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

Office Folklore- Unicorn Death

Subject: Office Folklore. Pranks and comradery.

Collection:

“Interviewer: So… you have an employee in your office who is in a band… what type of music does her band play?

Interviewee: Death metal.

Interviewer: And what is the name of her band.

Interviewee: Unicorn death.

Interviewer: Now, for her birthday or before she’d go on tour, is there anything, any hijinks the office would get into surrounding her band?

Interviewee: So, she only wears black, and so we took her office and we covered it all in pink posy-notes, and then we saran wrapped her chair, um… we put Justin Bieber… pictures and we stuck them inside her notebook and inside her drawers and…

Interviewer: Why Justin Bieber?

Interviewee: Because he is a music genre she would not be interested in… um, we all put on a unicorn hat that was pink with like a purple horn… and um we um forced her to wear it.”

Background Info: Sehi Computer Products is in San Clemente, CA and consists of an inside office and an outside warehouse division. They have roughly twenty employees at any given time with most employees sitting at open work stations in one larger room. Conversation is open with side banter occurring intermittently with tasks and projects. My mother has worked in the office since 1989.

Context: This story was given over dinner with my mother and father while discussing jokes and events to parts of our lives unique to the rest of the family.

Analysis: It is now part of office culture to collect and send photos of unicorns to workplace associates. By the time clock, there is a bulletin board of photos of different employees wearing a unicorn hat in honor of the employee and her participation in the band. Such actions allow for employees to feel involved in one another’s personal lives within the often impersonal and task-based office setting. Now that the employee is touring with her band, the employees still mention and joke about unicorns, allowing her to stay relevant in the office community and actively works to integrate her into their social circles. Furthermore, all levels of personnel in the office participate in the tradition which helps to break down the traditional structures of command that can lead to negative feelings between manager and staff.

Being told the backstory around the unicorns is a rite of passage for employees, marking them as participants and contributors in the office community. Often, summer employees clock in and out every day without understanding the significance of the photos. However, to people in the office at the time of the employee going on tour, it marks a tie to a dear friend and a spirit of kinship, originating in being part of the “in” group in the office.

Furthermore, there is an element of play in the pranks that plays on subverting the individual’s personality. The people playing the prank purposefully choose items they knew the individual being pranked would not like and augmented them. The prank is tailored specifically to her interests, and this level of care communicates to the individual that they are known and valued in the office environment. The prank was not malicious, but rather a celebration of the individual and her unique personality .

Game
general
Humor

Calera Pens Severed Testicles Prank

Tres, a cowboy that has worked on my family’s ancestral ranch for nearly twenty years, illustrated a commonly-occurring prank that occurs during the process of castrating and ear-tagging young cattle (calves) during the summer months.

 

To provide locational context:

The calera pens, where the prank is most likely to take place, is an octagonal dirt arena where calves are let in three to five at a time from an adjacent pen holding around 100 calves in total.

 

At any given time, there tend to be around ten cowboys occupying the pens as to make quick work of the calves that are let in. Clearing out the total queue of calves takes a matter of what usually amounts to three hours.

 

Each round of calves that enters is quickly and methodically dispatched with a combination of lasso-ropes thrown around the calves’ hind legs (preventing them from running and compromising their balance) and a ‘mugger’ who turns the animal on its side and holds it in place. A third cowboy then approaches with a knife to sever the calves’ testicles (since breeding is designated for carefully-selected bulls, clipping young calves keeps both genetics and numbers in check). An ear clipper is then used punches a hole in the calves’ ear that will then be used for placing a plastic numeric identification tag on the calf in a permanent manner.

 

The prank in question involves the cowboy who has just performed the business of cutting off a cow’s testicles, which he now holds in his hands as two bloody balls of flesh.

 

With these in hand, the cowboy will put away his knife and nonchalantly walk up to an unsuspecting co-worker, placing the severed testicles either on their shoulder, in their front pocket, or, in particularly biting cases, down the back of their shirt.

 

The sight of a co-worker reeling in disgust or groaning as they flap the back of a rapidly-untucked shirt is can prompt immediate laughter from bystanders who may not have even seen the perpetrator’s approach, a clear illustration of its familiarity within the pens and a helpful outlet of humor and fun in a workplace that can very quickly become physically punishing and demanding in terms of both high heat indexes and the unpredictability of handling large, frightened animals.

Digital

Rickrolling

The particular details and background of the following prank were introduced to me by a fellow student majoring in computer science.

 

The prank in question takes place on internet video platforms, most commonly YouTube, where viewers are led to believe they are accessing entirely unrelated material and instead are met with the surprise appearance of the music video for Rick Astley’s 1987 song ‘Never Gonna Give You Up.’ Having been performed so many times as to have earned its own name, the prank has come to be known as ‘rickrolling,’ a reference to Astley’s name.

 

Although I was previously familiar with the prank’s ubiquity, having been ‘rickrolled’ myself a number of times prior, its intentional nonsensicality was not apparent until being explained.

 

As a prank that exists in a simple digital form and relies entirely on taking advantage of the internet’s functions, ‘rickrolling’ is a definitive example of the relationship between perpetrator and victim when pranks are performed over the internet. In real life, there requires some kind of physical interaction to be pranked, but on the internet, there remains complete anonymity. The victim will likely never have any idea who ‘rickrolled’ them, and given the nonexistent physical consequences of the prank itself, will not have any incentive to find out themselves.

 

See More:

A transformative step for this prank occurred as that of a marketing tool in the leadup to the release of the second season of HBO’s television program Westworld. The creators of the show, known for its complicated narrative and plot twists, formally announced they would release a video revealing a comprehensive guide to every narrative step of the show in advance, effectively spoiling every surprise the season held before airing.

 

Because much of the show’s popularity derives from trying to guess and anticipate each of these twists, critics and viewers alike contentiously debated this unprecedented decision that would undermine the effectiveness of a highly anticipated release and seemed to reflect an unsettling ignorance (on the creator’s parts) of the show’s major appeal.

 

When the aforementioned spoiler guide was released onto the video platform YouTube, viewers were treated to the sight of the program’s lead actress singing a piano cover of Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up,’ a nod to the traditional practice of ‘rickrolling’ and a solid indication that the entire announcement was a prank itself.

 

It is worth noting that even this sly and cleverly-angled marketing strategy relied on an unexpected narrative twist (although created in real life, impressively), just as the show itself relies on such methods to keep viewers engaged.

Humor

Smart Pills Prank

Main Piece: Prank/Joke

So I used to hear this a lot when I was about 6-7 years old from my dad. Who heard it from his grandfather. When my dad was younger he would always try to pull pranks on his friends, as he friends would to him, so one day he went up to his grandfather and asked if he had any ideas. My great grandfather said: Robbie, have you ever heard of smart pills? My dad replied, no. So my great grandfather went on to explain that my dad should pick up some rabbit pellets (rabbit poop) and put them in a pill bottle. Then, go up to your friends and say, Hey! wanna smart pill? it’ll make you super smart and hand them the pill bottle. Now I don’t think my dad actually gave anyone a rabbit pellet, but the meaning stands.

 

Background Information:

  • Why does informant know this piece?

It was told to her as an amusing anecdote

  • Where did they learn this piece?

It was told to her by her father.

  • What does it mean to them?

It’s an amusing prank that was played by her father.

 

Context:

Described in main piece.

 

Personal Thoughts:

This seems like a common game in the U.S., where there is a strong tradition of pranking people to eat things that they would never normally eat.

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.

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