Thursday, November 15, 2007

You did what??

Practical Jokes. I'm conflicted regarding practical jokes, probably because they often turn out to be mean rather than funny, and I absolutely hate it when someone is hurt because of a joke. But when a practical joke is intelligently planned and creatively executed, and does no harm, I'm all over it.

This topic came up in a recent conversation with friends. We were reminiscing about practical jokes we had experienced. One thing was apparent right away - married couples can be the worst offenders, probably because they know each other so well.

One couple (I'll call them George and Martha) had a long, long history of inspired mutual pranking. One of the best happened several years ago. George had an hour-and-a-half commute both to and from work every weekday, traveling on major freeways. George had a birthday. Martha thought it would be fun to put a sign on the back of his van: "Honk! It's my birthday!"

Puget Sound commuters are a friendly lot and they were happy to celebrate George's birthday with him. George called Martha fifteen minutes into his commute to confirm dinner plans, and by the way (he said), it seemed that there were a lot of impatient drivers on the road today. George called Martha again twenty minutes later. People were honking at him, for crying out loud. Why are they honking??! What's wrong with these people??! Martha made sympathizing noises. George hung up. Ten minutes later he called again. It was a long, long morning commute for George.

He found the sign when he went out for lunch.

Now that's a great practical joke. Maybe a teensy bit borderline, because it didn't do George's blood pressure any good, and there's the whole 'road rage' phenomena to consider. But it worked because Martha knew George really well - an easy-going, hard-to-ruffle guy.

One of my favorite childhood programs was Candid Camera, a jam-packed half-hour of very startled people. We always watched it while visiting my grandparents; it came on right after Lawrence Welk. Punk'd is a recent version of Candid Camera. All I know about Punk'd is what I learned on Saturday Night Live when Justin Timberlake hosted. Justin Timberlake is a very funny guy. Have you seen his Target skit from that episode? Oh my.

Humor is what it is, no matter where you live. However, each culture has its own way of expressing it and it seems every region in the world makes fun of another region in one form or another. Does anyone remember those Poland jokes from the 70s? Alas that I do.

Um, I'm losing focus here. Practical Jokes.

The Japanese enjoy puns made with intelligence and wit, both verbal and visual. A single stroke in Kanji can cleverly change the meaning of a word. There are many examples of Haiku regarding the funnier side of human nature. But I have to point out that the Japanese also really enjoy practical jokes. They have their own version of Candid Camera. Many of the pranks are diabolical and would inspire lawsuits if they were done in the U.S., but some are hilarious. One of the best is Troop of 100 Men, involving a large group of young men and the proverbial innocent bystander. Obviously, if you ever travel there you had better keep your wits about you. (Side note - elderly Japanese people are impossible to prank, if this program is any indication.)

I'm not much of a practical joker but I've certainly been on the receiving end, primarily at the hands of my children on April Fool's Day. My favorite? "Look, Mom, someone wrote 'gullible' on the ceiling!" Did I look up? Yup.

So, assorted ramblings about practical jokes. Love 'em or hate 'em. What's next? Stay tuned.

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