Tag Archives: practical joke

The Board Stretcher

Text

Board Stretcher

Context

MI – A board stretcher is a thing you tell to new inexperienced workers in a wood shop or whatever. If they cut something too short you go “Oh! You cut that too short! Go get the board stretcher!” to go stretch the board back out to the right length. And they go looking for it but it doesn’t exist. It’s like a snipe hunt. Everybody gets a good laugh while the new guy makes a fool of himself.

Analysis

This is an example of a snipe hunt, as mentioned by the informant. It is not possible to stretch a board back out to the right length when it is cut too short. But a new employee, probably worried about making mistakes and cognizant that they know much less than everyone else in the shop, will eagerly listen to the more experience workers even at the expense of their own logic. The practical joke played on the new employee will possibly show them, through humor, that the older employees are not upset at them for making a mistake. As snipe hunts can only be played once per person, the new employee will then become more experienced in the wood shop culture, and therefore takes another step into the in-group—or folk group—of the wood shop.

BACHELOR PARTY PRANK

MAIN PIECE:

Informant: They chained a bowling ball to my leg… With a––with a, like chain. And I just kept telling them they had to remember not to push me in the pool that night… And they put me in a 12-year-old’s Superman costume. Like literally stuffed me into it, and everything was so far up my freaking crotch. So I was walking around the streets of Vegas in this Superman costume with a bowling ball chained to my leg. Like a ten- or twelve-pounder… Wasn’t like a kid’s ball.

INFORMANT’S RELATIONSHIP TO THE PIECE:

Informant: It’s what’s expected, you know…? Especially with my friends, there’s always that… I think it boils down to just playfulness? Like close through playfulness, you know. Giving each other a hard time, teasing each other, playing a prank on each other. Um… ‘Cause we know that we can. We’re so close that we can do it to each other without it, you know, offending anybody or, you know, somebody taking it the wrong way, or, you know… I think it symbolizes… At least in my group of friends, like you know… You know that when…  You’re stuffed into a Superman costume that you’re part of the crew. You know? And everybody’s having a good time at your expense, and everyone––and you’re okay with that. Cause it’s… It’s going to be somebody else’s turn at some point. 

REFLECTION:

Bachelor parties are a transitional period where a man is neither married nor single. He is on the threshold of becoming a husband. Bachelor parties often involve pranks at the groom’s expense, as practical jokes mark initiations into new identities. In International Folkloristics: Classic Contributions by the Founders of Folklore, Géza Róheim writes that there is a “tendency to punish the main actor of the drama,” with the groomsmen and bridesmaids “abreacting their Oedipal revolt in humorous, permissible form, against the new ‘father’-to-be” (273). Across cultures, the groom is clowned at the hands of the young people involved in the wedding party; he is being teased before entering his new, serious role as a man (which in some societies or families may entail becoming a patriarch, father, breadwinner, and head of the household).

In this specific case, pranks also showcase a closeness amongst the friends involved. The informant is part of a playful group of people who reveal their trust in one another through pranks. Being involved in the pranks demonstrates that you are part of the “in-group”––that you have earned their trust, and that you trust them––that they know you will respond to the prank in a certain manner (by finding it amusing and not upsetting). By pranking the informant, the men are not only marking the groom’s transition from bachelor to husband, but celebrating him as one of their own––he is still considered a part of the group, despite transitioning into a new identity. 

ANNOTATION:

Source cited above:

Róheim, Géza. “Wedding Ceremonies in European Folklore.” International Folkloristics: Classic Contributions by the Founders of Folklore, by Alan Dundes, Rowman & Littlefield, 1999, pp. 243–274.

Practical Joke: Eating an Orange Like a Monkey

Main Piece: 

Informant: “It comes from my dad. I remember distinctly, I was probably four and he said ‘I’m going to show you how to eat and orange like a monkey.’ And this is how you do it. You take an orange and you orient the stem perpendicular, and you cut it in half so that you see, you know, the typical cross-section if an orange with all the sections in a radiant circle like a sun. So, then you pick up- you do this to each side of the orange -you pick up the half of the orange and you take your little four-year-old teeth which grow into sixteen-year-old teeth and you go around the orange, you dig the flesh of each section out with your front teeth. Particularly good when you still have your front teeth but you don’t have your side teeth because you’ve lost them. So, you scoop the orange meat- pulp -out, going around the perimeter of the orange. Then, what you do is you take the orange and you squish it in half. So, you know, it’s a straight line on the top and you’ve got a semi-circle underneath it. Does that make sense?”

Collector: “Yeah.”

Informant: “So, you squish it in half and you hold it up to your mouth and you drain the orange juice that you can get into your mouth. So, then you take it down and then you fold it the other way so you still got a straight line, but now you’re taking the rest of the pulp- you understand what I’m saying? Like you fold it the other way and you do the same thing; you squish and you get all the orange juice out of the other half. And then what you do- now it’s all pliable, so you take your orange half, which is mostly peel now and some pith, and you turn it inside out and you eat each of the like sectional pith pieces one by one. And that- and then you do it to the other side of the orange -and that is how you eat an orange like a monkey. And I always did this my entire childhood.” 

Background:

My informant considered this something almost unique to her family, though she said that she thinks her father learned it from a kid he went to high school with. She described this as something of a practical joke with practical benefits for her father: 

“And then, about two years ago- I’m fifty-two, so when I was about fifty I said to my dad ‘You know, Dad, I’ve now fifty years old and I have never in my entire life seen someone eat an orange like a monkey except your children.’ And he said ‘Well, I learned it somewhere and as soon as I realized I had five children and as soon as the first one- as soon as I stopped peeling an orange for one through five then the first one would be hungry again. I knew I had to teach them how to eat an orange by themselves. Fortunately, I recalled how to eat an orange like a monkey, and I taught you all, and that’s how I escaped a life of peeling oranges.”

My informant says she did not proliferate this practice because she only had two kids- she didn’t mind cutting up two oranges.

Thoughts:

This practice is difficult to interpret. Its marketing seems geared towards kids- eating like a monkey is fun for kids -so I wouldn’t be surprised if this was originally intended as a trick to get kids cutting their own oranges. However, the informant’s father learned it from a peer, not as a parenting trick, and applied it that way himself. I would tentatively suggest that this is folklore originating from children, given Jay Mechling’s analysis of how children’s rituals are often highly complex and absurd but treated with enough solemnity to follow the exact labyrinthine instructions. This also strikes me as a possible practical joke. Presumably, the goal would be to keep a straight face as you forced someone else through an intricate and increasingly ridiculous process. This seems likely as something taught by one high schooler to another.

Practical Joke: Putting Butter on Your Nose

Main Piece: 

“So, the other thing that is family folklore that my dad probably did to you was- he said it was a French-Canadian custom to try and catch the birthday person… if it’s your birthday, he’s going to try and catch you and put butter on your nose. Which is really disgusting. And sometimes it would be- we got smarter, and so we would hide the butter -and so he would do peanut butter. Which in some ways is worse, because it’s really hard to get peanut butter off of anything. You smell like peanut butter all day. So, thanks Dad. ”

Background:

My informant said that this practical joke was a tradition on her father’s side of the family. Her father apparently went through the same thing, as did all the kids in his family. On their birthdays, someone would catch them and put butter on their nose. My informant casts some doubt on whether or not this was actually a French-Canadian custom rather than something someone on her father’s side made up for fun, but that was what she was told. 

Thoughts:

My informant suggests that this practical joke could be fakelore- something that someone on her father’s side came up that they said was a French-Canadian custom with that has since been proliferated. However, I did find another source that mentions this as a Canadian custom: a children’s book on birthday customs. See Powell, Jillian. “A Birthday.” United States: Smart Apple Media, 2007. 1-30. Though a less serious occasion, this seems similar in some ways to Irish practical jokes at wakes or family practical jokes at weddings- the focus is on the fun of the joke, not the feelings of the person for whom the event is for. All of these are times of liminality, and the practical jokes can serve as a way to cope with that.

Ghanaian wedding tradition

BACKGROUND: My informant, CE, was born in Ghana and immigrated to the US about two decades ago. The following piece is a tradition within Ghanaian culture, something commonly performed at weddings.

CONTEXT: This piece is from a conversation I had with my mom about Ghanaian traditions.

CE: You already know this one but… during a wedding the man, the uh, the groom is supposed to pick the bride out of a line of other covered ladies. He’s supposed to choose the right one [his wife] to prove that he loves her.

Me: I remember from [redacted]’s wedding but have you ever seen something where the groom picks the wrong bride?

CE: They always tell the groom before which one is his bride. So if he chooses wrong he’s in big trouble!

THOUGHTS: The thought of this being a tradition seems pretty horrific to me. I’ve been to quite a few Ghanaian weddings and each time I still clench in fear when the groom has to find his bride. I used to wonder why it was necessary to go through this extra stress, but after learning more about how pranks and shenanigans like this were common in weddings all over the world, it started to become clear that these jokes were not exclusive to Africa. In Germany, for example, it is common for the bride to be “kidnapped” as a wedding day joke.