The History of Pranks

Blog Posts

Get Off My Phone: A Toast to Scharpling and Wurster

by
Filed under: Phone Pranks, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Pranksters, Satire, The History of Pranks

In the 21st Century, it seems that everyone’s a prospect, has something to sell, or both. To stay balanced, we need people who can mess with our minds in ways that leave us more savvy, more curious, and more creative. If such people make us laugh, that’s a bonus. This is a tribute to two of these from Emerson Dameron a writer, storyteller, and humorist searching for signs of mischief in a world plastered with ads.

All illustrations are by the inimitable Los Angeles artist John Hogan.


“I like anyone with a dream.”
– Tom Scharpling

Great radio theater envelops its listeners in a vivid alternative reality and compels them to examine their own worlds more closely when they return. The best great radio theater twists their assumptions about themselves and makes them laugh for reasons that may be hard to explain to the world outside their headphones.

Until late 2013, Scharpling and Wurster, one of the underground’s favorite long-form radio comedy duos, made a home for themselves on WFMU, an influential and beloved freeform radio station broadcasting from New Jersey. They made sport of poseurs, snobs, and sleazebags in an elaborate world of their own creation. They are missed.

Tom Scharpling

Tom Scharpling, via Flickr

Tom Scharpling published the zine 18 Wheeler, wrote for the TV show Monk, and clerked in a music store. Jon Wurster is the original drummer for the North Carolina indie-rock band Superchunk and has played with Robert Pollard, the Polyphonic Spree, and many others. For over a decade, they collaborated on a unique and uncanny brand of phone-prank magic.

(more…)

Michael Brody RIP

by
Filed under: Pranksters, The History of Pranks

Michael Brody (December 3, 1943 – June 8, 2014)

Actor, artist, activist, friend, co-conspirator. He’ll be greatly missed by all. In his immortal words “Carry on.”

Fat Squad” 1986

Michael Brody in Joey Skaggs' Fat Squad Performance

Chicago Tribune, May 15, 1986


Portofess” 1992

Michael Brody in Joey Skaggs' Portofess performance

Frames from video by Katsu


Bush!” 2004

Michael Brody in Joey Skaggs "Bush!" performance

Bush! photos by Roger Lee, Toni Dalton, Rob Faludi, Steven Cohen


April Fool’s! Exploring Pranks and Practical Jokes, WNPR Interview

posted by
Filed under: Sociology and Psychology of Pranks, The History of Pranks, What Makes a Good Prank?, Why Do a Prank?

WNPR News presents “April Fool’s! Exploring Pranks and Practical Jokes“, an hour long radio talk show broadcast April 1, 2014 at 1:00 pm & 8:00 pm EST.

spaghetti_harvest-425

Show features Jeff Pinsker, president of Klutz and VP of Scholastic, Inc.; Martin Wainwright, author of The “Guardian” Book of April Fool’s Day; Tom Mabe, a professional prankster living in Kentucky; and Joey Skaggs, multimedia artist in New York City called The World’s Greatest Hoaxer.

Listen here.

Britain and U.S. Intelligence Punked by Punks

posted by
Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Political Pranks, The History of Pranks

The British Punk Band That Fooled Reagan, Thatcher And The CIA
by Nico Hines
Daily Beast
January 4, 2014

How a small British punk band fooled Reagan, Thatcher, the MI6, and American spies.

The U.S. government blamed the KGB; British intelligence agencies pointed the finger at Argentine spies. They couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Crass band member

The full story of a hoax recording of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher can now be disclosed after a raft of secret documents were declassified in London. A crackly tape purporting to capture a confrontational phone call between Reagan and Thatcher in 1982 was created as a prank in the Essex bedroom of an English punk band, and yet we now know it was being analyzed by the British Prime Minister and top officials in Washington years later.

Read the whole story here.

Barry Bremen, Gate Crasher Extraordinaire

posted by
Filed under: Pranksters, The History of Pranks

ESPN Tribute to Barry Bremen:


Video: 30 for 30 Shorts: The Great Imposter

Barry Bremen was equal parts P.T. Barnum, ‘Walter Mitty’, and Paper Lion-era George Plimpton. From 1979 to 1986, this Detroit-area novelty goods salesman became known in the sports world as ‘The Great Imposter’.

barrybremen

Announcing RE/Search Pubs “Pranks 2″ eBook

posted by
Filed under: The History of Pranks, The Prank as Art

From V. Vale of RE/Search Pubs:


The iconic, game changing Pranks 2 book, published by RE/Search, is now available for epub (ipad), Kindle Fire, and online “cloud” reading. Somewhat still in BETA, the cost is $9.99.

RE-SearchPranks2-425

To purchase, click on the link or the image and then toggle the menu navicon in the upper left corner.

For more information:

  • PRANKS 2, on RE/Search Pubs website
  • PRANKS 2: Reviews, various publications
  • RE/Search: Pranks 2, Laughing Squid
  • Roosevelt Riding a Moose: 1912 Political Fakery

    posted by
    Filed under: Political Pranks, The History of Pranks, Urban Legends

    From Joe K & Deborah T:


    Myths debunked: Sadly, Theodore Roosevelt never rode a moose
    by Heather Cole
    blogs.law.harvard.edu
    September 20, 2013

    Many of Theodore Roosevelt’s adventures seem like something out of a tall tale: he survived an assassination attempt; nearly died while exploring the Amazonian jungle; and became the first president to drive a car and fly in a plane; among many others. Despite having been a larger-than-life figure, this is one thing that TR never did:

    TR-riding-moose-425

    Read the full article by Heather Cole, Assistant Curator of Modern Books & Manuscripts and Curator of the Theodore Roosevelt Collection

    The Great Salt Lake Whales

    by
    Filed under: Media Pranks, The History of Pranks

    From Emerson Dameron:


    As seen on Futility Closet:

    Here’s an imaginative newspaper hoax from the American West — James Wickham, a “scientific English gentleman,” was said to have released two 35-foot whales in the Great Salt Lake in 1873:

    Antelope_Island_Buffalo_Point_2005-425

    Mr. Wickham came from London in person to superintend the ‘planting’ of his leviathan pets. He selected a small bay near the mouth of Bear River connected with the main water by a shallow strait half a mile wide. Across this strait he built a wide fence, and inside the pen so formed he turned the whales loose. After a few minutes inactivity they disported themselves in a lively manner, spouting water as in mid-ocean, but as if taking in by instinct or intention the cramped character of their new home, they suddenly made a bee line for deep water and shot through the wire fence as if it had been made of threads. In twenty minutes they were out of sight, and the chagrined Mr. Wickham stood gazing helplessly at the big salt water. (more…)

    Ask The Fiddler #7: Your Parents’ Worst Nightmare Career

    by
    Filed under: The History of Pranks

    fiddler-75Editor’s Note: Ask The Fiddler is a lifestyle advice column that aims to remedy more chaos and confusion than it creates. Questions may be submitted to us here at Art of the Prank, and good luck.


    Dear Fiddler: Is it possible to make a career of pranking?

    Vinnie in Cleveland

    Dear Vinnie,

    Of course it is. Fame and fortune await. Just get your mojo working. Need help? You’ll want to send for my informative booklet, “How to Prank Your Bank.” And, then, you’ll want to be prepared to spend five or ten years behind bars if something goes wrong.

    To be practical, though, possible doesn’t mean probable. And pranking has a whole crazy carnival of meanings, as a look through the index here at Art of the Prank indicates.

    So the wiser choice might be to consider pranking as a secondary calling. Establish yourself on some more respectable platform from which to leap. There are pathways through art, theater, literature and a host of other professions.

    Personally, I favor archaeology and anthropology.

    Piltdown-gang-425

    (more…)

    Lucky Loser: My aborted attempt to kidnap Sam Shepard

    by
    Filed under: The History of Pranks, What Makes a Good Prank?

    A reminiscence by Joey Skaggs:


    petermaloneythething-425


    On April 2, 2013, I received an email from my friend Peter Maloney, director, writer, actor and a co-conspirator in my hoaxes, pointing me to a New York Times article about a fake kidnapping. He said,

    “It reminds me of the night that you and your cohorts kidnapped Sam Shepard from the Astor Place Theatre on the opening night performance of his plays ‘The Unseen Hand’ and ‘Forensic and the Navigator’ (in which I played ‘Forensic’). I also remember that actor Beeson Carroll wore as his costume in ‘The Unseen Hand’, your Buffalo skin coat.”

    I had caught the news story about the kidnapping on TV a day earlier. I immediately thought it was a prank. A video taken from a surveillance camera showed an abduction with people being thrown into a van on the street. But local police could not find evidence of anyone missing. As it turned out, it was a joke played by friends as a birthday prank.

    Stories like this sometimes make it into the Art of the Prank blog, and I considered it. But, being under the weather I wasn’t highly motivated to do anything with it. Later, thinking about it, I realized how lucky these pranksters were. They could have been shot. They could have been arrested. Any number of bad things potentially could have happened because of this relatively harmless joke.

    Peter’s email and this story inspired me to tell the story of my attempt to kidnap Sam Shepard, a version of which appears in a book by Ellen Ounamo called Sam Shepard: The Life and Work of an American Dreamer (1986, St. Martins Press). (more…)

    Jean Shepherd’s “I, Libertine” Hoax Remembered

    by
    Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, The History of Pranks

    From Emerson Dameron: An homage to a great prankster!


    The Man Behind The Brilliant Media Hoax Of “I, Libertine”
    by Matthew Callan
    The Awl
    February 14th, 2013

    ShepherdIn the 1950s, a DJ named Jean Shepherd hosted a late-night radio show on New York’s WOR that was unlike any before or since. On these broadcasts, he delivered dense, cerebral monologues, sprinkled with pop-culture tidbits and vivid stretches of expert storytelling. “There is no question that we are a tiny, tiny, tiny embattled minority here,” he assured his audience in a typical diatribe. “Hardly anyone is listening to mankind in all of its silliness, all of its idiocy, all of its trivia, all of its wonder, all of its glory, all of its poor, sad, pitching us into the dark sea of oblivion.” Shepherd’s approach was summed up by his catchphrase: a mock-triumphant “Excelsior!”, followed by an immediate, muttered “you fathead…”

    Shepherd inspired fierce loyalty in his listeners who would tune in to listen to him in the middle of the night. These listeners embraced his term for them, “night people,” and under his direction they would execute one of the biggest and most bizarre media hoaxes of the 20th century. The hoax was meant as a strike against their opposite: “day people,” that is, against phoniness and squareness—all those 50s words—as well as a joke on New York pretension.

    In our time of memes, virality, and reality blurring, the hoax Shepherd dreamt up seems extremely modern and prescient in its contours—as does the fact that, eventually, it got out of his control. (more…)

    The Golden Age of the Cockroach

    posted by
    Filed under: The History of Pranks, The Prank as Art

    Spoiler alert! According to author John Reed, Joey Skaggs’ Metamorphosis: Cockroach Vitamin Pill hoax headlines the Golden Age…


    The Golden Age of the Cockroach
    by John Reed
    Vice.com
    February 6, 2013

    Illustration by Michele Witchipoo

    Illustration by Michele Witchipoo

    Every era in art has a new favored subject. The Etruscans looked to Hercules; painters of the Renaissance reenvisioned the Bible; the American Ashcan School rendered sensitive tableaus of poor urban life; and the later half of the 20th century, dominated by the PoMo-ism of downtown NYC, crowned a new king, the cockroach, which was not only an available resource, but a stand-in for the artist—a heroic outcast, thriving in the ruins of civilization.

    The oeuvre of the cockroach is best understood as a series of distinct ages that, in turn, comprise a whole. During the Reformation, the cockroach was reconsidered; the Enlightenment percieved the cockroach as potentially “divine”; the Golden Age saw the pinnacle of the discipline; the Silver Age was consumed by celebrity; the Bronze Age refigured the subject as metaphor and victim; the Age of Decline represented the subject in absentia and/or in parts. As far as I can tell, no one has completed, or even attempted, to survey the cockroach’s place in the art world, so consider this seven-part piece that examines an artistic era that scuttled by so quickly, hardly anyone even noticed it. (more…)

    Roaches: A Race Above

    posted by
    Filed under: Satire, The History of Pranks

    From Larry C.: Brings to mind Joey Skaggs’ Metamorphosis: Cockroach Cure hoax.


    Communicating with the future: a cockroach DNA archive of the New York Times
    by M. Scott Brauer
    dvafoto.com
    Oct 30, 2009

    One of my favorite things to think about is the difficulty of communicating with humans generations from now, or even tens of thousands of years from now. An example: The Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management overseeing Yucca Mountain, the proposed Nevada site for disposal of nuclear waste, has been working with artists to develop a warning system that would alert future visitors to the area of the dangers buried in the mountain. From the website, “The monumental challenge is to address how warnings can be coherently conveyed for thousands of years into the future when human society and languages could change radically.” The purpose of the warning sign is “to deter intentional or inadvertent human intrusion or interference at the site and to effectively communicate over the course of the next 10,000 years that the integrity of the site must not be compromised in any way in order to prevent the release of the radiation contained within.” It’s an interesting visual challenge that must not rely on our own cultural biases. Here’s one artist’s response to the challenge, though perhaps it’s too reliant on the 20th century “Radioactive Danger” symbol. (more…)

    1976 Celebrity Sperm Bank Revisited

    by
    Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, The History of Pranks

    Update October 20, 2012: Huffington Post reports: Joey Skaggs Created The Celebrity Sperm Bank Hoax To Expose Journalists’ Incompetence


    From Joey Skaggs:

    In July of 1976, I (aka Giuseppe Scaggoli), as proprietor of the Celebrity Sperm Bank, planned to hold an auction of rock star sperm. The press release said, “We’ll have sperm from the likes of Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and vintage sperm from Jimmy Hendricks. All donations are certified and authenticated.” I asked about 50 actor friends to gather on Waverly Place between 6th Avenue and MacDougal Street in front of my attorney’s brownstone home. Read the rest of the story here and see some images below.


    Yesterday, October, 17, 2012, (thanks Chris Cook, John Lundberg & Larry Croft for the heads-up), a new Celebrity Sperm Bank hoax called Fame Daddy was covered by ITV, the Telegraph, the Globe & Mail, to name a few.

    Now they’ve all been caught with their pants down.

    (more…)

    Agent Garbo: The Spy Who Hoaxed the Germans

    posted by
    Filed under: The History of Pranks

    The Man Who Won Normandy
    by D. B. Grady
    The Atlantic
    July 6, 2012

    Stephan Talty’s Agent Garbo sheds light on an amateur spy who saved the world.

    Stephan Talty’s latest book is like a case study in how elegantly the Second World War scales down. Narrowing the focus seems only to reveal more about the war, and armored divisions and vainglorious generals soon appear incidental to the greater actions of common people in terrible times. There are some names uncertain to appear on a national census roster, much less in the footnotes of history. But in Agent Garbo, Talty pencils in one such name: Juan Pujol, a chicken farmer in Barcelona, who acted not for headlines or personal glory, but to make in some modest way a “contribution toward the good of humanity.”

    His life has been reconstructed by Talty though interviews, declassified documents, and files from state archives. During the Spanish Civil War, Juan Pujol refused to take up arms, unwilling to spill the blood of fellow Spaniards. This refusal proved an early introduction to espionage, as he spent much of the war incognito or out of sight. He was a deserter, and was eventually caught and imprisoned. When he escaped, he hatched a plan to abscond to France. Ironically, it involved enlisting in the same Republican military he’d just been imprisoned for avoiding. This time, however, he lied about his age (claiming to be too old) and lied about his politics (claiming to be a radical). Once in uniform and on the front lines, he made a mad, successful dash for the Nationalist lines. He never fired a shot in the war. (more…)