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A prank or gag is a trick to purposely make someone feel foolish or victimized, usually for humor. Practical jokes differ from confidence tricks in that the victim finds out, or is let in on, the joke rather than being fooled into handing over money or other valuables. Practical jokes or pranks are typically lighthearted and made to make people feel foolish or victimized to a certain degree, although in some practical jokes there could be an inherent strain of cruelty present.

The term "practical" refers to the fact that the joke consists of someone doing something (a practice), instead of a verbal or written joke. A practical joke can be caused by the victim falling for a prank, the victim stumbling into a prank, the prankster forcing a prank on the victim, the prankster causing others to do something to the victim, or even causing the victim to do something to others. Sometimes more than one victim is used.

In Western culture, April Fools' Day is a day traditionally dedicated to performing practical jokes. Another day common for pranks and practical jokes is Halloween, in the form of trick or treating.

Famous practical jokes

The American humorist H. Allen Smith wrote a 320-page book in 1953 called The Compleat Practical Joker (ISBN 0688037054) that contains many examples of practical jokes. A typical one, recalled as his favorite by the playwright Charles MacArthur, concerns the American painter and bohemian character Waldo Peirce. Peirce was living in Parismarker in the 1920s and "made a gift of a very small turtle to the woman who was the concierge of his building." The woman doted on the turtle and lavished it with care and affection. A few days later Peirce substituted a somewhat larger turtle for the original one. This continued for some time, with larger and larger turtles being surreptitiously introduced into the woman's apartment. The concierge was beside herself with happiness and displayed her miraculous turtle to the entire neighborhood. Peirce then began to sneak in and replace the turtle with smaller and smaller ones, to her bewildered distress. This was the storyline behind Esio Trot, by Roald Dahl.

Modern and successful pranks often take advantage of the modernization of tools and techniques, like the engineering prank at Cambridge Universitymarker, England, where an Austin 7 car was put on top of the Senate Housemarker building. Other forms of pranks involve unusual applications of everyday items like covering a room with Post-it Notes. Pranks can also adapt to the political context of the era. Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technologymarker (MIT) are particularly known for their 'hacks'.

In media

Television Shows




  • Cubicle Warfare: 101 Office Traps and Pranks by John Austin (ISBN 978-0061438868)
  • The Compleat Practical Joker by H. Allen Smith (ISBN 978-0899669311)
  • The Practical Joker's Handbook by Tim Nyberg (ISBN 978-0740741982)
  • Prank University: The Ultimate Guide to College's Greatest Tradition by John Austin (ISBN 978-0307338433)
  • Prank the Monkey: The ZUG Book of Pranks by Sir John Hargrave (ISBN 978-0806527802)
  • The Complete Book of Outrageous and Atrocious Practical Jokes by Justin Geste (ISBN 978-0385230445)
  • Pranks by V. Vale and Andrea Juno (ISBN 978-0940642102)

Famous practical jokers

Real people

Fictional characters

Colleges and universities

See also


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