help of two other students, the perpetrator was able to dump the bin full of water onto my source.

“I was tired from writing the paper, and a bucket-full of water was what I least expected.  So, yes, I was completely shocked,” reported my source.  His first reaction was to cover up and get out of there as soon as he could.  Then he changed his clothes and set out to find the perpetrators. My source was not angry and realized that in the long run, this would be a funny story to tell, and this is why he decided to share this practical joke with me.

Many instances of practical jokes can be attributed to rites of passage.  The student who first had the idea had waited all year to feel comfortable enough around someone to make them the victim of this practical joke without them having hard feelings.  In this sense, my source had gone from friend to trusted-friend in the eyes of the perpetrator, and this prank was his rite of passage.

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