The History of Pranks

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To Goose a Rival, Audubon Made Up Dozens of Creatures

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Pranks, The History of Pranks

Birdwatchers have vicious office politics.


“Audubon Made Up At Least 28 Fake Species To Prank A Rival”
by Sarah Laskow
Atlas Obscura
April 22, 2016

brindledsamiterPranks are meant to be discovered—what’s the point in fooling someone if they never notice they’ve been fooled? But one 19th century prank, sprung by John James Audubon on another naturalist, was so extensive and so well executed that its full scope is only now coming to light.

The prank began when the French naturalist Constantine Rafinesque sought on Audubon on a journey down the Ohio River in 1818. Audubon was years away from publishing Birds in America, but even then he was known among colleagues for his ornithological drawings. Rafinesque was on the hunt for new species—plants in particular—and he imagined that Audubon might have unwittingly included some unnamed specimens in his sketches.

Rafinesque was an extremely enthusiastic namer of species: during his career as a naturalist, he named 2,700 plant genera and 6,700 species, approximately. He was self-taught, and the letter of introduction he handed to Audubon described him as “an odd fish.” When they met, Audubon noted, Rafinesque was wearing a “long loose coat…stained all over with the juice of plants,” a waistcoat “with enormous pockets” and a very long beard. Rafinesque was not known for his social graces; as John Jeremiah Sullivan writes, Audubon is the “only person on record” as actually liking him.

auduonold-(1)During their visit, though, Audubon fed Rafinesque descriptions of American creatures, including 11 species of fish that never really existed. Rafinesque duly jotted them down in his notebook and later proffered those descriptions as evidence of new species. For 50 or so years, those 11 fish remained in the scientific record as real species, despite their very unusual features, including bulletproof (!) scales.

By the 1870s, the truth about the fish had been discovered. But the fish were only part of Audubon’s prank. In a new paper in the Archives of Natural History, Neal Woodman, a curator at Smithsonian’s natural history museum, details its fuller extent: Audubon also fabricated at least two birds, a “trivalved” brachiopod, three snails, two plants, and nine wild rats, all of which Rafinesque accepted as real. Read more.

Long May Your Refrigerator Run

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Filed under: Practical Jokes and Mischief, Pranksters, Sociology and Psychology of Pranks, The History of Pranks

Gadgetary advances be damned, phone pranks endure in both old- and new-school iterations and seem to be intertwined with the human drive to communicate.

The Atlantic publishes a thinkpiece on the history and uncertain future of the artform.


“Do People Still Make Prank Phone Calls?”
By Julie Beck
The Atlantic
April 1, 2016

phonepranksOnly a rube or possibly an alien would pick up an unknown phone call, hear the question “Is your refrigerator running?” and answer in the affirmative. And so only the luckiest of amateur mischief-makers would get the satisfaction of getting to drop the “Well, you better go catch it!” before cackling away into the sunset.

And yet, amazingly, this doesn’t seem to be the oldest trick in the book when it comes to telephone pranks. In her 1976 paper “Telephone Pranks: A Thriving Pastime,” Trudier Harris reports that people “over 50 years old” remembered the old refrigerator gag, which, if they pulled it as teens, means it could’ve been around in the 1930s or earlier.

But other corny jokes were also around before the ‘30s, according to another paper, ones like:

“This is May.”
“May who?”
“May-onnaise.”

Most middle-class families had home phones by the 1920s or so, according to Claude Fischer, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. And in the early days of the residential telephone, it was taken very seriously, as a tool for serious business, and so “children could trick unsuspecting adults fairly easily,” writes Marilyn Jorgensen in her paper “A Social-Interactional Analysis of Phone Pranks.” Read more.


Peter Markus, RIP

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Creative Activism, The History of Pranks, The Prank as Art

Peter Markus, former classmate from the 60s at the School of Visual Arts, a talented artist, satirist and cartoonist, and a very dear friend, passed away on Wednesday, November 18, 2015. He was 70 years old. Peter was a frequent co-conspirator, working with me on numerous projects, usually behind-the-scenes, using his significant design talents to create graphic images of all sorts.

This is an image he created in 2000 purportedly for his own memorial as part of my Final Curtain media hoax, in which we promoted a cemetery theme park for creative people who wished to celebrate their own demise with satirical markers and mausoleums:

Peter Markus' self-made memorial tombstone from Joey Skaggs' Final Curtain media hoax in 2000

Peter broke his back in a motorcycle accident in the sixties, but it never stopped his indomitable creative spirit. He’ll be sorely missed.

Here are a couple of archive photos of Peter from the 70s:

PeterMarkusDog-1970s-72

Peter Markus Flag Shirt-1970s


Inside the Center for Tactical Magic

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

Here’s a rare glimpse behind the enigma of the legendary Center for Tactical Magic as founder Aaron Gach shares his background, philosophy, and success stories in this interview with Regine Debatty.


“Interview with The Center for Tactical Magic”
by Regine Debatty
We Make Money Not Art
August 14, 2015

The Center for Tactical Magic uses any craft and scheme available, from the most magical to the most pragmatic, to address issues of power relations and self-empowerment.

At the CTM we are committed to achieving the Great Work of Tactical Magic through community-based projects, daily interdiction, and the activation of latent energies toward positive social transformation.

Tactical Ice Cream Unit

CTM’s work combines appealing aesthetics, humour and language with actions that invite people to think, question and reclaim their civil rights. Their most famous project is the Tactical Ice Cream Unit, a truck distributing free ice cream along with propaganda developed by local progressive groups. Another of their initiative saw them launch a bank heist contest. And a year before that, they responded to New York’s stop-and-frisk policy by screening Linking & Unlinking on a digital billboard in Manhattan. The billboard showed amateur footage demonstrating how to pick a pair of handcuffs, magicians performing a classic magic trick called “linking rings“, while a text from the American Civil Liberties Union was scrolling down and explaining passersby what their rights were if they were stopped by the police. In 2013, they set up big Witches’ Cradles that evoke the Inquisition and enveloped people into an altered state (of consciousness, or an altered political state). Most recently, Gach directed and performed a radical magic show which drew parallels between magic acts and contemporary issues such as economic manipulation, political deception, vanishing resources, and social transformation.

Read the interview here.


Molla Nisreddin: A Classic of Iranian Satire

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Filed under: Political Pranks, Satire, The History of Pranks

Yes, you read that correctly.


“When Satire Conquered Iran”
Adapted by the Editors from Slavs and Tatars Presents: Molla Nasreddin: The Magazine That Would’ve Could’ve Should’ve
New York Review of Books Blog
September 18. 2012

MOLLA-move-forward-nocapPublished between 1906 and 1930, Molla Nasreddin was a satirical Azeri magazine edited by the writer Jalil Mammadguluzadeh (1866-1932), and named after Nasreddin, the legendary Sufi wise man-cum-fool of the Middle Ages. With an acerbic sense of humor and realist illustrations reminiscent of a Caucasian Honoré Daumier or Toulouse-Lautrec, Molla Nasreddin attacked the hypocrisy of the Muslim clergy, the colonial policies of the US and European nations towards the rest of the world, and the venal corruption of the local elite, while arguing repeatedly for Westernization, educational reform, and equal rights for women. Publishing such stridently anti-clerical material, in a Muslim country, in the early twentieth century, was done at no small risk to the editorial team. Members of MN were often harassed, their offices attacked, and on more than one occasion, Mammadguluzadeh had to escape from protesters incensed by the contents of the magazine. (more…)

Looking Back at Some Superstar Scambaiters

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Fraud and Deception, Pranksters, The History of Pranks

419 scams (a/k/a “NIGERIAN PRINCE” emails) have long, long fascinated certain quarters of the internet. They’ve flooded inboxes with outsider poetry and inspired satire and scambaiting, a prankish and dangerous literary subgenre explored at length in the fascinating work of journalist Eve Edelson.

Craigslist killers, social media “catfishing” scams, and the internet vigilantes of Anonymous now get much more attention, making 419ers look like relics, at least by internet standards. And yet, great work still emerges from the scambaiter milieu.

Here’s the absurd story (from 2013) of how a few intrepid 419-eaters orchestrated the cover of Vice, for posterity.


“How We Got the Skammerz Ishu Cover”
By Mishka Henner
Vice
December 17, 2013

Scam-baiting is a form of internet vigilantism in which the vigilante poses as a potential victim to expose a scammer. It’s essentially grassroots social engineering conducted as civic duty or even amusement, a cross-cultural double bluff in which participants on separate continents try to outdo each other in an online tug-of-war for one’s time and resources – and the other’s private banking information.

The baiter begins by “biting the hook” – answering an email from the scammer. The “victim” feigns receptivity to the financial lure, engaging the scammer in a drawn-out chain of emails. The most important element of baiting is to waste as much of the scammer’s time as possible – when a scammer is preoccupied, it prevents him from conning genuine victims.

Vice Skammerz IshuThe cover of the issue you’re looking at is a trophy from the most elaborate bait I’ve ever been involved in. Three scammers, spread across Libya and the United Arab Emirates, set the con. They posed as a widow named Nourhan Abdul Aziz, a doctor named Dr. Ahmadiyya Ibrahim and a banker going by Ephraim Adamoah. From Nourhan’s initial contact with my associate, Condo Rice, to Ephraim’s actually donning an Obama mask and shooting our cover for us, 7,000 words were exchanged over nearly four months of emails. During that time, Condo and I negotiated our way through a labyrinthine network of fake websites, bogus documents and broken English, and ended up with the weirdest photograph I’ve seen in a long time. Read the actual email correspondence here.


John Law Reminisces with Broke-Ass Stuart

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

An Interview With John Law on ‘The Kinda Late Show with Broke-Ass Stuart’
by E.D.W. Lynch
Laughing Squid
March 9, 2015

Broke-Ass Stuart interviews Laughing Squid partner John Law about his adventures in the San Francisco underground including The San Francisco Suicide Club, Cacophony Society and Burning Man on a live episode of The Kinda Late Show with Broke-Ass Stuart.

Watch the video:

The Legendary Hollyweed Sign

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Pranksters, The History of Pranks

Los Angeles has an obnoxious habit of neglectfully erasing its own history. Before Hugh Hefner helped restore it in 1978, the city’s iconic Hollywood Sign had fallen into disrepair. It was during this low point that a few tenacious pranksters (and recreational drug enthusiasts) decided to temporarily alter it.

In the words of redditor bmwnut, “I do wonder where they put a 45 foot letter on which to practice.”


“In 1976, pot-head pranksters made ‘HOLLYWEED’ out of the iconic Hollywood sign”
By Rusty Blazenhoff
Dangerous Minds
February 27, 2015

On January 1, 1976, Tinseltown’s iconic sign read “Hollyweed” after art student Danny Finegood and 3 of his college pals used $50 worth of dark fabric to transform the famous Hollywood landmark temporarily. They had practiced it first on a scale model Finegood had crafted.Hollyweed

It was more than a simple practical joke, Finegood considered it a statement on the relaxed California marijuana law that went into effect that day.

Read more here.


Announcing New York’s 30th Annual April Fools’ Day Parade!

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Filed under: Satire, The History of Pranks

New York April Fools' Day Parade jesterNew York’s spectacular April Fools’ Day Parade kicks into its fourth decade of hilarious irreverence, poking fun at the past year’s public displays of hype, hypocrisy, deceit, bigotry, and downright foolishness.

In honor of this 30th anniversary, 30 lucky revelers, picked at random from the crowd at the end of the parade in Washington Square Park, will receive free cartoon interpretations of their favorite taboo religious icons.
 
 
Details of this year’s planned floats and celebrity look-alikes are here or here.

See 30 years of annual press releases here.

Join the fun! Check back for updates.


Can Art Still Shock?

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Filed under: The Future of Pranks, The History of Pranks

Is Grayson Perry right – can we no longer be outraged by art and literature? From Manet’s Olympia to Pussy Riot and Houellebecq, Adam Thirlwell presents a short history of shock


Can art still shock?
by Adam Thirlwell
The Guardian
23 January 2015

Olympia by Édouard Manet. Photograph: Corbis

Olympia by Édouard Manet. Photograph: Corbis

For a long time, I’ve been nostalgic for the era of shock. It’s with a certain fondness that I reflect on the crazed year of 1857, which began with Gustave Flaubert in court for his first novel, Madame Bovary (in the presence of a stenographer, hired by Flaubert, for the benefit of an incredulous posterity), followed, six months later, by Charles Baudelaire, on trial for his first book of poems, Les Fleurs du Mal. On both occasions, the unlucky prosecutor was Ernest Pinard, who lamented “this unhealthy fever which induces writers to portray everything, to describe everything, to say everything”. The era of grand trials! Or if not trials, then scandales: like the first night of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in 1913, with its catcalling audience; or Duchamp’s impish Fountain – his notorious urinal, signed by R Mutt, submitted to the exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York in 1917, but rejected by its committee.

I was nostalgic because it seemed to me that shock was no longer possible. Or, perhaps more precisely, shock was no longer admissible. We are all, pronounced Grayson Perry, bohemians now – and therefore unshockable by art. And if this is true, it signals a grand and maybe melancholy shift in the nature of art, and in the relation of art to society. It also appears to me – considering, let’s say, Pussy Riot and Ai Weiwei – a slightly provincial argument. And then came the attack on Charlie Hebdo. (more…)

ART OF THE PRANK Movie News

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Filed under: Art of the Prank - the movie, Creative Activism, The History of Pranks, The Prank as Art

For information about ART OF THE PRANK movie, visit
http://artoftheprank-themovie.com


 

Upcoming Screenings:

Revelation Perth International Film Festival

Sunday, July 10, 2:30 pm
Luna SX
13 Essex Street
Fremantle, Western Australia

plus

Monday, July 11, 9 pm and
 Sunday, July 17, 4:40 pm
Luna Leederville
155 Oxford Street
Leederville, Western Australia

Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers

(details to come)
Thursday, September 1, 2016

Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University, Auburn AL

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Winder Cultural Arts Center, Winder GA

Monday, September 12, 2016

East Tennessee State University, Johnson City TN

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Western Carolina University, Cullowhee NC

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Oxford College of Emory University, Oxford GA

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Presbyterian College, Clinton SC

Friday, September 16, 2016

Jacksonville State University, Jacksonville AL

More screening dates in
Sweden, and others coming soon!

Check for updates at:
http://artoftheprank-themovie.com/screenings
and see what people are saying at
http://artoftheprank-themovie.com/press

Movie Website | Teaser | Facebook | Twitter | Updates


This “sticky” post will be here for a while. Scroll down for other posts.


Joaquin Phoenix Pranks David Letterman Again

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Filed under: Media Pranks, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts, The History of Pranks

phoenixlettermanWhen he retires from television in 2015, David Letterman will wrap a remarkable career of stunts, water-cooler bombshells, and awkward celebrity interviews.

In some cases, Letterman has been seemingly ambushed by guests who were physically combative (Crispin Glover), doped out of their gourds (Farrah Fawcett, Harmony Korine), or simply engaging in the unhinged antics that are their calling cards (Courtney Love, who inspired the host to quip, “I’m glad I have a son.”)

In others, the hosts and his guests have worked in collaboration. Witness the legendary encounter between comedian Andy Kaufman and wrestler Jerry Lawler.

More recently, actor Joaquin Phoenix used a disturbing and incoherent Letterman appearance to promote his controversial documentary I’m Still Here, for which he embarked on a half-assed hip hop career. Letterman later admitted that he was in on the gag.

Earlier this month, Phoenix returned to the show to announce that, like Alec Baldwin before him, he had decided to marry his yoga instructor. Read more here.

Watch the video:

Fakes, Lies, and Forgeries Exhibition

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, The History of Pranks, Urban Legends

From Marty Elvin:

The Milton S. Eisenhower Library of Johns Hopkins University presents:


Fakes, Lies & Forgeries

Fakes, Lies & Forgeries
George Peabody Library Exhibition Hall
17 East Mount Vernon Place
Baltimore, Maryland
October 5, 2014–February 1, 2015

In 2011, Johns Hopkins University acquired the world’s most comprehensive collection of rare books and manuscripts on the history of forgery in the West, some 1,700 items in all spanning the ancient world to the 20th century. This exhibition of 70 treasures from the collection explores the phenomenon of forgery as a creative literary form, and addresses particular highlights of this extraordinary gathering of scholarly materials from classical antiquity to the early decades of the 20th century.

Bibliotheca Fictiva

Highlights will include: editions of Jesus’ posthumous “Letter from Heaven,” eyewitness accounts of the Fall of Troy, the only surviving autograph of the martyr Thomas Beckett, unpublished manuscript verses of Martin Luther expositing “The Lord’s Prayer, annotated books from Shakespeare’s personal library, (more…)

Reinflating the Balloon Boy Hoax

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Filed under: Publicity Stunts, The History of Pranks

Reality-TV-obsessed Richard Heene, whose theatrical Balloon Boy hoax transfixed the nation back in 2009, is back in the media. His son Falcon (the one everyone thought was accidentally in the homemade “flying saucer” when it took off) and his brothers have formed a band and written a song called “Balloon Hoax No Hoax.”

When you’re out of helium, try hot air…


Watch the video:

Read an interview with the family from qz.com, “Catching Up With Balloon Boy and His Family, Five Years Later”

The Case for Giving Andy Kaufman a Rest

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Publicity Stunts, The History of Pranks, The World of the Prank

It’s 30 years later and Bob Zmuda, writing partner of the legendary prankster Andy Kaufman, won’t let his friend continue his quiet rendezvous with Elvis. Washington Post writer, Amy Argetsinger, ponders whether stoking decades-old rumors that Kaufman faked his death discredits the man and the astounding pranks he pulled while he was among us.


“Andy Kaufman: Why It’s Time to Celebrate the Comic and Bury the Death Hoax”
by Amy Argetsinger
Washington Post
October 9, 2014

Here we go again.

Thirty years after Andy Kaufman died too young of cancer — cutting short a brief, sensational career that changed the face of American comedy, and maybe even American irony — the old Andy Kaufman death-hoax theory is back.

It’s new and improved for the Internet era, going viral now that the ragtag community of Andy Truthers has been joined by a credentialed ally, Kaufman’s longtime writing partner Bob Zmuda. In a new book co-authored by Kaufman’s girlfriend Lynne Margulies, Zmuda recalls years of conversations in which his friend outlined plans to exit show business by faking his own death.

“He said to keep a lid on it for 30 years,” says Zmuda in a phone interview. “It’s 30 years now. . . . What I’m doing is sending a telegram to Andy: It’s time to come in from the cold.” (more…)

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