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Prank call

A prank call, also known as a hoax call, phone scam or phony phone call, is a form of practical joke committed over the Telephone. As with all practical jokes, prank calls are generally done for humorous effect, though there is a thin line between humor and harassment for example "My mother is stupid". Prank phone calls began to gain an America-wide following over a period of many years, as they gradually became a staple of the obscure and amusing cassette tapes traded amongst musicians, sound engineers, and media traders beginning in the late 1970s. Among the most famous and earliest recorded prank calls are the Tube Bar prank calls tapes which centered around Louis "Red" Deutsch, and the Lucius Tate phone calls. Comedian Jerry Lewis was an incorrigible phone prankster, and recordings of his hijinks, dating from the 1960s and possibly earlier, still circulate throughout the country to this day.

Even very prominent people have fallen victim to prank callers, as for example Queen Elizabeth II, who was fooled by Canadian DJ Pierre Brassard posing as Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, asking her to record a speech in support of Canadian unity ahead of the 1995 Quebec referendum. Two other particularly famous examples of prank calls were made by the Miami-based radio station Radio El Zol. In one, they telephoned Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and spoke to him, pretending to be Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. They later reversed the prank, calling Castro and pretending to be Chávez. Castro began swearing at the prankers live on air after they revealed themselves. Radio El Zol was fined $4000 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for the second prank.

Reverse calls, baited/unbaited calls

Typically, prank calls are known for being outgoing phone calls to the victim; however, a method known as the reverse prank call is performed when the victim is actually the caller. As opposed to the hit-and-miss results of traditional prank calling, this style of prank call usually produces humorous results due to the fact that the caller actually believes what they are calling is real, further validated by the prankster answering the phone in a manner that confirms they've reached the right number. This tactic has also been performed by Fonejacker, who posted advertisements regarding a flat for sale, which lead victims to an automated "flat-line". In the baited variety, the prankster would typically place an advertisement enticing the caller to call, as The Jerky Boys have done. In the unbaited variety, pranks are performed as the calls happen by chance either from the victim dialing a misdialed number, such as people misdialing the number to a popular pizza delivery service, or from the victim attempting to telemarket or cold-call (as is the case with many of Jim Florentine's calls).

With a beige box device, one can actually tap into a phone line and intercept calls. This method of reverse pranking or phreaking is probably the most effective (and most illegal) as it does not require wrong numbers or advertisements.

In popular culture

Prank calls are generally done for the amusement of the pranksters themselves. Many pranksters record the calls to share the joke with an audience. Some performers such as The Jerky Boys make a name for themselves producing albums of their recorded prank calls.

The television show Crank Yankers is a series of real-life prank calls made by celebrities and re-enacted on-screen by puppets for a humorous effect. Fonejacker, a show started on the 5th of April 2007 in the UK on E4, stars Kayvan Novak performing prank calls to the general public and being shown with animated pictures in a Monty Python style with their mouths moving and live recordings as the victim receives the call.

The Simpsons

During the early years of The Simpsons, a popular recurring gag involved Bart making prank calls to Moe's Tavern, inspired by the Tube Bar prank calls. The calls usually followed a set pattern: Bart would ask for a person, Moe would shout loudly for the person Bart asked for, and Moe would catch on only after the bar (usually) erupts in uproarious laughter, also threatening violent revenge upon catching the perpetrator.

Moe never seemed to realize that it was Bart who made the call. Once Bart even told Moe that he made prank calls and Moe still did not catch on: Bart: "Well I make prank phone calls." Moe (in a happy, condescending voice): "Good for you."

"People" for whom Bart has asked include:

  • I.P. Freely (I pee freely)
  • Maya Buttreeks (My butt reeks) or (''My, your butt reeks!)
  • Jacques Strappe (Jock strap)
  • Ivanna Tinkle (I wanna tinkle)
  • Amanda Huggenkiss (A man to hug and kiss)
  • Al Koholic (Alcoholic)
  • Bea O'Problem (B.O. Problem)
  • Seymour Butts (See more butts)
  • Anita Bath (I need a bath)
  • Haywood Jaspankmee (Hey would you spank me)(From game - Virtual Springfield)
  • Ivan Nuglibutt ( I'm a nuglibutt)(From game - Virtual Springfield)
  • Mike Rochtickles (My crotch tickles)(From game - Virtual Springfield)
  • Homer Sexual (Homosexual)
  • Mike Rotch (My crotch)



  • Eura Snotball (You're a snotball)
  • I.M Damp (I am damp (as in wetting the pants)) (comics only)
  • Oliver Klozoff (All of her clothes off)
  • Hugh Jass (Huge ass)
  • Haywood U. Cuddleme (Hey would you cuddle me)
  • Haywood U. Punchme (Hey would you punch me)
  • Ollie Tabooger (I'll eat a booger)
  • Ahmed Adoudi (I made a doodie)(Used when Bart cross-called to Jack Bauer during the episode 24 Minutes).
  • Ima Wiener (I'm a wiener)
  • Igor Tappenow (I got to pee now)
  • Avery Onesboogers (Everyone's boogers)
  • I.P. Daily (I pee daily)

One backfire on this formula was a call to "Hugh Jass" (huge ass), as there turned out to be a person in the bar named Hugh Jass.

Another backfire was when Homer was running the bar and didn't know how to carry out the prank when Bart asked for Ollie Tabooger (I'll eat a booger). A third was a time where Mr. Burns called Moe's by mistake while looking for Smithers, and was threatened by Moe who thought it was a prank call. There was also a time in which Homer called asking for "Eura Snotball" and Moe repeated the name to clarify it was correct, causing Homer to become angry. Finally, in a flashback scene to Homer and Marge's youth, Marge tries to call Homer (whom she believes goes by the name "Elvis Jagger Abdul-Jabbar" because of his shyness), only to get Moe to threaten her when she asks for his name. After hanging up, Moe mutters "And that's the origin of that!" In the second "Treehouse of Horror", Bart, cast in the role of the boy with mystic powers, makes a prank call to Moe's where Moe tells the barflies "I'm a stupid moron with an ugly face and a big butt and my butt smells and I like to kiss my own butt!"

"Weird Al" Yankovic's parody song "Phony Calls" (a parody of "Waterfalls" by TLC) is entirely about the dangers of prank calls. It includes an audio clip from The Simpsons (from the "Mike Rotch" call).

Futurama

A prank call leads to Fry's delivery of a pizza to a cryogenic lab, which sets the whole series in motion. The name used is I.C. Wiener. Fry also adopts a dog after receiving a prank call asking for a pizza to be delivered to a Seymour Asses ("see more asses"). Fry then names the dog Seymour following the prank call.

Sound Boards

Many prankers have created Shockwave Flash-based 'soundboards', featuring sound bites of dialogue from well-known television and movie personalities, such as Mr. Rogers, Judge Judith Sheindlin, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Dr. Phil. They will call a business and see how whoever answers reacts to odd comments of a seemingly incoherent individual.

On the Internet

Ever since the opportunity has been available, there have been internet radio stations dedicated to prank calls. Most of them feature a so-called "rotation" of prank calls which is a constant broadcast of various prank calls submitted by the community, usually streamed from a SHOUTcast server host.

Although prank call communities are still relatively small-scale compared to FM stations that feature live pranks, it is a growing community on the internet today and many new communities are developing.

Reaction

Prank calls are now easily traced through Caller ID, so it is often asserted that prank calls since the 1990s have been harder to accomplish. However, most telephone companies permit callers to withhold the identifying information from calls using a vertical service code such as *67 or *69. Callers can also call from payphones in order to hide their identity.

Sometimes the joke can be taken too far, especially if the prankster succeeds in making his victim believe the scenario is real. Prank call comedian Jim Florentine (who mainly takes incoming calls from telemarketers and turns the tables by performing pranks on them) has had the police called on him on more than more than one occasion for taking his jokes too far. During one call, Florentine tells an insurance agent that, rather than pay to keep an elderly woman alive, he is going to go to the hospital and smother her with a pillow. After the call, the agent called 9-1-1 and gave them Florentine's number and the address on file, and the police arrived at his home with guns drawn. However, when the police arrived at the scene and discovered it was actually a prank, the officer asked, "Don't you think you're a little old for this?

Legality

Prank calls range from annoying hang-ups to false calls to emergency services or bomb threats. Prank calls that waste the time of emergency services are a criminal offense in most countries and is considered telephone harassment in the US.

One such hoax call occurred in Perth, Australia, on New Year's Eve 2002, when a drunken teenager called the new anti-terrorist hotline to report a bomb threat against the New Year's Eve fireworks celebration. The threat was taken seriously, and the celebrations were about to be canceled when police discovered that no such threat existed. The teen was then arrested for the false report.

Tension was also caused in December 2005, when a Catholic Church-owned radio station in Spain (COPE) played a prank on Bolivian president-elect Evo Morales. The hoaxer pretended to be Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, congratulating Morales on his election and saying things like, "I imagine the only one not to have called you was George Bush. I've been here two years and he still hasn't called me". The Bolivian government protested to Spain, and the real Zapatero called Morales and apologized. The Spanish government in turn summoned the papal nuncio in protest.

In the United States, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 makes some prank calls a felony with penalties of up to two years in prison, and possible fines (depending on severity). However, such penalties are rarely carried out. As an example, the Chicago shock jock Erich "Mancow" Muller, after being criticized for the extensive use of prank calls on his radio show, broadcasted the sarcastic remark: "Reality check for you people: Chicago's the murder capital of America. The police don't care if you get a prank call."

Moreover, to make a prank call that falls afoul of the Telecommunications Act, , the call must be done with the intent to "annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass". If the intent of the call is to amuse, confuse, or simply to engage the call's recipient, it would be possible to argue there is no violation of the Telecommunications Act.

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References

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