Practical joke

A practical joke or prank is a stunt or trick to purposely make someone feel foolish or victimized, usually for humor. Practical jokes differ from confidence tricks in that the victim finds out, or is let in on, the joke rather than being fooled into handing over money or other valuables. Since pranks are made to make people feel foolish or victimized, there is an inherent strain of cruelty in most practical jokes. There is a thin line between practical jokes and hooliganism, bullying, vandalism and sadism.

The term "practical" refers to the fact that the joke consists of someone doing something (a practice), rather than a verbal or written joke. A practical joke can be caused by the victim falling for a prank, the victim stumbling into a prank, the prankster forcing a prank on the victim, the prankster causing others to do something to the victim, or even causing the victim to do something to others. Sometimes more than one victim is used.

In Western culture, April Fools' Day is a day traditionally dedicated to performing practical jokes. Another day common for pranks and practical jokes is Halloween, in the form of trick or treating.

Famous practical jokes

The American humorist H. Allen Smith wrote a 320-page book in 1953 called The Compleat Practical Joker that contains many examples of practical jokes. A typical one, recalled as his favorite by the playwright Charles MacArthur, concerns the American painter and bohemian character Waldo Peirce. Peirce was living in Paris in the 1920s and "made a gift of a very small turtle to the woman who was the concierge of his building". The woman doted on the turtle and lavished it with care and affection. A few days later Peirce substituted a somewhat larger turtle for the original one. This continued for some time, with larger and larger turtles being surreptitiously introduced into the woman's apartment. The concierge was beside herself with happiness and displayed her miraculous turtle to the entire neighborhood. Peirce then began to sneak in and replace the turtle with smaller and smaller ones, to her bewildered distress. This was the storyline behind Esio Trot, by Roald Dahl.

Modern and successful pranks often take advantage of the modernization of tools and techniques, like the engineering prank at Cambridge University, England, where an Austin 7 car was put on top of the Senate House building. Pranks can also adapt to the political context of the era. Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are particularly known for their 'hacks'.

In media

Television Shows




  • Cubicle Warfare: 101 Office Traps and Pranks by John Austin (ISBN-13: 978-0061438868)
  • The Compleat Practical Joker by H. Allen Smith (ISBN-13: 978-0899669311)
  • The Practical Joker's Handbook by Tim Nyberg (ISBN-13: 978-0740741982)
  • Prank University: The Ultimate Guide to College's Greatest Tradition by John Austin (ISBN-13: 978-0307338433)
  • Prank the Monkey: The ZUG Book of Pranks by Sir John Hargrave (ISBN-13: 978-0806527802)
  • The Complete Book of Outrageous and Atrocious Practical Jokes by Justin Geste (ISBN-13: 978-0385230445)

Famous practical jokers

Real people

Fictional characters

Colleges and universities

Links with pranks

See also


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