Practical jokes suck. They’re almost always perpetrated by the least funny, least clever, and most insecure of us (we’ve all played a practical joke, c’mon), while those on the other side have to gracefully not respond, in-kind, or fall victim to the time vampires that are people who get off on violating reasonable senses of “trust” in the name of a selfish, one-sided laugh.
Funny requires surprise. Laughter is our biological way of mitigating said surprise. We show our teeth (smile) and make noise (laughter) as part of our body’s bio-chemical reaction to the unexpected.
Ha-ha! I didn’t see that coming. But here I am, ready to gnaw your face off if this surprise escalates into danger!
It’s evolution, baby.
And thus, comedy is really not that different than the horror genre. That’s why after the audience screams at a horror film, (surprise!) you often hear giggles.
But practical jokes short circuit the whole thing. The “funny” is not dependent on the creator. Instead, it’s dependent on:
- A member of the audience being unaware that they’re part of a performance
- The reaction (surprise, shock, confusion) of said member
The joke doesn’t make the reaction. The reaction makes the joke.
A good joke has to be smart enough that the audience knows humor is being unspooled in front of them, yet a moment of surprise is still achieved. That’s hard. The audience is in on it, and thus, if you have to explain the punch-line/create an obvious reveal (APRIL FOOLS!) the joke doesn’t work.
Practical jokes, such as April Fools’ Day jokes, require obvious reveals, and replace that social contract with a violation of trust. Yes I know that analysis sounds harsh, overly-serious, draconian, etc. But it’s true. Practical jokes are “The Boy who Cried Wolf.”
And we all know how that ended.
April Fools’ is coming. And marketing departments of some seriously big brands are gonna send out April Fools emails & social media posts on April 1st, shilling invisible jeans, or shirts with no torsos (just sleeves!) or a new watch which looks suspiciously like a wearable sun dial.
I know we’re in the minority here, and plenty think this post is way over-thought and a big wet blanket, but I think on April First we’ll just keep to our regular schedule if that’s okay with the lot of you.