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

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…)

The Amazing Story of Mingering Mike

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Urban Legends

The mystery of Mingering Mike: the soul legend who never existed
by Jon Ronson
The Guardian
11 February 2015

When a ‘crate-digger’ found a massive vinyl collection at a flea market, he couldn’t understand how a soul star who’d released over 100 records could just disappear. But the truth turned out to be even stranger. Jon Ronson goes in search of Mingering Mike

Intensely shy ... Mingering Mike at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Photograph: Jocelyn Augustino for the Guardian

Intensely shy … Mingering Mike at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Photograph: Jocelyn Augustino for the Guardian


This story begins with a record collector unearthing something extraordinary at a flea market one dawn in 2003. His name is Dori Hadar. He worked as a criminal investigator for a law firm in Washington DC and he’d been up all night with a client at the jail next door.

“It’s a miserable place to be, the DC jail,” Hadar tells me. “It’s stuffy and muggy and everything’s old and decaying.”

“Do you remember what your client had been accused of?” I ask.

Hadar shakes his head. “It’s basically drugs, guns and murders. Mainly.”

Hadar finally left the jail at 5am, just as a nearby flea market was setting up. He was a regular there – a “crate-digger” – for ever rifling through boxes of secondhand soul and funk albums, hunting for rarities. “It’s very competitive, the crate-digger world,” Hadar says. “People guard their boxes, they don’t want you to see, they pull the records out really fast.”

But Hadar had never been at the flea market at 5am before, and was thrilled to find no other crate-digger in sight. “And suddenly this enormous collection turned up. There must have been 15 boxes of albums.”

“As a crate-digger, that must be …”

“It’s the dream.”

All artworks courtesy the artist/Smithsonian American Art Museum

All artworks courtesy the artist/Smithsonian American Art Museum


Hadar was a true soul aficionado, with an encyclopaedic knowledge and 10,000 records at home. Which is why he was so amazed to discover 38 albums by a soul singer he had never heard of. His name was Mingering Mike. Hadar stared at the record covers. He read the liner notes. There was Mingering Mike’s 1968’s debut, Sit’tin by the Window. The cover art was a painting of a young man in a green T-shirt, good-looking, serious. The comedian Jack Benny had written the liner notes, calling him “a bright and intelligent young man with a great, exciting future awaiting him”.

So it transpired. There were greatest hits collections and a Bruce Lee concept album and movie soundtracks – including one for an action film called Stake Out. And there were live albums, like 1972’s Live from Paris, The Mingering Mike Review: ‘Their biggest show ever,’ read the liner notes. ‘What a night that was.’

Most of the song titles were upbeat and optimistic, like There’s Nothing Wrong With You Baby and Play It Cool, Don’t Be No Fool, Get Your Thing Together and Go Back to School. But other records had darker themes, like The Drug Store and Mama Takes Dope. Some were still wrapped in their original cellophane, price tags intact.

Hadar pulled out a few discs to see what condition they were in. Which was when he discovered to his enormous surprise that they weren’t vinyl. They were black-painted cardboard, with fake labels and hand-drawn grooves.

What had begun to dawn on Hadar was now totally apparent: Mingering Mike did not exist. He was somebody’s hugely detailed fantasy.

Read the whole story here.


Mingering Mike’s prodigious album collection is on exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2nd floor South, 8th and F Streets, N.W., February 27, 2015 – August 2, 2015


Afgan Artist Angers Her Harassers

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking

Afghan artist dons armour to counter men’s street harassment
by Emma Graham-Harrison
The Guardian
12 March 2015

Kubra Khademi’s eight-minute walk in Kabul wearing steel armour that emphasised her body shape inspires anger and death threats

 Kubra Khademi was surrounded by a mainly male crowd, which threw insults and stones during her walk. Photograph: Twitter

Kubra Khademi was surrounded by a mainly male crowd, which threw insults and stones during her walk. Photograph: Twitter


It took a month for Kubra Khademi to get the armour made exactly to her design; hours spent with a quiet, patient metalworker who usually made stoves.

The performance artist was an unusual customer on a street of dusty workshops in Kabul, where she chose her craftsman for his lack of curiosity about the outrageous steel plates she sketched out.

In a deeply conservative country where women are expected to shroud their figure and almost every inch of bare skin beyond hands, face and feet, she wanted steel armour that slipped over and emphasised her breasts, belly, crotch and bottom.

“He was a quiet man,” she recalls. “He didn’t question me at first, maybe because of my attitude. Then he asked: ‘What the hell is it?’, because other people were asking him.”

It was in fact part of a vanishing occurrence in the Afghan capital: a piece of performance art, planned by 27-year-old Khademi. The armour would be both protection and a defiant rebuke to the men whose groping hands and leering remarks make Kabul’s streets uncomfortable for almost any woman who walks them unchaperoned.

Photograph: Massoud Hossaini

Photograph: Massoud Hossaini

It was also an almost unimaginable provocation in a city where pornography may be avidly consumed in private, but women’s appearance is fiercely policed in public. Her performance lasted less than 10 minutes, but pictures soon ricocheted around social media, drawing anger and death threats – genuine worries in a country where women have been murdered for working as news anchors, actors and singers.

Read the rest of this article here.


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:

College Rejection with a Sense of Humor

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Filed under: High School Pranks, Practical Jokes and Mischief

Somebody Give This High Schooler An Award For Her (Fake) Harvard Rejection Letter
by Ryan Grenoble
Huffington Post
March 6, 2015

The “Harvard rejection letter” that went viral earlier this week? Yeah, it’s fake. But you should still read it.

Molly McGaan, the letter’s author and a student at Francis W. Parker School in Chicago, wrote the cheeky piece of satire for her school’s humor publication, “Citizen Poke,” and it viral — for obvious, hilarious reasons:

Fake Harvard Rejection Letter

Read more about this here.


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.


Banksy Does Gaza

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Parody

Banksy has posted a new tourism video welcoming world travelers to the wonders of Gaza:

Some of the images:

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Watch the video:

More about this piece here.

More about Banksy here.


Wankband: Power to the People

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Filed under: Satire

The ‘Wankband’ Will Offer Users The Ability To Charge Their Phones And Mobile Devices By Masturbating
by Curtis M. Wong
The Huffington Post
February 27, 2015

Watch the video:

Adult video website Pornhub has developed an environmentally friendly way to charge your phone and other mobile devices… while you masturbate.

Dubbed the “Wankband,” the new, wearable device generates electricity via a valve that generates and stores energy with an up-and-down motion such as a back-and-forth motion of the wrist. The energy is stored with an internal kinetic charger. (more…)

“Measles Parties” Hoax Infects the Media

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Filed under: Media Pranks

Measles Parties, Moral Panics and Folk Devils… Oh My!
by Edward Coll
February 10, 2015

In the market for eyeballs, mass media seldom misses an opportunity to misinform the public and create controversy by ginning up a climate of fear by fabricating folk devils and a moral panic amidst a crisis.

The Disneyland measles outbreak provides the most recent example.

partyMedia outlets from Fox to NPR spread a rumor that the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) issued a bulletin advising parents not to take children to “measles parties” to intentionally infect their children. Supposedly, these parties are being thrown by anti-vaxers to give their children “natural immunity.”

No such bulletin was ever issued by the CDPH and according to the respected debunking site Snopes.com here is what really happened:

“… a California health official explained to us that before the rumor circulated, a news outlet called to inquire whether the department had received any reports about measles parties. When a representative stated no such reports had been received, the reporter asked about the agency’s position on measles parties and was (predictably) told public health officials advised against them.”

This CPDH response to these nonexistent measles parties was morphed into a “bulletin” giving credibility to a false rumor created and spread by the media outlets themselves. Time, Salon, ABC News, LA Times, and Washington Post, to name just some, are all still actively spreading the rumor. None have retracted the story yet.

Perhaps the broadcast outlets intentional spreading of this false rumor shows the scant regard they hold for their public interest obligations.

image: Salon (Yuganov Konstantin via Shutterstock)


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.


“Children Aren’t Playthings” Campaign

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Filed under: Creative Activism

Shared Hope International, whose mission is to eradicate sex trafficking, unveils their “Children Aren’t Playthings” doll box campaign to warn the public of the potential for and dangers of sex trafficking of minors at “mega” sporting events like the upcoming Super Bowl. Young women take turns standing in the box for hours on end to bring attention to this cause.

Anti-sex trafficking stunt at the Super Bowl

From Huffington Post, January 28, 2015:

The 7-foot exhibit debuted on Monday at Arizona State University, which is a hosting a weeklong anti-trafficking campaign, Offenbacher added.

It will also be stationed at Grand Canyon University, Glendale Community College and downtown Phoenix throughout the week leading up to Super Bowl Sunday, according to a statement released by SHI. Saturday’s event will be held in conjunction with StreetLightUSA, a local Arizona group that rehabilitates sex trafficking survivors between the ages of 11 and 17.

Read more about it here.


A Chat With Bob Schriner, the Prankster Behind the Wendy’s Deep-Fryer Call

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Filed under: Phone Pranks, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Pranksters

Full disclosure: I, Emerson Dameron, am a proud contributor to various Chunklet projects. My dividends from Chunklet’s revenue-sharing plan can be counted on one middle finger. I consider many in the Chunklet braintrust, including Bob Schriner and Henry Owings, my friends.


Henry Owings launched Chunklet as a zine in the ’90s in Athens, Georgia, after becoming disillusioned with proper music journalism. It drew in a range of writers, musicians, music-industry laborers, and comedians who wanted to poke fun at the commercial punk- and indie-rock establishment. Since then, it has released a range of entertainment products, taken full advantage of the internet, and showcased the savvy of phone pranksters including Earles and Jensen, erstwhile affiliates of The Best Show on WFMU.

In one of Chunklet’s prouder moments, contributor Bob Schriner achieved some minor digital notoriety by screwing with a Wendy’s fry cook.

Many, including our publishers, have expressed some skepticism about what really went on with this call. We gave Schriner an opportunity to explain himself. (more…)

Mayor de Blasio’s Tongue-in-Cheek Mea Culpa

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Filed under: Parody

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio pokes fun at himself by doing a public reading of The Onion’s parody of his handling of the impending snow storm Juno on January 27, 2015: “NYC Mayor: ‘Reconcile Yourselves With Your God, For All Will Perish In The Tempest’

Here’s his version:

via Laughing Squid

Negativeland’s Ian Allen, RIP

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking

Ian Allen, Former Negativland Member, Dead at 56
by Kory Grow
Rollingstone
January 22, 2015

The musician helped usher in the band’s notion of “culture jamming” and was most active in the group during the Eighties

Ian Allen, Peter Montgomery/Sharon Jue

Ian Allen, Peter Montgomery/Sharon Jue

Onetime Negativland member Ian Allen died on January 17th, a result of infections and complications following heart-valve replacement surgery at a hospital in Sanford, California. He was 56. The band reported the news on its Facebook page.

A member during their 1983 album A Big 10-8 Place, Allen was part of the group on the vanguard of “culture jamming,” the wry use of existing recorded material and tape splicing, joining the eras between John Cage and contemporary hip-hop sampling. He was most active between 1981 and 1987, leaving before the group’s critically acclaimed, confrontational mid-Eighties run on punk label SST. That run included their 1991 U2 EP, which kickstarted a legendary court case over unauthorized samples.

“His impact, inspiration and influence on the group is impossible to overestimate,” the group wrote in its statement. “There would be no group as we know it today, no Over The Edge radio show [on KPFA], no ‘culture jamming’ and no A Big 10-8 Place LP without him.”

Read the rest of this article here.