Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dear Pranksters

Dear Pranksters,

Let's talk about pranks.

Here's an easy one.  Let's say that Jane is sensitive to cold and Lisa is sensitive to heat.  They sit together at a table on a hot day in August.  Lisa gets up to add ice to her drink.  Knowing that Jane is unsuspecting, she waits until her hand is chilly from the ice, then plants her hand on the back of Jane's neck.

Jane, surprised, gasps and jerks away in distress.

Lisa laughs.

This is a prank.

Pranksters consider themselves to be funny people out for a laugh.

Who's laughing in this situation?  Lisa.

What is she laughing at?  Jane's distress.  Her own cleverness in taking advantage of Jane.  "Ha ha, I really got you!"

Maybe Beth was at the table, watching.  Maybe she laughs, too.  This makes it even funnier for Lisa, who has a witness to her antics.  This also means that Beth saw Lisa sneaking up on Jane and, instead of warning Jane of Lisa's intentions or warning Lisa away, sat in silent complicity or egged Lisa on.

Maybe Jane is a close friend and loves pranks.  Maybe Jane is a common target, someone Lisa and Beth have been bullying for months.  Maybe Jane enjoyed the prank and laughed along.  Maybe Jane laughed because she was startled, because she was nervous, because she's been socialized to play along and not ruin everyone else's fun.

If you take advantage of me and prey upon me and then laugh, you're not being funny, you're being an asshole.  Pranks are designed to startle people, to scare them, to upset them, to hurt them.  "Ha ha, you're in pain!"  That's not hilarious, that's sadistic.

If you're genuinely a funny person, you'll be able to find other ways to enjoy a good laugh without pranking someone.

If you have fun with pranks, give careful thought to who your victims are and what sorts of pranks you enjoy.  There is a line between shared jokes and bullying.  Please don't cross it.  A lot of people laugh along with pranks because we're socialized to do so whether we genuinely enjoy the "joke" or not.

With love,
Frank Lee


  1. I've had these same thoughts so of course I think you're brilliant. I sometimes work with people I also have to live with and be friends with, and I've been part of tight-knit groups where pranking was almost summer-camp tradition and it seemed like an ongoing game rather than bullying. It's probably an okay game to play if everyone really is in on it and doesn't care about the fact that it is to be expected, but how could you be sure? I am probably okay with it if people are just playing with each other and everyone is prepared and okay with it. It's just hard to be sure when you never know what's coming to you that it won't be a nightmare for you. I've also worked with crews who banded together and/or bragged to each other about pranks they played on total strangers. I was not the kind of person who ever thought of taking advantage of the opportunities to mess with someone or something; it just didn't occur to me. At first I almost wondered: why am I not that clever? Why didn't I think of that? Haha. I felt less funny and creative than them. But over time I watched them do it and then tell stories over and over again. And then one of the most well-liked and guilty of those people was also screwing with my head in various ways that were extremely hurtful. I started to wonder if these "harmless" pranks were a symptom of a larger problem with that guy's personality which is a tendency to enjoy manipulating people and getting a reaction. Since it was so socially acceptable to screw with people's stuff and their heads, he got off the hook for EVERYTHING while all his friends never even realized that I was suffering. They stuck to things they could justify as "harmless" because no real lasting consequences or damage could have been done (at least not physical ones). They moved signs on doors/streets, things in people yards, or stole easily replaceable objects from restaraunts/bars. Besides pranking there was a kleptomaniac streak amongst some of them that became a funny joke. They figured no one was really getting hurt, but actually, I know for a fact of one incident where they really angered a lot of people. And while the crew were probably thinking or saying, "it's not that big of a deal; we just moved something in their yard, Sheesh. We didn't steal anything. These people are overreacting", I was kind of thinking, well, maybe they don't like to be screwed with. Their anger is about not liking it when you exert power over them, not necessarily the details of the prank or the lasting loss/damage.

    1. maybe they don't like to be screwed with. Their anger is about not liking it when you exert power over them, not necessarily the details of the prank or the lasting loss/damage.

      Terrific insight! You've really hit the nail on the head there. Thank you so much for your comment.

  2. I agree. Pranking seems like a cheap form of humor, one usually chosen by people who don't have a developed enough sense of humor to make a joke that isn't at someone else's expense.

    1. Thanks for commenting! There are a lot of ways to be funny which can get everyone to laugh together.