The World of the Prank

The artist as social provocateur and activist incorporates humor, satire, irony, political commentary and/or direct action to provoke critical thinking. Pranks challenge convention and the status quo and expose prejudices and biases.

Blog Posts

Dan Savage Is Back and He’s Pissed

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts

Seattle author Dan Savage is once again taking the piss out of America’s social conservative right.

Savage is best known a sex columnist, podcaster, and political activist. But perhaps more fundamentally he is a masterful media manipulator. Stunts such as his notorious SEO-based public humiliation of then-Senator Rick Santorum rank with the classic pranks of Abbie Hoffman or The Magic Christian.

In response to North Carolina’s wildly controversial “transgender bathroom bill,” Savage, the prankster, has reappeared with another disgusting, gut-busting idea. And this one is not confined to the internet.


“Dan Savage Has A Brilliantly Gross Idea To Protest NC’s Anti-LGBT Law”
by Noah Michelson
Huffington Post
May 9, 2016

DanSavage

If Dan Savage gets his way, Pat McCrory’s office will soon be filled with urine.

On Monday, the writer and activist tweeted his suggestion for how the North Carolina governor and his staff could ensure the “safe disposal” of transgender people’s bodily waste:

Savage’s tweet came just hours after Governor McCrory announced the state of North Carolina would sue the U.S. Justice Department over House Bill 2, which was signed into law in March and forces transgender people to use public restrooms that don’t correspond with their gender identity. The Justice Department had given the state until Monday to stop enforcing HB2 or risk a federal lawsuit.

Rather than agree to follow the Justice Department’s order, McCrory and the state’s secretary of public safety instead filed the lawsuit today against the Justice Department for its “radical reinterpretation” of federal civil rights law. (more…)

Sicily’s Stunning Art Silos

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking

Brooklyn Street Art blog showcases creative civic repurposing.


“Art Silos Rise in the Harbor of Catania, Sicily”
By Stephen P. Harrington and Jamie Rojo
Brooklyn Street Art
May 4, 2016

They’ve been here since the 1950s, these silos for wheat and corn on the harbor of Catania on the east coast of the island of Sicily at the foot of Mount Etna. 28 meters tall and facing the Ionian Sea, they are now some of the largest canvasses in Italy by a small group of international and local Street Artists.

Interesni Kazki. Detail. (photo © VladyArt)

Interesni Kazki. Detail. (photo © VladyArt)

The “Art Silos” project includes works completed during an eight month installation begun in June 2015 as part of Festival “I-ART” organized by “Emergence”, thanks to Angelo Bacchelli, curated by Giuseppe Stagnitta. The artists taking part in the project were Okuda (Spain), ROSH333 (Spain), Microbo (Italy), BO130 (Italy), VladyArt (Italy), Danilo Bucchi (Italy) and the duo Interesni Kaxki (Ukraine), mostly all from the graffiti/Street Art world. A separately organized but related project on the harbor-facing row of eight silos was completed by one artist alone, the Lisbon-based Vhils.

Interesni Kazki. Detail. (photo © VladyArt)

Interesni Kazki. Detail. (photo © VladyArt)

The project’s completion at the turn of the year culminated in one of the largest Street Art/Graffiti artists’ collective shows in Italy held in the city’s main public gallery Palazzo Platamone, entitled “Codici Sorgenti” (Source Code), which was curated by Stefano S. Antonelli and Francesca Mezzano from Rome’s 999 Contemporary Gallery.

There is talk about the possibility that this exhibition of about 60 artists work will tour throughout Europe with its message of the historic roots of modern graffiti and Street Art along with many of its most impactful practitioners pushing into the contemporary art world.

Danilo Bucchi (photo © VladyArt)

Danilo Bucchi (photo © VladyArt)

Okuda (photo © VladyArt)

Okuda (photo © VladyArt)

Full story and more photos here.


What’s the Deal With Donald Trump’s Central Park Headstone?

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters

The NYT reveals the back story behind a morbid and mysterious piece of public art targeting the media’s favorite real-estate developer.


“Trump Headstone in Central Park: Mystery Solved”
by Michael Wilson
The New York Times
May 9, 2016

TrumpHeadstoneIt was a headstone — a full-size, 420-pound hunk of Vermont granite that would blend in nicely in any of New York City’s cemeteries. But it stood out here, in Sheep Meadow, with a name etched on its face of a man very much among the living.

“TRUMP,” read the headstone, and below that, “Donald J.” The date of birth read 1946. The date of death was blank. Below that was carved an epitaph: “Made America Hate Again.”

It was March 27. Passers-by took pictures that made the viral rounds.

“This is morbid but hilarious,” one commenter posted on Instagram.

“This made my day lol,” another wrote.

Frank Cassara, 70, a third-generation monument dealer in South Slope, Brooklyn, saw the headstone on the evening news, and said five words. Four of them were printable: “I don’t believe it.”

His son, Michael, the fourth generation, said four words, three of which were, “What a moron.”

They knew that headstone well. They had made it. Full story here.


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.

Meet the Street Artists Who Pranked Showtime

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Pranks, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters

After planting a special Arabic message on the set of Showtime’s hit show Homeland, Heba Yehia Amin, Caram Kapp, and Don Karl became internationally notorious. They explain themselves in Homeland Is Not a Series, a short film from The Intercept’s wonderful Field of Vision video series. Check out the video and the accompanying interview.

homeland-filmmakers-feature-hero

“Interview With Hebia Yehia Amin, Caram Kapp, and Don Karl of Homeland Is Not a Series”
by Eric Hynes
The Intercept
December 20, 2015

Commissioned to apply realistic graffiti to sets for the popular Showtime series Homeland, three artists and activists took the opportunity to critique their employer by painting satirical and damning phrases in Arabic — such as “Homeland is NOT a series” and “Homeland is racist” — that nobody on the Homeland team seemed to notice. That is, until an episode that aired worldwide in October was watched by viewers who could read Arabic. Within days, the political prank became an international media sensation.

The conspirators behind the Homeland hack, Heba Yehia Amin, Caram Kapp, and Don Karl, come from a diverse array of disciplines and backgrounds. Amin is a visual artist and professor born and based in Cairo; Kapp is a Cairo-born, Berlin-based graphic designer and multimedia artist; and Karl is a Berlin-based graffiti writer and author. When the following interview was conducted, kaleidoscopically via Google Hangout, the trio was collaborating on the edit for Homeland Is Not a Series from three separate cities.

In anticipation of bringing this latest iteration of their project to Field of Vision, the “Arabian Street Artists,” as they cheekily refer to themselves, talked about the effectiveness of humor as a weapon against intolerance, the challenges of making a movie when they don’t consider themselves filmmakers by trade, and how they’re trying to foster further discussion around Western representations of Middle Eastern culture.

Read the full interview here.

The NYT Interviews Russian Pranksters Who Aren’t President of Anything

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters

The New York Times did a phoner with two dudes posing as embattled Ukrainian President Poroshenko and indirectly give us the delightful new term “pranker.”


“Two Russian men pranked the The New York Times by giving a US journalist an interview posing as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko”
by Staff
Sputnik News
April 13, 2016

1027247581Russian prankers [sic] Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov, more commonly known as Vovan and Lexus, spoke with The New York Times journalist Carol Giacomo pretending to be Petro Poroshenko.

The prankers spoke with the journalist about the president’s business and his involvement in the recent Panama Papers leak. They assured The New York Times that Poroshenko is a law-abiding citizen who always pays all of his taxes and cares for his country.

Kuznetsov and Stolyarov went even further when after the interview they called The New York Times back and said the interview, in fact, wasn’t done with Poroshenko, but with a phony who wanted to discredit the newspaper for its recent article which called Ukraine a “corrupt swamp.”

In other words, the prankers fooled The New York Times again, this time simultaneously discrediting Poroshenko’s administration. Read more.

We’re Gonna Need More Enthusiasm

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fraud and Deception, Hype, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Pranksters

Davy Rothbard of Found fame profiles a company that hires out fake crowds. H/t Dave Pell.


“Crowd Source: Inside the company that provides fake paparazzi, pretend campaign supporters, and counterfeit protesters”
by Davy Rothbard
The California Sunday Magazine
March 31, 2016

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When he can, Adam trains his hired crowds himself, but more often he relies on local coordinators who manage the events. In Los Angeles, Del Brown — the woman I met at the Marriott — is Adam’s point person. Del moved to California in 2012 to pursue an acting career and soon landed a Doritos commercial, but after that, she mostly found work as an extra in student films and small indie projects. She worked a gig with Crowds on Demand, and Adam was so impressed he immediately put her on staff. Del has established a wide network she can reach out to when she needs, say, 60 crowd-fillers for a party on the roof deck of the W Los Angeles hotel or a 6-foot-6-inch man in a leather kilt to act as a fan at the launch of a book about S&M culture. Many of Del’s recurring crowd members are background actors she’s met on film sets, yet she is continually trawling for fresh faces.

At the Marriott, I’d met Jackie Greig, who typifies the crowd members Del and Adam often hire. Jackie is 50 years old, a film student at Los Angeles City College. A teacher had shared a posting about what she thought was an upcoming film shoot that was looking for paid help. Jackie showed up at the Marriott only to discover that this was not a film shoot. Yes, she was being asked to aim her camera at the life coaches, but whether she hit record was immaterial. On one hand, Jackie was frustrated. She’d skipped class and driven more than an hour to be there. On the other hand, after a couple of hours, she’d made $37.50 and could now afford a Foo Fighters concert for her daughter. “I just wish they’d been more transparent about what the gig really was,” Jackie tells me.

If you’re hiring a crowd to fill a campaign event or a film premiere, the last thing you want to do is let anyone know.

The tricky thing, Adam says, is how many of his clients insist on secrecy. If you’re hiring a crowd to fill a campaign event or a film premiere, the last thing you want to do is let anyone know. Adam must balance his goal of spreading awareness of his company, so he can attract more clients, with the benefits of keeping the public in the dark. If people start to doubt the veracity of crowds, his business might suffer. “Right now, we’re still kind of this secret weapon,” Adam says. “We have the element of surprise. Yeah, you might’ve heard about political candidates paying to bring some extra bodies into their campaign events, but it’s beyond the realm of most people’s imagination that crowds are being deployed in other ways. Nobody is skeptical of crowds. Of course, in five years that could change.”

Adam says he gives Del wide latitude to recruit crowd members. Most often, she presents the gigs as background acting work. This is only slightly misleading: Crowd members won’t bulk up their IMDB profile, but being part of a fake crowd is a kind of acting. In a world where everybody is constantly playing a part, staging moments to be broadcast later on social media, the line between counterfeit and authentic has become blurred. Is curating a version of yourself on Facebook any less fake than pretending to be a superfan of a life coach? Read more.


New York’s Bad Boys

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Practical Jokes and Mischief, The World of the Prank

3 Notorious April Fools Day Pranks Played by Notable New Yorkers
by Nicole Levy
DNAInfo New York
March 31, 2016

Literary journalist George Plimpton, pop star David Bowie and career prankster Joey Skaggs have all set up hoaxes that fooled the media and the masses. Getty/Evan Agostini, Bryan Bedder; Flickr/Andres Rodriguez

Literary journalist George Plimpton, pop star David Bowie and career prankster Joey Skaggs have all set up hoaxes that fooled the media and the masses. Getty/Evan Agostini, Bryan Bedder; Flickr/Andres Rodriguez


April Fools’ Day is this Friday, and we sincerely hope you don’t get taken for one.

Concern for your own dignity doesn’t, however, exclude you from enjoying the pranks played on others. We’ve culled three of our favorite gags from the annals of recent history, all orchestrated by notable New Yorkers:

Literary journalist George Plimpton, pop star David Bowie and career prankster Joey Skaggs have all set up hoaxes that fooled the media and the masses. Getty/Evan Agostini, Bryan Bedder; Flickr/Andres Rodriguez

► The 15th Annual New York City April Fools Day Parade
On April 1, 2000, television crews from CNN and the Fox affiliate WNYW arrived at the intersections of 59th Street and Fifth Avenue at noon, expecting to cover a non-existent parade.

According to the press release they’d received, the 15th Annual NYC April Fools Day Parade would march down the avenue to Washington Square Park. It would feature “Beat ’em, Bust ’em, Book ’em Floats created by the New York, Los Angeles and Seattle Police Departments, portraying themes of brutality, corruption and incompetence,” and a “Mayor Rudy ‘Doody’ Giuliani” lookalike throwing elephant dung at passersby.

Longtime media prankster Joey Skaggs had been issuing fake news releases for the non-event recognizing “the day designated to commemorate the perennial folly of mankind” since 1986.

(Last year, he hooked the Chinese news agency Sinovision, which ran a 4-minute preview before April Fools’ Day.) The tradition continues this year, with an announcement of the 31st annual parade.

Read the rest of the article here.


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.


Google’s Rare April Fool’s Foul

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Filed under: Prank News, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts, The World of the Prank

Like everything else in the tech world, April Fool’s Day is highly competitive. For years, the supple minds at Google led with the cleverist, “stickiest” stunts.

It’s barely dawn on the West Coast, and this year’s edition has already confused and alienated enough users to prompt a rare and serious backlash and retraction. Verdict: Too hip for the room.


“Google Disables April Fool’s Joke Amid User Fury After Prank Backfires”
By Alex Hern
The Guardian
April 1, 2016

minionmicdropGoogle’s April Fools’ Day prank has backfired, leaving the company looking the fool and a number of concerned users fearing for their jobs – or worse.

As 1 April began in Australia, the company announced its latest stunt: “Gmail Mic Drop”, a special version of the send button which appends a gif of a minion (one of the sexless, ageless merchandising icons from the Despicable Me series) dressed as the queen dropping a microphone to the end of your email.

“Everyone will get your message, but that’s the last you’ll ever hear about it,” Google added in a blogpost announcing the feature. “Yes, even if folks try to respond, you won’t see it.”

For most companies, that would be the end of it, but Google has a longstanding tradition of actually building the products they “announce” on April Fools’ Day, even if they only survive for 24 hours. Read more.


The April Fool’s Day Parade gets the NYT Treatment

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Creative Activism, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The World of the Prank

The Annual April Fool’s Day Parade has long been among Joey Skaggs’s most highly visible projects.


“A Fool’s Parade”
by Alexandra S. Levine
The New York Times
April 1, 2016

You’ve heard of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, right?

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? Of course.

But the April Fools’ Day Parade?

01NYTODAY-articleLarge

The procession is expected to file from 59th Street and Fifth Avenue down to Washington Square Park, beginning at noon, rain or shine.

Organized by the New York April Fools’ Committee, the spectacle is intended to poke fun at public figures — celebrities, politicians, executives and anyone else who has proved deserving of caricature.

“Nothing is sacred. Our satire knows no bounds,” the committee said in a statement, adding, “The Parade Committee assumes no liability for damages caused by satire.”

Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, (a look-alike, of course) leads the parade, sitting atop a ballistic missile float.

The “Hypocrisy and Democracy” float features presidential candidates yelling confusing speeches at passers-by.

And Kanye West rides the “Infinity Mirror” float, because, well, organizers think he could stare at his own reflection until the end of time.

Just kidding.

To all of the above.

The nonexistent parade is solely a fixture in the imagination of the New York artist Joey Skaggs, a prankster who creates elaborate hoaxes as a form of social activism.

He’s blasted out news releases, posted videos and has managed to get his April Fools’ Day Parade website appearing near the top of search engine results.

“It’s a mystery to me how we continue to enable fools to make fools of us,” Mr. Skaggs said.

Touché.


Triumph the Insult Comic Dog Pranks GOP Supporters

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Media Pranks, Parody

Triumph the Insult Comic Dog sends women posing as Fox News reporters to GOP political events to ask some tough questions.

Thanks Steven Beer!


Winter is Trumping

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Parody, Political Pranks

Armed with a Valyrian steel sword named Deal-Maker, Donald Trump embarks on a quest through Westeros to take care its border policies.

From Huw Parkinson, February 20, 2016


New York, New York!

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Pranksters, Satire

From Andrea Marini: Snow Boarding with NYPD

The Return of Sweden’s Giant Snow Penis

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Filed under: Not for Kids, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Prank News, Pranksters
This post may not be suitable for everyone. Please proceed at your own risk!

Snow Penis

“Sweden’s Giant Snow Penis Was Erased, So This Man Created an Even Bigger One”
by Ed Mazza
Huffington Post
January 22, 2016

BIgger Swedish Snow Penis

The giant snow penis cannot be stopped.

Emilian Sava, one of the workers who had to clear a giant snow penis from a park in Sweden, felt so guilty about the act of phallic vandalism that he erected his own giant snow schlong, according to The Local.

And in what may be the world’s greatest display of penis envy, the new snow penis is much more massive than the old one.

The original penis was carved into the snow over a frozen moat in Kungsparken (King’s Park) in the city of Gothenburg. It quickly aroused complaints from members of the community. Read more.