No one knows for sure when the merry holiday began, but many historians point to the moment Christopher Columbus stuck a whoopie cushion under the throne of Queen Isabella (one of history’s greatest pranks). Others claim it all started when France adopted the Gregorian calendar, changing New Year’s Day from April 1 to Jan. 1.
Whatever the reason, we’ve all tried our hand at practical joking, and over the years, seen some amazing dupes. But today, we take a look at the misadventures, the disasters, and the unmitigated fails of pranking lore that (in hindsight) are still perfectly enjoyable today. No matter how many puppies almost drowned.
The End of the World at 3PM Sharpish
Americans have had a sense of humor since at least 1940. That’s the year the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia delivered a calm-shattering press release: “Your worst fears are confirmed…Scientists predict the world will end at 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time tomorrow.” Word of the end times quickly spread around Philadelphia as citizens freaked the f*%k out. Apparently, people had complete faith in their scientists back then, but it was all ruined thanks to one awesome prank.
One lucky lad in Oklahoma has the funniest girlfriend ever (or the worst) after she pulled this commitment prank that went seriously awry. As her boyfriend came home on April 1, 2013, she told him (jokingly) that she was pregnant. When she didn’t receive the enthusiastic reaction she’d hoped for, she pulled a knife, later telling police that the assault with a deadly weapon was all part of the prank too. Now that’s dedication.
This simple prank led to the full evacuation of 13,000 residents in the town of Jafr, Jordan after a local newspaper ran a story about alien invaders spotted landing in the park. On the bright side, the mayor and his township proved how quickly they could move at the first sign of troublemaking. Cowards or survivors? You decide.
In 1998, Burger King launched a joke campaign claiming to be the first restaurant to sell left-handed burgers. Within hours, thousands of people had flooded Burger Kings across the nation to order the specially-designed meat puppets – leading to an unprecedented increase in upset-stomach, gas, and indigestion.
Google’s Mic Drop Tool
Google tries so hard to let everyone know they have a sense of humor, which explains the special Mic Drop function they released for April Fools back in 2016. The feature added the above minion GIF to the end of your email then mischievously disabled the response function. Unfortunately, Google positioned the Mic Drop button right next to the Send icon, leading to job application disasters, condolence letter fails, and at least one firing. Looks like the prank was on them.
Sometimes the devil on your shoulder doesn’t have the best advice. This was the case in 1980 when a Boston news producer aired a story about an active volcano in the area. With frightened viewers tuning in, he artfully edited together fake warnings from President Jimmy Carter with aerial footage of a real volcanic explosion. Despite the “April Fools” card flashing at the end of the segment, viewers lost their minds, flooding 911 while racing from their homes in a panic. Unsurprisingly, the TV producer got sacked for his prank – and that was no joke.
Starting a War
Wars have been started for all kinds of stupid reasons, but this April Fools prank takes the cake. In 1986, months after the Cold War ended, an Israeli intelligence officer broke the “news” that a top-ranking Islamic official had just been seriously wounded in an assassination attempt. With tensions flaring, this comic genius nearly started a war and was subsequently court-martialed. Wait, isn’t this the plot to Canadian Bacon?
In 2015, a Manchester police department’s poorly executed prank enraged citizens around England. The cops claimed to be starting a prison release program for the inmates who received the most votes. People should have known something was afoot when the offer included kicking in a vacation package for the winner. All joking aside, the photos they posted of “contestants” included several violent offenders, and people were not tickled.
DHMO in Our Water
Radio has always had a powerful effect on the public psyche, which makes it the perfect format for April Fools Day fun. But more often than not, the pranks go sideways. As was the case in 2002 when Kansas City DJs reported that the local water supply had been contaminated with dangerously high levels of “dihydrogen monoxide.” Most listeners didn’t realize DHMO (meaning two hydrogens and one oxygen) is the scientific name for water, and went bananas. The rib-tickling DJs were accused of domestic terrorism, which is a bit of a stretch, though we have to admit the joke killed.
Nixon For President (Again)
Two years before Nixon’s death, a man claiming to be the disgraced Republican rang up NPR to announce his bid for President. The on-air bombshell created quite a frenzy, as hundreds flocked to the streets in protest. Nixon may have been a crook, but thankfully, practical joking continues to live in freedom.