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

The Strange Saga of Melania Trump’s Speechwriter

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Prank News

In one of many remarkable moments in this year’s Republican National Convention, potential First Lady Melania Trump delivered a speech blatantly plagiarized from incumbent First Lady Michelle Obama. A little-known Donald Trump speechwriter named Meredith McIver showed up to take the blame, sparking conspiracy theories. And things have stayed weird.


“Who’s Impersonating Melania Trump’s Plagarist Meredith McIver?”
by Gideon Resnick
The Daily Beast
August 2, 2016

meredith-mciver-melania-trump-8Meredith McIver, a former ballerina turned Donald Trump co-author, is definitely a real person. But her social media persona, which came into being after she took the blame for Melania Trump’s plagiarized speech, definitely is not.

The account @imeredithmciver began tweeting on July 20, the day after Melania Trump’s prime-time Republican National Convention speech was upended by the revelation that she had cribbed some lines from an address by Michelle Obama at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. And it is still posing as McIver to this day, with no comment or pushback from the Trump campaign.

As the campaign is in the throes of daily sparring with a Gold Star family, fire marshals, and even the speaker of the House, there’s been no acknowledgment of the fake social media presence of McIver, who told The Daily Beast she has no online presence. Multiple people have emailed The Daily Beast claiming to have some knowledge about the mysterious appearance of the account, ranging from abject satire to claims the Trump campaign is actually behind it.

“I just wanted to set the record straight. @realDonaldTrump is a wonderful man,” the account tweeted just as McIver was getting roped into the burgeoning scandal. With her social media proclamation, the account included a photoshopped image of McIver and Trump standing next to each other in his office. (more…)

Fake Dog Poop App Gets Traction

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Filed under: Bullshit Detector Watch, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Satire

Apparently, it can be difficult to distinguish satire of California startup culture’s frivolity from the real thing, even when it’s combined with the most tried-and-true prankster tropes. Perhaps the oddest thing about Elliot Glass and Ben Becker’s “Uber for Poop” prank is that the app itself isn’t real. It’s hardly surprising that the tech media picked it up with no gloves.


“How a Fake Dog Poop App Fooled the Media”
by Zach Schonfeld
Newsweek
July 29, 2016

AOTPPooperPooper, the bold new app that markets itself as an Uber for dogshit, was nothing but dogshit all along.

Well, pretty clever dogshit: What appeared to be an outrageously inessential poop-disrupting start-up was really—of course—”an art project that satirizes our app-obsessed world.”

What’s more surprising is that it worked: Since its initial announcement, Pooper has secured attention from dozens of media outlets—most of whom were bamboozled into thinking it’s real—and piqued interest from investors. Pooper also intrigued a bunch of eager would-be users, who (if the app were real, which it is not) would be able to summon nearby strangers to scoop up dog turds with the push of a button.

“We’ve gotten hundreds of sign-ups,” claims Ben Becker, who devised the hoax with a friend, Elliot Glass. “People have been signing up to be both poopers and scoopers.”

Becker, a creative director in the advertising world, and Glass, a designer and web developer in Los Angeles, hatched the idea this past winter during a discussion about navel-gazing startup culture. “We wanted to begin a project that reflected the state of technology—specifically apps,” says Becker in a phone interview. “Taking the visual signifiers and language and the entire world and inhabiting it, inserting an absurd purpose for it. In this case, that would be dog poop.” Read more.

Improv Everywhere: The Magical Porta Potty 2

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Practical Jokes and Mischief

From Charlie Todd of Improv Everywhere: A series of even more epic surprises emerge from what appears to be a normal porta potty.


Created and Directed by Charlie Todd / Produced by Deverge

For our latest mission, we staged a series of surprises at the porta potty area of the Governors Ball music festival in New York. When random concertgoers opened our “magical” porta potty, they were surprised by a variety of unexpected performers streaming out of the door. This mission is a sequel to last year’s Magical Porta Potty.

Enjoy the video and then go behind the scenes with our mission report and photos.

mpp2_00


Donald’s Wall of Fame

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Filed under: Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Satire

Thanks Deb!


Donald Trump’s Walk of Fame Star Gets a Baby Border Wall (PHOTOS)
by Dennis Romero
LA Weekly
July 19, 2016

trump-star-wall1

Los Angeles provocateur Plastic Jesus just rained on Donald Trump’s parade. On a day when the real estate mogul is celebrating his official coronation as the Republican Party’s presidential nominee for 2016, Plastic Jesus has built a wall around Trump’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The wall only measures 6 inches high, but its statement is mighty. Read the rest of the article here.

trump-star-wall2

In Search of Political Art

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, The History of Pranks

Randy Kennedy explores the state of political art in search of the iconic images that previously captured people’s imaginations as we navigate another absurd political season.

Thanks Peter!


Political Art in a Fractious Election Year
by Randy Kennedy
The New York Times
July 17, 2016

“The Truth Booth” by the Brooklyn Bridge. The booth, by the Cause Collective, is heading to Cleveland for the Republican National Convention. Credit Ben Pettey

“The Truth Booth” by the Brooklyn Bridge. The booth, by the Cause Collective, is heading to Cleveland for the Republican National Convention. Credit Ben Pettey

In 2008, when the artist Shepard Fairey created the graphically striking “Hope” portrait to support Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, it seemed as if a rich tradition of American political imagery reaching back at least to the middle of the 20th century — on posters, buttons, bumper stickers — was still very much alive. The art critic Peter Schjeldahl called the “Hope” poster “epic poetry in an everyday tongue.”

Read the whole article here.


Pokemon Go Crime Wave… Not

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Filed under: All About Pranks, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hype, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The World of the Prank

In less than a week, Nintendo’s new mobile game Pokemon Go has become a 2016 pop-culture phenomenon. (It is, you see, pretty much the only recent news item that isn’t wildly depressing.) With all the hype, think-pieces, newsjacking, and Facebook-sharing, some skepticism was lost in the shuffle.


“The Man Behind the Pokemon Crime Wave”
by Ben Collins and Kate Briquelet
The Daily Beast
July 11, 2016

wigglytuffAmerica is going crazy for the new game—crazy enough to kill, if you believe all the stories on Facebook. But the bloodbath is fake, and The Daily Beast tracked down the man behind it.

At CartelPress.com, the death toll from the first weekend of Pokémon GO is still piling up.

If you’re to believe that website, the new augmented reality game that has users walking into public parks and streets to catch Pokémon—and is nearing as many daily active users as Twitter—is responsible for a bloodbath. A teen killed his brother over a low-rent Pokémon called a Pidgey, the site reports. Countless were left dead on a Massachusetts highway when a 26-year-old stopped in the middle of the road to catch a Pikachu, it also alleges. And now, on CartelPress.com, the so-called Islamic State widely known as ISIS is claiming credit for the biggest Pokémon tragedy of all: rampant server issues.
Unbelievable.

No, really. It should be unbelievable. But 10,000 people shared that first story on Facebook. More than 64,000 shared the last one. And the Pokémon highway accident? Three hundred eighty-four thousand shares on Facebook in a couple of days.

And none of them are real.

CartelPress is just one part of the Pokésteria.

Now gamers on other sites are fooling people into donating to a Texas-based Uber driver who claims he witnessed a murder scene while trawling for Pokémon over the weekend—even though that murder scene, just like the rest of these stories, never existed.

That didn’t stop plenty of reputable news agencies from recycling the Satanic Panic-esque stories that were always too good to be true. The Atlantic referenced the highway death in the middle of its story “The Tragedy of Pokémon GO.” The New York Post did the same.

There are plenty more. Pablo Reyes almost caught ’em all. According to the 26-year-old internet prankster—who flooded America’s elevators and drive time radio shows with fake Pokécrime he invented on CartelPress, a new site he created—it’s all one big coding mistake. Read on for the interview.

Why Satire Still Matters: A Case Study

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Parody, Political Pranks, Satire

As the Overton Window of American politics has shifted rightward, taking the “serious” media with it, satirists such as Jon Stewart, John Oliver, and The Onion have picked up the slack on the left, becoming some of its most influential and effective voices.

Here’s a look at how The Onion, in particular, has taken up the seemingly endless and hopeless fight over gun control.


How ‘The Onion’ Became One of the Strongest Voices for Gun Control
by Asawin Suebsaeng
The Daily Beast
June 19, 2016

The sorry state of mass shootings and regulating the use of firearms are perhaps best epitomized by the fact that a satirical website is getting the most attention for its coverage.

48880009.cachedFor years, the editorial page that has most fervently favored stricter gun control in America hasn’t been found in The New York Times, The Washington Post, or The Boston Globe. It’s been on the pages of The Onion, America’s leading news-satire organization.

Two days after the massacre at Orlando’s Pulse gay nightclub, which was carried out with an AR-15-style weapon, The Onion (which smirkingly bills itself as “America’s finest news source”) published an op-ed titled, “It’s An Honor To Continue Being Valued Over Countless Human Lives.”

It was posted under the byline of “an AR-15.”

“I can’t imagine it was always easy to hold an 8-pound aluminum-and-synthetic firearm in higher regard than the lives of your fellow citizens—after all, these are good people with rich experiences and families and dreams—but this country has always managed to find a way to put me first,” the darkly comic piece reads.

In the wake of the Pulse mass shooting, The Onion also published articles with headlines such as:

“Exhausted Nation Unsure It Has Stamina To Continue Gun Control Dialogue For Fifth Consecutive Day”

“Frustrated Obama Writes Letter To His Congressman About Need For Gun Control”

“At Times Like This, We Need To Pull Ourselves Up, Hold Our Loved Ones Close, Block Any Legislation That Would Prevent Suspected Terrorists From Buying Guns, And Say A Prayer For The Victims” (“written” by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) (more…)

Taking the Bot Bait

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

Donald Trump has used Twitter more aggressively than any other political figure in the short history of the service. He has built a large and pugnacious fanbase that will do his bidding and shout down anyone or anything that challenges him. Even if it’s a bot.


“A Twitter Bot Is Beating Trump Fans”
by Ben Collins
The Daily Beast
June 14, 2016

Many Donald Trump supporters on Twitter spent Tuesday afternoon unknowingly arguing with a robot.

@Assbott, which mostly tweets about professional wrestling and baseball, was created to immediately reply to Trump’s tweets, then respond with nonsense sentences to any user who interacts with it. But many of the presumptive Republican nominee’s fans didn’t recognize it wasn’t a person and continued fighting with it until they finally abandoned the conversation. About 10 users per hour continued tweeting at @Assbott well into Tuesday night.

@Assbott is the brainchild of a Kentucky man named Forrest, who identifies himself as @Nasboat on Twitter and declined to give his last name.

48865581.cached“The bot is just a mishmash of my tweets. @AwfulJack is the one who started the account. I’m clueless on the technical side,” he told The Daily Beast. “There had been a few other bots made from other users we know and follow, and I thought it was a funny concept and wanted one of my own. I sent him my archive, and he got it up and running.” Read more.


Movie Review: If You’re Reading This, You’ve Already Been Conned…

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Filed under: All About Pranks, Art of the Prank - the movie, Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Prank News, Pranksters

The Observer welcomes Joey Skaggs back to New York and ponders his relationship with the media.


If You’re Reading This, You’ve Already Been Conned: Joey Skaggs Doc Premieres in LES
by Spencer Roth-Rose
The New York Observer
June 13, 2016

Film documenting media hoax artist opens up LES Film Festival

skaggs-nyobserver_review

Good God, we’re easy to fool.

It feels a bit counterintuitive to be writing, in the media, about media hoaxer Joey Skaggs. Skaggs, who was interviewed this past week by the Observer, has made a name for himself since the 1960s through elaborate pranks that aim to highlight the absurdity of our media culture. So how’s a writer to know he’s not being punk’d by a man who describes fooling the media “as easy as a bowel movement”?

A new documentary detailing the greatest hits of Skagg’s hoaxing career opened up the Lower East Side Film Festival on Thursday night. Art of the Prank, directed by Italian newcomer Andrea Marini, is both an upbeat summary of decades of mischief (a confession booth on the back of a tricycle, a brothel for dogs, cockroaches that hold the key to the human immune system, each one eagerly lapped up by hasty news outlets), and an intimate portrait of an earnest man earnestly engaged in the business of tomfoolery.

Read more…

The King of Comment-Section Trolls Unveiled

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

Meet Ken M, an uncommonly sharp internet troll whose mix of surreal humor and remarkable tenacity has helped him build a fanbase.

“The world’s greatest internet troll explains his craft”
by Phil Edwards
Vox
May 6, 2016

“How does an internet troll build his own following?

That’s a question that Ken McCarthy, a.k.a. Ken M, can answer: He’s the subject of a dedicated subreddit with more than 150,000 fans, as well as popular Facebook and Twitter pages. And that following is all for … leaving comments. As the above video shows, those comments are funny enough to create a legion of devoted fans.

Calling Ken a troll is a bit of a category error — though he does lure in commenters with false premises and hilariously mistaken information, his act is more like a new kind of improv comedy. To my critical eye, he’s an internet love child of early Smothers Brothers and Jack Handy, with a dash of Greg Packer, too. (Packer is a non-comedian famous for showing up as the “man on the street” in countless news articles, the same way Ken M is likely to pop up in comment sections.)

Ken experiments a lot. His persona easily transforms from that of a confused old man to a punctilious professor, but the result always has the same absurd sense of humor. Though his audience changes as well — he shifts between news comment sections and branded Facebook pages, among others — he adapts to each with jokes that he constructs on the fly.”


ART OF THE PRANK (The Movie) to Open the Lower East Side Film Festival

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Filed under: Art of the Prank - the movie, Art Pranks, Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Prank News, Pranksters

It’s a homecoming! Andrea Marini is interviewed by Kavitha Surana of Bedford + Bowery about his new film ART OF THE PRANK and about working with Joey Skaggs as he and Joey head towards Joey’s haunts from the 60s for the film’s New York premiere at the Lower East Side Film Festival June 9.


“Meet the King of All Media Hoaxes at the LES Film Festival”
by Kavitha Surana
Bedford + Bowery
June 2, 2016

skaggsposter‘Tis the season for festivals, apparently, and the Lower East Side is not one to be left in the dust. Along with an art festival in Bushwick, music festivals in Brooklyn, and more coming up in the next weeks, the Lower East Side Film Festival is coming to the nabe from June 9-16. It’ll hit the Sunshine Cinema, natch, as well as Hotel Indigo, the new Ludlow House and The Standard, East Village.

The headliner for opening night is the premier of The Art of the Prank, about a mischievous LES artist who loves nothing more than exposing the media’s hunger for sensational story with outrageous tall tales that sound just (barely) plausible enough to swallow. Lambasting the media has certainly been in fashion this election season, but no one has been doing it longer and in better style than Joey Skaggs (sorry, “Settle for Hillary” guys).

“I can connect with Joey’s art because at the end of the day, it’s the essence of storytelling to me,” said director Andrea Marini, who co-produced the film with Judy Drosd. “Keep it simple, keep it meaningful, keep it strong, immediate, and you’ll get people.”

Indeed, Skaggs “got” many people over a remarkable history, repeatedly pranking major news networks with weird fake stories, such as cockroach vitamin pills, fat squad “commandos,” and a brothel for dogs. (Marini said he was first inspired to create hoaxes after a newspaper completely misinterpreted one of his early performances against the Vietnam War.) As Skaggs says in the trailer, “People want an easy answer, they want a pill, the magic pill.” Read more.

Now You See the Louvre Pyramid, Now You Don’t

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Illusion and Magic

“JR at The Louvre” at Musée du Louvre, Paris from May 25 – June 28, 2016, presented by French Street Artist JR


This Summer, the Louvre’s Pyramid Will “Disappear”
By Erin Blakemore
Smithsonian.com
March 15, 2016

A French street artist promises a tantalizing trick of the eye

Louvre Pyramid

I.M. Pei’s grand pyramid brought controversy, modernity and a new entrance to the Louvre. But is it time for the pyramid to disappear? Kind of: As Henri Neuendorf reports for artnet News, a French artist will eliminate the pyramid through a mind-bending optical illusion this summer. Read the full story here.


James O’Keefe’s Phone Prank Fail (and the Rise of the Professional Political Pranksters)

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Political Pranks, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation

Starting with an astounding botched sting operation from James “ACORN Pimp” O’Keefe and his team Project Veritas, The New Yorker goes in depth exploring the status of American political dirty tricks in a particularly nasty and absurd election year.


“Sting of Myself”
by Jane Meyer
The New Yorker
May 30, 2016

As Dana Geraghty recalls it, March 16th was a “rather quiet Wednesday.” That afternoon, she was in her cubicle at the Open Society Foundations, on West Fifty-seventh Street, where she helps oversee the nonprofit group’s pro-democracy programs in Eurasia. The Foundations are the philanthropic creation of George Soros, the hedge-fund billionaire, who is a prominent donor to liberal causes, including Hillary Clinton’s Presidential bid. Soros, who has spent nineteen million dollars on the 2016 Presidential campaign, is regarded with suspicion by many conservatives. National Review has suggested that he may be fomenting protests against Donald Trump by secretly funding what it called a “rent-a-mob.”

Geraghty, who is twenty-eight, had programmed her office phone to forward messages from unfamiliar callers to her e-mail inbox. She was about to review several messages when she noticed that one of them was extraordinarily long. “Who leaves a seven-minute voice mail?” Geraghty asked herself. She clicked on it.

AOTP_OKeefe“Hey, Dana,” a voice began. The caller sounded to her like an older American male. “My name is, uh, Victor Kesh. I’m a Hungarian-American who represents a, uh, foundation . . . that would like to get involved with you and aid what you do in fighting for, um, European values.” He asked Geraghty for the name of someone he could talk to “about supporting you guys and coördinating with you on some of your efforts.” Requesting a callback, he left a phone number with a 914 area code—Westchester County.

She heard a click, a pause, and then a second male voice. The person who had introduced himself as Kesh said, “Don’t say anything . . . before I hang up the phone.”

“That piqued my interest,” Geraghty recalls. Other aspects of the message puzzled her: “Who says they’re with a foundation without saying which one? He sounded scattered. And usually people call to get funding, not to offer it.” Victor Kesh, she suspected, was “someone passing as someone else.”

She continued to listen, and the man’s voice suddenly took on a more commanding tone. The caller had failed to hang up, and Kesh, unaware that he was still being recorded, seemed to be conducting a meeting about how to perpetrate an elaborate sting on Soros. “What needs to happen,” he said, is for “someone other than me to make a hundred phone calls like that”—to Soros, to his employees, and to the Democracy Alliance, a club of wealthy liberal political donors that Soros helped to found, which is expected to play a large role in financing this year’s campaigns. Kesh described sending into the Soros offices an “undercover” agent who could “talk the talk” with Open Society executives. Kesh’s goal wasn’t fully spelled out on the recording, but the gist was that an operative posing as a potential donor could penetrate Soros’s operation and make secret videos that exposed embarrassing activities. Soros, he assured the others, has “thousands of organizations” on the left in league with him. Kesh said that the name of his project was Discover the Networks. Read more.


Make Dating Great Again!

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Filed under: Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts, You Decide

This international dating startup may or may not be real, but as a politically charged publicity stunt, it’s hilarious.


“There’s A Dating Site For Americans Who Want To Escape A Trump Presidency”
by Kimberly Yam
The Huffington Post
May 11, 2016

New dating site Maple Match helps Americans find a Canadian partner for a special mission — to “save them from the unfathomable horror of a Trump presidency.”

AOTP_TrumpDating

And the service’s tagline? “Make dating great again,” natch.

The site launched about a week ago and the app hasn’t even been released yet, but the concept has already proven popular, NBC News reported. Thousands of people have already signed up to nab a spot on the waitlist and this past Friday, the site had 200 sign-up requests an hour.

“This is about finding the right partner and not caring if they’re on the other side of the border,” CEO Joe Goldman explained to The Guardian. “You should go to a place where you’ll be happy. For a number of Americans, in the event of a Trump presidency, that place would be Canada.” Whole thing here.


YouTube Pranksters Jailed

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Legal Issues, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Prank News, Pranksters

The rise of YouTube has shifted the way people think about media, fame, and, definitely, pranks.

YouTube’s “user-created content” has always been conspicuously subject to Sturgeon’s Law, but over time, its most popular and influential celebrities have concentrated their power while newcomers have found it harder and harder to break through.

“YouTube pranksters” generally perform “social experiments” (read: wacky stunts) in public, preferably for unwitting audiences. As their attention economy becomes more stratified, certain performers have become increasingly confrontational and occasionally felonious.

The UK-based channel TrollStation operates on the genre’s outer fringes. TrollStation affiliates have violently broken the law and alienated some in the YouTube community before, but achieved peak notoriety with two fake museum heists on July 5, 2015, that just landed three (more) of them behind bars. Their sentences were light – 20 weeks is nothing for genuine art theft or violent B&E – and their case was complicated by the fact that, although they definitely horrified innocent bystanders, they didn’t actually steal anything.

Upon release, they can doubtless expect increased viewership.

For the details, read Katie Rogers’ May 19, 2016 article in The New York Times, “When YouTube Pranks Break the Law”.