What are Some Different Types of Practical Jokes?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Practical jokes are a form of joke in which an unsuspecting person is the butt. They are distinguished from word jokes in that some action is performed. Also known as pranks, practical jokes have been popularized on television shows like Candid Camera and Punk'd! Practical jokes are traditionally performed in various cultures on April Fools' Day, Halloween, and Holy Innocents' Day. They are also often performed on new members of schools, camps, fraternities, and other similar organizations.

Some people find that loosening the top of a salt shaker makes a funny practical joke.
Some people find that loosening the top of a salt shaker makes a funny practical joke.

Practical jokes can fall into many categories. Some make use of the telephone or computer, as in prank or "crank" calls, in which the caller pretends to be someone else in order to play a joke on the recipient of the call, often asking him or her ludicrous questions or using wordplay to trick the recipient into saying something obscene. Computer pranks may take the form of applications that pose as games, but interrupt the player with startling noises or images. Other computer jokes make the victim's computer appear to malfunction.

Someone might order pizza to someone else's house as a practical joke.
Someone might order pizza to someone else's house as a practical joke.

Another prank that can make use of the computer consists of signing someone up for multiple spam e-mails, often of an obscene nature. This is known as e-mail bombing, but variants include signing someone up for embarrassing or humorous snail mail, such as odd catalogs, or ordering delivery to someone's house without his or her knowledge.

Whoopee cushions are often used as practical jokes.
Whoopee cushions are often used as practical jokes.

Sometimes, practical jokes are perpetrated on a large scale by the media through false reporting or fake documentaries that are presented as true. Notable examples include Orson Welles' 1938 radio adaptation of H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds, in which Welles reported as if Martians were actually invading Earth at the time of his broadcast. The 2004 Sci Fi Channel special The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan, which was presented as a documentary but was actually fabricated by Sixth Sense director Shyamalan.

Other types of jokes include visual deception, such as short-sheeting a bed or loosening the tops of salt and pepper shakers so that trying to use them ruins one's food; removing someone's clothes suddenly in public, sometimes called pantsing or sharking; pranks that produce unexpected results when the victim performs an everyday action like sitting down or opening a door, such as using a whoopie cushion; and false signaling, mislabeling or misrepresenting something to play a trick, such as marking a regular door with a sign saying it opens automatically.

Pranks can sometimes be quite mean-spirited, and many do not find the genre funny at all, while for others, these jokes are much more entertaining than more conventional comedy. When performing practical jokes, it is important to consider the possible psychological effects on the butt of the joke and any disciplinary or legal ramifications your actions may have.

Prank calls are a form of practical joke.
Prank calls are a form of practical joke.
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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