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  • February 2011
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LOL JK: Practical Jokesters in Fiction & Real Life


The greatest practical joke I ever played at school wasn’t really so great. One fall, in seventh grade, I went to school wearing a wig and a new outfit.

“Hey, I’m, uh, a new student,” I told everyone.

Luckily, I had enough imagination to create a new name and back story. I had moved from California when my parents split up; hobbies included trumpet, soccer, and comic books.

The weird thing, however, was that everybody bought it. And more than that, my fake self seemed way more popular than my real self. So in the end, the joke was on me.

Practical jokes and the jokesters who impart them have been a staple of teen movies and books for years. Outside of dating drama, death, and supernatural occurrences, practical jokes give authors an impetus–or an event–to drive the narrative forward.

Thankfully, though my efforts have failed, teen authors have been way more inventive with the practical jokes their characters carry out, though the success of the characters themselves is sometimes much more disastrous. Here are some of my favorite fictional jokesters:

Looking for Alaska
by Green, John

Sixteen-year-old Miles’ first year at Culver Creek Preparatory School in Alabama includes good friends and great pranks, but is defined by the search for answers about life and death after a fatal car crash.

 

The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove
by Kate, Lauren

South Carolina high school senior Nat has worked hard to put her trailer-park past behind her, and when she and her boyfriend are crowned Palmetto Prince and Princess everything would be perfect, except that a prank they played a few nights before went horribly awry.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
by Lockhart, E.

Sophomore Frankie starts dating senior Matthew Livingston, but when he refuses to talk about the all-male secret society that he and his friends belong to, Frankie infiltrates the society in order to enliven their mediocre pranks.

 

The Shadow Club
by Shusterman, Neal

A junior high school boy and his friends decide to form a club of “second bests” and play anonymous tricks on each other’s arch rivals. When the harmless pranks become life-threatening, however, no one in the club will admit responsibility.

 

If you’re looking for inspiration, you can also check out these awesome guides to real world pranks:

Mischief Maker’s Manual
by Hargrave, John

This is the definitive guide to pranking and mayhem. Written in the style of a training manual, but with hilarious illustrations, this book is broken up into five sections. The “Basics” shows kids how to find a pranking partner and how to pull simple pranks like making crank calls. “Prank Moves” explains how to pull pranks at places like home, school, or camp. “Do-It-Yourself” demonstrates things like putting a real worm inside an ice cube. “Experts Only” covers such advanced pranks as how to fake an alien landing. And “Recipes” gives step-by-step instructions on how to bake tuna cookies.

Mischief Maker’s Manual
by Todd, Charlie and Alex Scordelis

Improv Everywhere is a comedic performance art group based in New York City that carries out public pranks such as faking a street concert by the band U2 or overwhelming a Best Buy store with people dressed in Best Buy uniforms. In this work, Charlie Todd, the founder of the group, together with Scordelis, a member, describe 13 of Improv Everywhere’s “missions” or pranks.

Have any lively pranks in your personal history, either as a perpetrator or a target? Feel free to leave them here!

~Joseph
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Main

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