How to Pull Off a Prank

Here you will find tips from the pros about intent, content, and technique to help you be successful in getting your message across.

Blog Posts

How (Not) to Fake Your Own Death

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, How to Pull Off a Prank, Instructionals

Bogus death for big bucks: 7 dumbest mistakes
by Celia Seupel
17 October 2013

fakedeath-200For years, faking your own death has been an escape scheme of the desperate and a get-rich scam of the foolish. Some scammers hope to get rich quick on life insurance fraud; others try to escape the law when their other schemes go wrong. CNBC Prime’s “American Greed: The Fugitives” reports on one of the latter: Aubry Lee Price, a preacher turned day-trader, defrauded investors out of millions, then allegedly faked his own death by disappearing off a Key West ferry. Although Florida issued a death certificate, the FBI suspects that Price is still alive.

But insurance companies have wised up, according to Dennis Jay, spokesman for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud. Not only do they investigate suspicious life insurance claims vigorously; they also find that it’s hard for people to stay off the grid year after year. Here are some of the dumbest ways that the bogus “dead” have resurfaced and gotten caught.

1. Don’t use a corpse of the opposite sex

Molly and Clayton Daniels faked Clayton’s death to keep him out of jail and to collect on his $110,000 life insurance policy. They dug up a corpse, dressed it in Clayton’s clothes, then burned it in a car crash. However, DNA testing revealed that the corpse was female.


Lucky Loser: My aborted attempt to kidnap Sam Shepard

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

A reminiscence by Joey Skaggs:


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…)

Joey Skaggs at Advertising Week EU 2013

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Creative Activism, What Makes a Good Prank?

More coverage:


  • Mark Borkowski on Joey Skaggs – ‘the world’s biggest prankster’, The Drum
  • Joey Skaggs: novelty silliness and well-packaged rebellion, New Statesman
  • Joey Skaggs on “Loose Ends”, BBC Radio4 – Only two days left to listen
  • How to Wig Out Friends & Family

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    Filed under: How to Pull Off a Prank, Instructionals, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Pranksters

    Update from Joshua Darrah, July 16, 2012: The video below is a replacement for the original :30 video posted January 19, 2012. It’s now 6:24.

    Submitted by Joshua Darrah January 19, 2012: Here’s a prank I pulled on my friends and family recently:

    STEP 1: Secretly shave off your two year long hair.
    STEP 2: Glue it into a wig.
    STEP 3: pull it off to freak your friends. 40 of them.

    I had been growing my hair for a couple of years, and wanted to go back to a shaved head, but I wanted to make it a surprise to my brother that i was suddenly shaving my head. I have NO IDEA where the idea came to me from, but i wondered if I would be able to cut off my long hair, keep it, then hot glue it into a wig. I would then wear that wig of my own hair (yes this is slightly serial killerish i know!) and while hanging with my brother, suddenly pull off my ‘hair’ and be shaved headed in a split second.

    I told him I was filming a video project, that way I could film his reaction. And man it went down a treat! I then realised I could wear my wig to every visit with friends and family over the coming 2 months, I eventually pranked over 40 of my close friends and family. (more…)

    10 Commandments for Con Men

    Filed under: How to Pull Off a Prank, Instructionals

    From Marcy LaViollette as seen on Lists of Note:

    “Count” Victor Lustig was a con man of considerable note. Born in 1890, by the 1930s he was wanted by approximately 45 law enforcement agencies worldwide. He had 25 known aliases and spoke 5 languages. He cunningly gained $5k from Al Capone. Better still, in 1925, Lustig posed as a government official in Paris, took five businessmen on a tour of the Eiffel Tower, and then “sold” it to one of them as 7300 tonnes of scrap metal; the con went so well, he tried it again soon after.

    He also wrote the following list of commandments for aspiring con men.

  • Be a patient listener (it is this, not fast talking, that gets a con-man his coups).
  • Never look bored.
  • Wait for the other person to reveal any political opinions, then agree with them.
  • Let the other person reveal religious views, then have the same ones.
  • Hint at sex talk, but don't follow it up unless the other fellow shows a strong interest.
  • (more…)

    Flash Mobsters

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    Filed under: Hoax Etiquette, Practical Jokes and Mischief

    For flash mobsters, crowd size a tempting cover
    by Eric Tucker and Thomas Watkins
    August 9, 2011

    The July 4 fireworks display in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights was anything but a family affair.

    As many as 1,000 teenagers, mobilized through social networking sites, turned out and soon started fighting and disrupting the event.

    Thanks to social networks like Twitter and Facebook, more and more so-called flash mobs are materializing across the globe, leaving police scrambling to keep tabs on the spontaneous assemblies.

    “They’re gathering with an intent behind it – not just to enjoy the event,” Shaker Heights Police Chief D. Scott Lee said. “All too often, some of the intent is malicious.”

    Flash mobs started off in 2003 as peaceful and often humorous acts of public performance, such as mass dance routines or street pillow fights. But in recent years, the term has taken a darker twist as criminals exploit the anonymity of crowds, using social networking to coordinate everything from robberies to fights to general chaos. (more…)

    Fool School: The Art of the Perfect Prank

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    Filed under: Pranksters, The History of Pranks, The Prank as Art, What Makes a Good Prank?

    Update, April 3, 2011: You can now listen to this 30:00 radio show here.

    The Artiness of Naughtiness, hosted by Toby Amies, aired on BBC Radio 4 on Friday, April 1, 2011. Until April 7, 2011, you can listen to it here.

    The art of the perfect prank
    by Toby Amies
    BBC News Magazine
    30 March 2011

    As April Fools jokers hatch their plans, what’s the secret to a perfect prank, asks broadcaster Toby Amies. And how far do the very best tricksters go in preparing their practical jokes?

    This article is not a hoax. I promise you. It’s a serious work about the practical joke.

    How far would you go to pull off a prank? The dole queue? In 1987, a young British broadcaster called Chris Morris let off helium into the BBC Bristol studio, causing the newsreader’s stories to reach a higher and higher pitch. Chris lost his job. And started his career in satire.

    Would you risk prison? Pranks are often protests, against unfairness or authority or reality. And protest is increasingly risky in the 21st Century.

    As the film director Billy Wilder said: “If you are going to tell people the truth, be funny or they will kill you.”

    Whether personal or public, the prank has a point to make, but if you’re planning on tricking someone, it’s best to ensure everyone gets the joke. (more…)

    A Prank Call Instructional

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    Filed under: How to Pull Off a Prank, Instructionals, Phone Pranks

    Proud art of prank calling still worth mastering
    by Adrian Lahola-Chomiak
    The Gateway
    March 28, 2011

    These days, with the invention of caller ID and text messaging, it seems that prank calls have more or less fallen by the wayside. But I’m not ready to surrender this classic joke just yet; too many hours in my life have been spent trying to decide who to call and which prank to pull. So for all you wide-eyed, greenhorn, wannabe pranksters out there, here are a few tips on how to transform yourself from a refrigerator runner to a master.

    First, let’s review the tools of the trade. There’s the phone, and, well, that’s pretty much it - but you do have to worry about how you use it. You’ll want to mask your voice with a modulator app, like Funny Call from iOKi. This will make you sound like anything from Rebecca Black to a chipmunk. Now that your voice is anonymous - and hilarious - you’ll need to know three simple rules before you call. (more…)

    Consumers: Get Ready to be Marketed by April Fools Day Pranks

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    Filed under: How to Pull Off a Prank, Instructionals

    On the art of the April Fool’s prank
    by Diego Vasquez
    Media Life Magazine
    March 29, 2011

    It has to be far-fetched enough to raise doubts

    If you didn’t happen to remember that the news was coming out on April Fool’s Day, it sounded plausible. On April 1, 2010, Starbucks announced two new sizes called the plenta and the micra, joining such existing sizes as the grande and venti. The plenta, Starbucks said, would hold 128 ounces of coffee, or roughly six times its biggest size at the time, while the micra would hold 2 ounces. Social networking sites were abuzz over the news, while hundreds voiced their approval or disapproval on the Starbucks web site until they realized the whole thing was a joke. Like the best April Fool’s stunts, it was just realistic enough to be possible, but just ridiculous enough to be questioned. In this case, most people laughed it off as a clever marketing stunt, but not all April Fool’s stunts are as well received. In some cases, it can do damage to an advertiser’s brand. Three days before April 1 arrives, Grant Powell, founder and chief executive officer at the digital agency Pomegranate, talks to Media Life about how advertisers can pull off a smart stunt, which ones have worked in the past, and which ones didn’t.

    How can advertisers walk the fine line between showing a sense of humor on April Fool’s Day and not alienating their customers?

    There is indeed a very fine line between a well-received prank and one that will leave customers upset. (more…)

    How to Sneak an Art Exhibit Inside a Museum

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    Filed under: Art Pranks, How to Pull Off a Prank, The History of Pranks

    From Deceptology

    How to sneak an art exhibit inside a museum

    This sneaky art prank relied on the optical illusion of
    trompe l’oell photographs that were not seen as art.
    (Such as a keyhole that was not a keyhole.)

    Here's how artist Harvey Stromberg deceived the Museum of Modern Art, as written in New York Magazine in June 1971:

    "With the help of a friend, but with no assistance from the museum, Harvey Stromberg put on his exhibition himself. A New York artist, he describes his work as "photo-sculpture." To prepare the exhibition, he spent some weeks in the museum, disguised as a student with a notebook under his arm, peering nearsightedly at pictures while at the same time measuring and photographing museum equipment: light switches, locks, air vents, buzzers, segments of the floor and bricks in the garden wall. These photographs he printed actual size, covered the backs with adhesive, and one day he sauntered through the museum adding 300 trompe l’oell photographs (“photosculpture”) of museum equipment to its walls and floors. (The floor pieces were a mistake: "I didn't realize that when they buffed the floors they would buff them right off.” says Stromberg.)"

    Read more here.

    How to Hack a Video Screen

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    Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fact or Fiction?, How to Pull Off a Prank, Instructionals

    Video: How To Hack Video Screens In Times Square
    The Gothamist
    March 14, 2011

    This YouTube video claims to reveal a simple, ingenious method for overriding video screens broadcasting ads in Times Square and elsewhere. Is it real? Well, it certainly looks that way, so if this is fake you’ve got to them credit for verisimilitude. According to the video, all you need to hijack the Times Square ad phantasmagoria is an iPhone, a video transmitter, and a video repeater “which takes any signal coming out of the iPhone and boosts it and enhances it.” This gadget overrides any video screen that it’s being held next to, if the YouTube is to be believed:

    So is this for real? One YouTube commenter calls bullshit: “The dongle can’t get enough power through the headphone jack to transmit a video in such good quality 20 meters or more through the air and the massive electro smog on Times Square-just for example. lets don’t talk about the controllers of the screens.” But another expert writes, “I do some motiontracking and I don’t think its fake. The balloon is translucent and interacts with the video source.”

    What do you think: viral ad for the newest iPhone, CNN, and NYC tourism; or an exciting new development in the world of culture jamming? Tune in later week, when YouTube user BITcrash44 promises to explain how he made the prototype.

    Google Demo Slam: How to Mess with Your Friends

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    Filed under: How to Pull Off a Prank, Instructionals

    Submitted by Julian Tippins: Upload an animated gif to google search’s background features to mess with your friends.

    Google Demo Slam: Animated Gif Background
    by Julian Tippins and Richard Langhorne

    Ray’s Pumpkin Carving Tutorial

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    Filed under: How to Pull Off a Prank, Instructionals

    Check out Ray Villafane’s tutorial for making outrageous pumpkins

    If you have yet to try and carve a pumpkin in a 3-D manner you need to. Its fun and everybody enjoys a cool pumpkin. Unfortunately they begin to rot less than a week after carving so be sure to take plenty of pictures. You can experiment with ways of preserving them but I find nothing works better than a nice photo. Some chefs that I have carved for put lemon juice on the faces to help slow down the natural molding process that will occur. Read more…

    Click here for more photos

    thanks Tony

    Video Projector Pranks: When One Equals Two

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    Filed under: How to Pull Off a Prank, Instructionals, Media Literacy

    As seen on Laughing Squid, posted by Aaron Muszalski on April 6, 2010:

    Matthew Weathers, a Mathematics and Computer Science Professor at Biola University in Southern California, has a charming talent for surprising his students with clever video projector pranks.

    For a tutorial on how Matthew Weathers creates these video projector pranks, click here.

    The Magic of Liu Qian… Exposed

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    Filed under: How to Pull Off a Prank, Illusion and Magic, Instructionals

    An amazing magic trick performed on CCTV for Chinese New Year 2010:

    Liu Qian – Magic Show on 2010 Chinese New Year

    Within hours, the trick was exposed online. So much for the keeping the magic of the mystery!

    thanks Linda