All About Pranks

This blog has submissions from many known and not so known pranksters, artists, performers, activists and writers. It provides a continuing and growing exploration into the art of the prank; the role of the prankster as artist, activist and social observer; and the contribution of the prank to society.

Blog Posts

Portofess: The Church Must Go Where the Sinners Are!

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, The Big One, The History of Pranks, The Prank as Art

The Story of the ‘Portofess,’ the Prank Confessional Booth at the 1992 Democratic Convention
by Sarah Laskow
Atlas Obscura
July 14, 2017

Artist Joey Skaggs fooled everyone and pedaled off.

Father Anthony Joseph (aka Joey Skaggs) pedals his Portofess to the 1992 Democratic National Convention, courtesy Joey Skaggs Archive

At 1992’s Democratic National Convention, a Dominican priest showed up on a tricycle. Attached to the back was a confessional booth, with a sign that read “Portofess.” The priest said he biked to New York, where the convention was held, all the way from California. The church, according to the priest, needed to take a “more aggressive stance and go where the sinners are.” He was ready to take confession from any politician who wanted or needed it.

The Portofess made papers all over the country. But soon enough Reuters revealed that the Archdiocese in California had never heard of this priest, who called himself Father Anthony Joseph or, sometimes, Father William. All other efforts to find him after the convention failed, as well, because he wasn’t a priest at all, but a character conceived by artist and activist Joey Skaggs, who has perfected the art of pranking the media.

Skaggs’s works include “Fish Condos” for upwardly mobile guppies, “Santa’s Missile Tow,” which featured Santa and his elves bringing a missile to the United Nations, and many other sculptures and performances. He talked to Atlas Obscura about what it took to create the Portofess and what reactions he got from the police, protestors, and the public. Read the full interview here.


Stand-up Comedians Regroup Against Trump’s Shade

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Filed under: Media Literacy, Parody, Political Challenges, Satire, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

Satire has always been our front line of defense against the insanity of our so-called leaders. But with Trump’s alternative reality reaching such exalted new heights, comedians need new strategies.

As we approach the first summer of the Trump presidency, comics are realizing their job isn’t figuring out the perfect way to skewer President Trump—their job is to find the humor that pushes us past him, his acrimony, and his chaos. If that’s even possible.


Funny, How? Inside Stand-Up Comedy’s Donald Trump Problem
by Burt Helm
GQ
June 2, 2017

The absurd usually makes for great comedic fodder. But when the source of that ridiculousness is the man tasked with, you know, running the United States…is it still funny? Everyone from Jerrod Carmichael to Michael Che to Lena Dunham is trying to figure that out.

On a Monday night in January, people looking to escape the gloom and chaos of Donald Trump’s first two weeks in office gathered at Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory for Michael Che’s Secret Show. Tickets to the special comedy event, which benefitted Planned Parenthood, went on sale five days after the inauguration and four days after the Women’s March became one of the largest-scale protests in American history (also, three days after the birth of “alternative facts,” two days after the President pushed false voter fraud rumors, and one day after the first reports of his impending refugee ban). The show sold out in under an hour. As soon as Cipha Sounds, a New York City-based DJ and comedian, took the stage and started spinning, heads in the crowd were bobbing, expectant smiles on their faces. “Out of the five fingers on your hand, which one do you feel represents your feelings toward Donald Trump?” asked Cipha, cranking the volume on CeeLo’s “Fuck You.”

“It’s not about an agenda. It’s more about bringing you guys a fun fucking show,” Che said, welcoming the audience. He brought up a comedy Dream Team: Kevin Iso, Mike Birbiglia, Amy Schumer, Colin Quinn, Lena Dunham, Leslie Jones, John Mulaney, and Che’s partner on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update,” Colin Jost. But this was not a night for liberals to forget their woes. None of the performers could finish his or her set without referencing the political climate. They went dark; they looked for bitter laughs. (more…)

“‘Right-wing news’ is oxymoronic”

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation, The History of Pranks

With interesting clarity, Terry Heaton shows how he and other producers of Evangelical television used propaganda to seed the false narrative of the liberal “elite” news media and in the process created right-wing news and, ultimately, the Republican religious right. Now he wants to take it all back.


How The Religious Right Pioneered Propaganda As News
by Terry Heaton
HuffPost
June 16, 2017

Before Fox News, there was Pat Robertson’s ‘700 Club,’ where I was an executive producer.

Television evangelist and conservative political activist Pat Robertson poses in the control room for his 700 Club TV show. (Photo by © Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

So-called “fake news” took center stage on several occasions during former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week. More than once, Comey pointed to specific articles by the New York Times as not true or completely false. However, he did validate others, including one in which he himself had been the Times’ source. The fake news meme has become one of the most troubling arguments in the history of contemporary journalism, ever since Donald Trump used the term to describe CNN at his first press conference as president.

Americans find themselves drowning in this unseemly and childish battle for the soul of news and information purveyance, and the undiscussed problem is that the entire mess is built on the false narrative of “the liberal (elite) press.” I know, because I was among the people who advanced the concept and shaped the discussion in the early ‘80s, as senior and executive producer of Pat Robertson’s flagship television program The 700 Club.

Before Fox News, there was The 700 Club with CBN News and “TV Journalism With A Different Spirit.” We knew what we were doing in the exploitation of the word “liberal,” and truth-telling demands its deconstruction today. The all-or-nothing split between conflicting political narratives has reached its pinnacle with the election of Donald Trump, and it needs to be hacked into a million pieces.

William F. Buckley was among the first to give the word “liberal” a pejorative interpretation, but it was the wordsmith William Safire writing for Spiro Agnew who in 1969 elevated it to a political talking point in his famous speech that opened the war against the press during Richard Nixon’s secret battles in Vietnam. The word became the central weapon in a strategy that involved attacking the messenger instead of changing the message.

That political strategy has been so effective to date that it has given birth to the idea that mainstream news is actually “fake news” and not to be believed in the administration of President Donald Trump. The number of people who now believe this falsehood is staggering, and it poses a real threat to our democracy. (more…)

Comedian Lee Camp Deconstructs New York Times Hatchet Job

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Filed under: Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation

Lee Camp, comedian, writer and creator, host, and head writer of the comedy news show Redacted Tonight gives a propaganda tutorial based on the hatchet job The New York Times did on him. H/T to Boris.


Lee Camp: How to Write Propaganda for the NY Times—As Demonstrated in an Article About Me
by Lee Camp
Alternet.org
June 13, 2017

The comedian debunks the lies and distortions spread about him in the New York Times.

On June 7, the New York Times vomited up a hit piece on little ol’ me – a guy who has been doing stand-up comedy for nearly 20 years and thought maybe that comedy could be used to inform and inspire audiences, rather than just make fun of the differences between men and women.

At first when you’re the center of a smear job, you’re annoyed and frustrated. But as I read further through the piece, I realized it was a master class in how to write propaganda for one of the most “respected” news outlets in our country. I’m actually grateful it was written about me because now I can see with my own eyes exactly how the glorious chicanery is done. I count no less than 15 lies, manipulations, and false implications in this short article, a score that even our fearless prevaricator-in-chief Donald Trump would envy.

So here now is a “How To” for writing propaganda for the New York Times, using the smear piece against me as an example. Read the full article here.

First Responders to BS: Fact-Checkers are Heroes for Our Times

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin, You Decide

Like at Snopes, the team at Politifact has its work cut out for it. Here’s a rousing rant from editor Aaron Sharockman.


“PolitiFact: The Power of Fact Checking in a Post-Truth World”
by Aaron Sharockman
Tampa Bay Times
June 7, 2017
Here’s a quick test: Think about how Donald Trump announced he was running for president. Now, do the same for Hillary Clinton.

I think most of you probably got one but not the other. We remember Trump and his wife Melania gliding down the Trump Tower escalator in June 2015. And we remember some of the things Trump said that day.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you,” Trump said. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

As for Clinton? (more…)

From Russian Satire to Serious (but Fake) News–a Flowchart

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Media Literacy, Propaganda and Disinformation

The NYT tracks an item from a Russian satirist to FOX News.


How Russian Propaganda Spread From a Parody Website to FOX News
by Neil MacFarquhar and Andrew Rossback
The New York Times
June 7, 2017

Born in the shadowy reaches of the internet, most fake news stories prove impossible to trace to their origin. But researchers at the Atlantic Council, a think tank, excavated the root of one such fake story, involving an incident in the Black Sea in which a Russian warplane repeatedly buzzed a United States Navy destroyer, the Donald Cook.

Like much fake news, the story was based on a kernel of truth. The brief, tense confrontation happened on April 12, 2014, and the Pentagon issued a statement. Then in April, three years later, the story resurfaced, completely twisted, on one of Russia’s main state-run TV news programs.

The new version gloated that the warplane had deployed an electronic weapon to disable all operating systems aboard the Cook. That was false, but it soon spread, showing that even with all the global attention on combating fake news, it could still circulate with alarming speed and ease.

In the days after the incident in the Black Sea, a Russian writer named Dmitri Sedov wrote an opinion piece, apparently meant to be satirical, that imagined the incident as an electronic warfare attack and described the panicked reaction of one crew member. Read the rest of the story here.


Veteran Crank Yankers Celebrate the Lost Art of the Prank Call

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Pranks, Phone Pranks, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Pranksters, Satire, The History of Pranks

In the ’90s, Comedy Central’s Crank Yankers showcased popular comedians and kept alive the hallowed cultural tradition of the phone prank. Here, stars Adam Carolla and Jim Florentine reminisce and reflect.


“Crank Yankers’ Adam Carolla and Jim Florentine on the ‘Lost Art’ of the Prank Call”
by Jake Lauer
Paste
June 1, 2017
There’s something nostalgic about prank phone calls. They’re the product of a bygone era, and if you were born before the invention of caller ID, they were likely a part of your childhood.

“Maybe there’s a nostalgic feel to them because you can’t do them anymore, says Jim Florentine, one of the stars of Comedy Central’s Crank Yankers and the voice of fan-favorite character Special Ed. “Now you get harassment charges. It’s really a lost art.”

It’s been 15 years since comedians Adam Carolla and Jimmy Kimmel introduced the world to Crank Yankers, the hilariously offensive show where puppets, voiced by comedians, harass unsuspecting people with prank phone calls. The show was a huge hit, running for four seasons—three on Comedy Central and one on MTV 2.

Crank Yankers featured some of the biggest names in comedy, including Dave Chappelle, Sarah Silverman, Tracy Morgan and Dane Cook (before he became a household name). Carolla, who produced the show with Kimmel, voiced Mr. Birchum, a crotchety Vietnam War veteran who berated anyone who spoke with him.

Paste spoke with Carolla and Florentine about Crank Yankers’s 15th anniversary, the art of the perfect prank call and the unaired calls that went too far. Read more.


And You Thought that Doggedly Fanatic Approach to Accuracy Was Working…

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy, Prank News, Pranksters

Turns out the accomplished academic Dr. Olivia Doll, who sits on numerous medical journal editorial boards, is a terrier. Huh? H/t to Ed Coll.


“The Perth Dog That’s Probably Smarter Than You”
by Cathy O’Leary
PerthNow
May 21, 2017

Move aside quokkas and black swans, Perth is now home to the world’s smartest dog, at least on paper.

Local “academic” Dr Olivia Doll — also known as Staffordshire terrier Ollie — sits on the editorial boards of seven international medical journals and has just been asked to review a research paper on the management of tumours.

Her impressive curriculum vitae lists her current role as senior lecturer at the Subiaco College of Veterinary Science and past associate of the Shenton Park Institute for Canine Refuge Studies — which is code for her earlier life in the dog refuge.

Ollie’s owner, veteran public health expert Mike Daube, decided to test how carefully some journals scrutinised their editorial reviewers, by inventing Dr Doll and making up her credentials.

The five-year-old pooch has managed to dupe a range of publications specialising in drug abuse, psychiatry and respiratory medicine into appointing her to their editorial boards.

Dr Doll has even been fast-tracked to the position of associate editor of the Global Journal of Addiction and Rehabilitation Medicine.

Several journals have published on their websites a supplied photo of Dr Doll, which is actually of a bespectacled Kylie Minogue. Read more.

A Vintage Vino Hoax

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Political Pranks, Practical Jokes and Mischief, The History of Pranks

You may think academics will fall for anything. But have you met any wine snobs? Here’s a hoax flashback…


“The Winning Wine List That Wasn’t”
by Dan Lewis
Now I Know
May 23, 2017

If you’re a wine fan, Wine Spectator is probably on your go-to list for magazine reading. Fifteen times a year, it hits newsstands and subscriber mailboxes with ratings and reviews of various vintages and types of wine. And once a year, the magazine announces its “Restaurant Awards,” an honor for — you guessed it — restaurants. Wine Spectator’s website sets it up thusly: “Attention restaurateurs: If you’ve got a good wine list, you deserve the credibility and publicity that comes with a Wine Spectator Restaurant Award.” For example, here’s a screenshot of Milan restaurant Osteria L’Intrepido’s honor on the Wine Spectator website from 2008:

The cuisine type, the price range, a top-line summary of the wine available, and of course, some contact information for the restaurant itself. If you’re looking for a $70 dollar dinner for two while in Milan, and you’re willing to fork over a moderately extra amount for the wine, Osteria L’Intrepido may be for you. With more than 250 wine selections, you’re likely to find something that enhances your experience — or at least, that’s what the “Award of Excellence” would imply. Read more.

Gender Studies Hoaxers Kick an Academic Hornet’s Nest

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Parody, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Satire

Skeptic magazine reveals an Alan Sokal-style hoax on the journal Cogent Social Sciences–an attempt to mock both what the authors perceive to be the excesses of feminist academia and open-access or pay-to-publish journals. So far, they have at least succeeded in getting a lot of attention, pro and con.


“The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct: A Sokal-Style Hoax on Gender Studies”
by Peter Boghossian and James Lindsey
Skeptic
May 19, 2017

The androcentric scientific and meta-scientific evidence that the penis is the male reproductive organ is considered overwhelming and largely uncontroversial.

That’s how we began. We used this preposterous sentence to open a “paper” consisting of 3,000 words of utter nonsense posing as academic scholarship. Then a peer-reviewed academic journal in the social sciences accepted and published it.
This paper should never have been published. Titled, “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct,” our paper “argues” that “The penis vis-à-vis maleness is an incoherent construct. We argue that the conceptual penis is better understood not as an anatomical organ but as a gender-performative, highly fluid social construct.” As if to prove philosopher David Hume’s claim that there is a deep gap between what is and what ought to be, our should-never-have-been-published paper was published in the open-access (meaning that articles are freely accessible and not behind a paywall), peer-reviewed journal Cogent Social Sciences. (In case the PDF is removed, we’ve archived it.)

Assuming the pen names “Jamie Lindsay” and “Peter Boyle,” and writing for the fictitious “Southeast Independent Social Research Group,” we wrote an absurd paper loosely composed in the style of post-structuralist discursive gender theory. The paper was ridiculous by intention, essentially arguing that penises shouldn’t be thought of as male genital organs but as damaging social constructions. We made no attempt to find out what “post-structuralist discursive gender theory” actually means. We assumed that if we were merely clear in our moral implications that maleness is intrinsically bad and that the penis is somehow at the root of it, we could get the paper published in a respectable journal. Read more.

Doctor Humor

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Filed under: All About Pranks, Office Pranks, Parody, Practical Jokes and Mischief

Because we could use something light-hearted…


“Laughter really IS the best medicine! Photos reveal the hilarious – and occasionally inappropriate – pranks that doctors pull on their patients”
by Martha Cliff
Daily Mail
May 4, 2017

Let’s face it, no one enjoys a visit to the doctors – however these GPs are determined to add some humour to their practice.

A collection of images compiled by BoredPanda has revealed the hilarious and sometimes wildly inappropriate gags pulled by medical professionals.

One sign pointed out to those complaining about waiting that they were the lucky ones as their condition doesn’t warrant them in danger enough to be seen first.

Another endearing photo sees a young girl playing a game of Operation with her nurse ahead of a serious operation.

So whether you deem these photos amusing or unprofessional – they were sure to ease the nerves of the patients. Read more.


Emoluments Welcome

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The Prank as Art, The World of the Prank

Update: A new work from artist Robin Bell–Artist Projects Image Of Jeff Sessions In KKK Hood Across DOJ Building


The Trump Administration is so riddled with scandal, pranksters can hardly keep up with desecrating Trump’s properties. Thanks Naomi.


“Artist Projects ‘Pay Trump Bribes Here’ Message on President’s DC Hotel”
by Nick Visser
The Huffington Post
May 16, 2017

A multimedia artist caused a commotion in Washington, D.C., late Monday when he projected a series of images on Trump International Hotel that skewered the president over accusations about his business ties with foreign governments.

Robin Bell, a Washington-based artist known for his political projections, said the work was meant to highlight benefits Donald Trump continues to reap since his ascension to the presidency, including revenue generated at his D.C. hotel. The artwork, which went up around 10 p.m. local time, quickly spread on Twitter before it was shut down by hotel security.

“It seems like a very clear case of his impropriety,” Bell said. “It’s a great visualization of a clear-cut example of the laws that he’s breaking.”

Staff reached at Trump International Hotel declined to comment about the messages. Read more.

Art Gets Scary Again

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Creative Activism, Legal Issues, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters

Artists from Assistant Professor Thomas Chung to rapper Snoop Dogg are depicting political violence in their work. Should Trump be concerned? Hat tip to Naomi.


“Can Art Legally Threaten the President?”
by Scott Indrisek
Artsy
May 3, 2017

The right-wing blogosphere wasn’t exactly tickled when an Alaskan assistant professor decided to decapitate President Trump last month. To be fair, the violence was only virtual—the teacher, artist Thomas Chung, had painted an image of the Captain America actor Chris Evans, naked, holding Trump’s severed, bloody bust by a lock of his infamous hair.

Trump didn’t respond to Chung but he has previously taken to Twitter to slam others who have subjected him to artistic abuse. In March, the rapper Snoop Dogg released a video for the song “Lavender,” which includes an orange-faced Presidential doppelgänger pleading for his life while Snoop points a gun at him. The trigger gets pulled, but the weapon turns out to be a novelty toy.

Regardless, Trump was not amused. “Can you imagine what the outcry would be if @SnoopDogg, failing career and all, had aimed and fired a gun at President Obama?” he tweeted. “Jail time!” The dust-up between Snoop and the famously litigious Trump did have people wondering what the consequences could be for even coyly hinting at such violence in an artistic way. (Debunked viral stories circulated online falsely claiming that Snoop had been arrested.)

Turns out that both Snoop and Chung can rest easy, at least until the new administration attempts to erode or dismantle the protections provided by the First Amendment. (Keep in mind that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus recently stated in an ABC News interview that criminalizing flag burning is something that is “probably going to get looked at” by the administration.) Read more.

In the Future, Will Farting Get You 5 to 10?

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Filed under: Creative Activism, First Amendment Issues, Hoax Etiquette, Legal Issues, Political Challenges

A new article by Joey Skaggs published in Huffington Post:


Jurors on the case against Desiree Fairooz—a protestor who laughed out loud during a Senate hearing on Jeff Sessions’ Attorney General appointment, when Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said Sessions had an “extensive record of treating all Americans equally under the law,” and then demanded to know why she was being physically removed and arrested—apparently felt forced to find her guilty. Some of them said it was not the laughter, although Justice Department attorneys believed that the laughter was enough to justify a criminal charge, but the disruption after the laughter that forced their hands.

protestor arrested for laughing

It’s a slippery slope away from our civil rights when jurors are forced to deliberate on laws that should be challenged rather than enforced. What’s next? If you fart out loud, you get 5 to 10?

And, it looks like laws about public conduct are being used in a discriminatory way. Not everyone is being held to the same standard. Remember South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson, Sr. who yelled, “You lie!” at President Obama in a joint session of Congress? His outburst was considered “disrespectful” and he got off with an apology.

In fact, these days, everyone should be laughing and challenging the obvious hypocrisy and alternative facts presented to us daily by the Trump Administration and members of Congress. Laughter is a great way to help people realize how absurd the situation is when officials lie with impunity. We have short memories. We should think back to the Chicago 7 and how satire and mockery were powerful tools used to sway public opinion in 1968.

We the people should not tolerate this kind of abuse of power. So, let’s, at every opportunity, scoff, mock, satirize and laugh, so that unthinking people might start thinking. The First Amendment does not give you the right to slander someone, and sometimes it’s not effective to disregard civility, but challenges must be made and people have to find ways to speak out. Let’s do it in a more creative way so as not to be sucked up into the legal loop and drained of time and resources.

I’ve been using satire as a weapon of choice since the 60s. And I marvel with wonder at how lucky I’ve been to not be locked up for some of the things I’ve done. There have certainly been enough people rooting for my incarceration.

I suspect this protestor was unaware of the potential legal ramifications of her actions. Not that being aware would (or should) have stopped her. I think she was brave to do what she did. However, had she been aware, or perhaps more thoughtful about her plans, she might have come up with a more creative way to protest given the circumstances. It’s always necessary to ask, “Do my actions have a chance of being effective or will they be alienating and dismissed?” Had she stopped at the laughter, she might have made a greater case in the court of public opinion.

We can’t let false truths become the official record. Lies should be revealed and challenged at every opportunity. It’s the system allowing them to continue unfettered that must be changed.

And… Capitol security should not be run by the airline industry.


Muscleman Prank Turns Ugly

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Legal Issues, Media Pranks, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Prank News, Pranksters

Sometimes, laughs come with a penalty: legal charges. Such is the case for two comedians whose brawn didn’t match their claims. Thanks Naomi.


“TV Station Suing Comedians For Pranking Morning Show As Fake Strongman Duo”
by Laura Hurley
Cinemablend
April 27, 2017

There is a time and a place to pull epic pranks on unsuspecting targets, and the pranks are often pretty hilarious. Recently, however, one prank was received very poorly by the target, and the pranksters are facing a lawsuit because of it. Two men tricked the Wisconsin TV station WEAU-TV into bringing them on as a strongman duo with stunts to show off. When the comedians turned up without any real skills to demonstrate, the WEAU owners weren’t too happy, and they’ve deciding to sue.

Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher posed as a strongman duo going by “Chop & Steele.” The prank began when a person calling himself Jerry Chubb emailed two WEAU anchors about the strongmen appearing on the Hello Wisconsin morning show to promote themselves. New York Daily News reports that this “Jerry Chubb” sent WEAU a press release claiming that Chop and Steele were popular contestants on the third season of America’s Got Talent. The Hello Wisconsin anchors didn’t realize until they were already on the air that Chop and Steele had no idea what they were doing and were definitely not strongmen, and parent company Gray Television is suing Pickett and Prueher for allegedly using false materials and identities to convince WEAU to book them.

The suit from Gray Television claims that Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher infringed on the company’s copyright of the Hello Wisconsin episode they appeared on. Additionally, Gray Television wants the court to order Pickett and Prueher’s Found Footage Festival to “render a full and complete accounting… of its profits, gains, advantages, and the value of the business opportunities received from the foregoing infringement.” Ouch. Read more.