USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘prank’
Game
Humor

Cup of water and broom prank

Informant is a junior at Penn State University who grew up in NJ. Informant tells me that they heard about the prank first from a camp counselor, and then on a TV show which they can’t remember.

The following is a description of the prank and how to pull it off:

 

“So, it’s pretty easy. All you need is a cup of water, a chair, and a broom. And somebody else in the house with you… to prank of course.

First, you take the chair and hold the cup of water to the ceiling so the rim of the cup is on the ceiling. Then, take the broom and use the stick part to press the bottom of the cup to the ceiling, holding it there. Now you can move the chair back… or have a friend do it or something, because you have to keep the cup on the ceiling.

Next, you just wait until somebody walks by. Ask them if they could hold the broom for a second so you can run and grab something, or go to the bathroom, or whatever you want to say. The idea is that if you get them to hold the broom and walk away, they have no choice but to just stand there or have a cup of water fall on them. It’s foolproof!”

 

This prank is pretty sinister because of how easy it is to set up, and how dire the circumstances become for the poor soul who falls for it. Ideally this is a prank you would pull on a close friend or family member. Although the intent can be lighthearted, I would imagine this would really drive anybody crazy– especially if he or she had something else to do before being either drenched in water or reduced to standing under the cup helplessly.

“It has to be somebody you could afford to anger and disappoint, like your brother” my informant tells me, giggling.

 

 

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.

Humor
Initiations

The Drop Bear Prank

“We’ve got a koala bear, which is one of the laziest animals. I don’t know where the tradition came from, but we tell tourist that koalas will drop down from trees and attack people. We like to tell tourists this to scare them. We like to “take the mickey” (make fun of) with people who have never been to the bush before.”

According to the informant, the drop bear is the name of a common prank that is pulled on tourists who have never been to Australia before and are unfamiliar with what life in the country is actually like. Because many of these tourists are afraid of the many poisonous animals that can kill them in the Australian wilderness, Australians like to intensify these fears for their own enjoyment by warning tourists that carnivorous koalas (otherwise known as drop bears) like to drop from trees and viciously attack anyone below. Angus claims that this prank is considered truly successful if a tourist returns home still believing that drop bears exist.

The informant, Angus Guthrie, is a 20-year-old student who was born and raised in Australia. Because he and his family have been in the country for a very long time, he believes that he is quite familiar with Australian folklore and traditions. While Angus does not know where he learned this prank from, he does know that it is a reaction to the stereotype that Australians live on land that is highly unsafe. Australians instead want to be known as a fun loving group of people. Angus believes that this prank helps them spread this image.

This prank is intriguing because it reflects the Australian value of being viewed in a positive light. It is clear that they resent the view that Australians do not live on safe land. What this prank allows them to do is allow foreigners to discover an image that better suits them. When people finally realize that drop bears are not real, that is when they are finally able to see what the Australian lifestyle is actually life.

For a complex example of the drop bear prank, look here: Janssen, Volker. “Indirect tracking of drop bears using GNSS technology.”Australian Geographer 43.4 (2012): 445-452.

Humor
Narrative

He Couldn’t Find the Punchline

The informant is a second year student at the University of Southern California, studying History. He is from Chicago, IL, and he lived abroad in Rome when he was younger. At USC, he is involved with student affairs and television production.

This is the informant’s favorite joke.

“This kid, he’s at an amusement park. And so, he really wants to go drink some Coca Cola. Alright? So he’s wandering through this amusement park and he’s looking for a booth of some sort where he can drink Coca Cola. So he goes up to this one booth and he’s like, “Excuse me, sir, do you have coke?” And the guys says, “I don’t have coke, is Pepsi okay?” And the kid says, “Of course not,” and he walks away because Pepsi is an inferior drink.

Um, so then, he goes over and he goes to another booth. And so he’s like okay, alright, maybe I can get a coke here. And the guy says, “I’m sorry, we’re fresh out of coke, but then you might want to check the booth right down the street.” So he goes, “Oh, son of a bitch” and he keeps walking. So he keeps going, he goes to this next booth, and that booth is also out of Coca Cola.

So the guy tells him, “You know, there’s a—you can go to the convenience store that’s down the street, and the convenience store should have something.” And so he exits the amusement park, goes down to the convenience store because he just really wants a Coca Cola, right? He just really wants it bad. So he goes down to the convenience store, and when he gets to the store front, there’s a sign on it. And the sign says, “Sorry, we’ve moved.” And gives him an address about three blocks north. Sorry, 30 blocks north. My bad.

Um, so he goes, “Well shit, that’s a lot of walking I’m going to do.” And then he starts walking because this guy isn’t very bright, clearly. So he keeps walking, and walking, and walking, and walking, and he’s going farther and farther and he’s getting really really tired and he’s getting thirstier and thirstier. And the guy appears to him on the street, and he’s got a little thing of water. And he says, “Would you like some water, sir?” And the kid goes, “No. I want that Coca Cola, damnit.”

And the hobo goes okay, and just lets him pass. So he keeps walking, and he’s gone about 10 blocks by this point, so he goes to the next roadblock. Which is this woman standing in front of him, and she tells him, “You’re looking really dehydrated. You need to drink some water.” And he says, “I don’t want water, I want Coca Cola, damnit.” And the woman refuses to let him go, so he ducks under her legs and he keeps going.

And then he keeps going down block after block after block and he’s on the 25th block. And then he’s basically dragging himself on the ground. He’s sweating, he’s tired, and he hears someone ask, “Do you want a drink?” And he says, “No, I want that Coca Cola, damnit.” So he keeps going, and he drags himself the last five blocks to the convenience store. And then the convenience store is closed.

And so he’s basically just up the river without a paddle. And then he sees—because at this point, he’s—he’s gone 30 blocks. He doesn’t care about the coke anymore. He cares about getting any form of liquid that has sugar in it into his body. So then he sees a stand that’s advertised as punch, right? And it’s only a dollar, so that’s actually a really big bargain. And the stand is far away on a hill, so he starts trudging towards it. And trudging towards it, and trudging towards it. And so, you know after a certain point he decides maybe I’ll take the bus.

So he gets on the bus and takes the bus down four blocks, until the bus driver refuses to let him off. And he goes, “Why are you refusing to let me off?” And the bus driver says, “Because you look really sick, and I’m going to take you to the hospital.” So the kid hits the bus driver right in the face, knocks him out, gets out of the bus, and he’s finally at this knoll that has the punch booth. Except he keeps walking around and walking in circles and walking in circles and he just can’t seem to find the punchline.

That’s the joke.

The point of that—let me contextualize, so the point of that joke is that you start of with the premise of a kid with the coke thing, and see how long you can keep going before they realize that this joke is going nowhere. And because you’re doing it for a school assignment, it’s perfect because you have to listen to the entirety of it.”

Analysis:

While the informant describes this piece as a joke, it is also reminiscent of a tale in several ways. As with Propp’s morphology of the folktale, the narrative surrounding the joke includes, among other elements, a lack/absence, a departure, a quest, and a scorned gift. The structure of this joke lends itself to this format well; the purpose of the joke is to string the listener along for as long as possible, so it becomes important for the performer to keep the audience engaged with the story that leads to the eventual “punchline.” Because this piece is quite long and performed orally, using a familiar narrative structure from folktales would help the performer remember what happens next, whether or not the performer is aware of this similarity.

Additionally, the punchline, or lack thereof, gives this joke a different intention. Instead of provoking laughter, the joke inspires more of a benign exasperation, an acknowledgement of a trick well played. It might even feel like a subtle prank. The informant seemed to relish the opportunity to string me along for as long as possible.

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.

 

general

Pranks in Hospital

My mother and informant, KK, meets up with her friends from high school about once a month.  They call themselves “club.”  I was home when KK hosted “club” and listened to her and her friends, several of whom are nurses, swap stories about their shifts when working in a hospital.

KK and her friends were working the night shift in the hospital on the oncology floor.  It was probably 1993.

KK and her friends decided they wanted to entertain one of their patients.  Their patient was an 18 year old man hospitalized with leukemia.  KK said, “We wanted to make him happy.”   KK explained that the patient was always up late because his friends would come visit him late at night.

In order to cheer him up, KK and her friends stuffed their chests with pillows, barged into his room, and sang Jimmy Soul’s “If You Wanna Be Happy” and Cher’s “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss).”  They called themselves “The Boobettes.”  “And of course he laughed like crazy.  He loved it,” KK said.

KK and her friend’s prank reveals what nurses do that lies outside of their job description.  Rather than being a rite of passage, her skit demonstrates a kind of compassion that often seems to accompany nurses.

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.

Adulthood
Customs
Game
Humor
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Rajasthani Wedding Games for the Groom

1. The first time the son-in-law comes to his mother-in-law’s house,  the women in her family fill his mouth with sweets, and he can’t refuse.

2. The Son-in-law will also have to pick out his new wife from amongst all the women in her family (and servants). They will all cover their faces with their veils and group together. The new husband must recognize his bride by her hands and figure; if he picks her out, he gets to spend the night at her side. Otherwise, he has to sleep outside under the stars.

Just like for the bride, the marriage period is a liminal period of transition that needs to be eased. Teh groom is now responsible for his wife and is joining a new family.Unlike the bride’s experience though, the groom is not being tested like the bride for his courage, strength, intelligence, etc. This is probably a carry over form the dowry tradition, back in old days (and to this day in villages and conservative communities) the bride’s family would pay the groom’s family to marry their daughter. Thus, the groom’s family would put her to the test to make sure she was “worth the money” so to speak. Now, the dowry system is uncommon, but the practice of testing the new wife remains.

Customs
Game
general

Rule-Breaking Custom in the U.S. Army during World War II

At the end of World War II, U.S. troops in Europe had little to do and were generally restless.  To entertain themselves, soldiers would take leave without permission and—more interestingly—challenge each other to take leave without permission. Here are some examples of this military tradition, from my informant’s wartime experiences:

“During the journey, some of the soldiers came down with Scarlet Fever, so all of the men who had been on our ship were quarantined. After a week or more in quarantine, some of the guys began to get restless.  They noticed that it was possible to sneak out by crawling across the road on one’s belly between the guards when they were marching in opposite directions.  About a dozen of us sneaked out together to explore the countryside.  The Allies had heavily bombed Le Havre to create a diversion from the main D-day landing to the North. Given the resulting ill feeling of the locals towards Americans at that moment, our excursion wasn’t very sensible.  The guys practiced firing their pistols, and after a few hours we sneaked back into camp.  The only other noteworthy event during this period was that one of the idiots in the camp fired off a pistol, making a small hole in the tent about a foot above my head.

“We finally arrived in Namur [in Belgium] and were taken to the kaserne (a barracks surrounded by a 10- or 12-foot high brick wall). During the first few days at the kaserne, only soldiers who had arrived earlier were granted passes to go into town.  There was, however, a section of the wall that was blocked from view by other buildings in the kaserne.  By having one person climb onto another’s shoulders, and a third scramble over the two of them, it was possible to form a chain and scale the wall.  The third guy climbed on top of the wall, assisted the second to get up, and then lowered him by the ankles so that the last could be pulled up.  It was difficult and painful, especially for the man on the bottom.  We went into town and had a great time drinking beer, but somehow it was more difficult to climb back into the kaserne.  We managed to accomplish it without anyone getting hurt.

“The next time that I got a pass [to take leave], Foti had forgotten to get on the request list, and did not have a pass.  There was only a single guard who stood opposite the entrance to the main gate.  I noticed that some of the men would just wave their pass at the guard and say that they were going to turn it in at the orderly room, and that he let them go by without checking.  I convinced Foti that he should come out with me and that we would do the same thing.  When we came back at about 2 AM, I waved my pass at the guard, but he lowered his carbine and said: ‘Soldiers—You’ll turn in your passes here.’  So, I handed him my pass, and told him: ‘That’s his pass—I’ll look for mine.’  To give Foti time to get back to the barracks and into bed, I proceeded to leisurely go through every pocket in my overcoat, jacket, and pants, and then turned over every piece of paper in my wallet four times.  The guard finally started to lose patience with me, demanded my dog tags, and took down my name and Army serial number.  He said: ‘We’ll find out whether or not you had a pass’ and he let me go.  At the next morning’s roll call, with about 1,000 men standing at attention, the Colonel called out my name and told me to march front and center; I did so and saluted him.  He shouted at me: ‘NO ONE MAKES A MONKEY OUT OF MY M.P.’S.  I’M GOING TO COURT MARTIAL YOU IF IT’S THE LAST THING I DO!’  The following day we were ordered to move to Germany, and the Colonel told me that he was going to let me off.

“I suppose that my involvement in these escapades reflected annoyance at the seemingly arbitrary regimentation and restrictions of the Army.  In retrospect, resentment and boredom overcame common sense; it’s fortunate that no one was harmed by any of this.”

Analysis: Aside from providing the soldiers an outlet with which to escape from their boredom, this tradition forces soldiers to demonstrate their guts, thereby reaffirming their manliness. By taking leave without permission, soldiers could prove themselves to the group and gain acceptance through the process. Especially in a high-risk, wartime environment, it seems reasonable that young men would search for ways in which to establish themselves as courageous amongst their peers. Thus, this practice reflects the pressurized situation of war.

Similarly, in Tim O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried, which is based upon the author’s experience of fighting in the Vietnam War, the soldiers’ behavior to one another often tends to be characterized by false bravado—the men endeavor to mask their fears so that they can appear braver than they feel in actuality. For instance, Tim O’Brien portrays a soldier named Curt Lemon, who initiates such dangerous games as “pass the smoke grenade” as he endeavors to exhibit a total lack of fear. (Tragically, he steps upon a mine while playing one of these games, and in this way meets his end.)

O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 1990. Print.

 

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.

 

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