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A practical joke (also known as a prank, gag, jape or shenanigan) is a mischievous trick or joke played on someone, typically causing the victim to experience embarrassment, perplexity, confusion, or discomfort. Practical jokes differ from confidence tricks or hoaxes 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 generally lighthearted, reversible and non-permanent, and aim to make the victim feel foolish or victimised to a degree, but may also involve cruelty verging on bullying if performed without appropriate finesse.
The term "practical" refers to the fact that the joke consists of someone doing something physical, instead of a verbal or written joke. For example, the joker who is setting up and performing the practical joke might hang a bucket of water above a doorway and rig the bucket using pulleys so when the door opens the bucket dumps the water. The joker would then wait for the victim to walk through the doorway and be drenched by the bucket of water. Objects can also be used in practical jokes, like fake vomit, chewing gum bugs, exploding cigars, stink bombs, costumes and whoopee cushions. In Western culture, April Fools' Day is a day traditionally dedicated to performing practical jokes. A person who performs a practical joke is called a practical joker. The most common cases of practical jokes are encountered inside offices, usually to surprise co-workers. Covering the computer accessories with Jell-O, wrapping the desk with Christmas paper or aluminium foil or filling it with balloons are just some examples of office pranks.
Famous practical jokes 
The American humorist H. Allen Smith wrote a 320-page book in 1953 called The Compleat Practical Joker (ISBN 0-688-03705-4) that contains many examples of practical jokes. A common one, recalled as his favorite by the playwright Charles MacArthur, concerns the American painter and bohemian character Waldo Peirce. Peirce was living in Paris in the 1920s and "made a gift of a very big turtle to the woman who was the concierge of his building." The woman doted on the turtle and lavished care on it. 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. In Canada, engineering students have a reputation for annual pranks; at the University of British Columbia these usually involve leaving a Volkswagen beetle in an unexpected location (such as suspended from the Golden Gate Bridge and the Lions Gate Bridge). A similar prank was undertaken by engineering students at Cambridge University, England, where an Austin 7 car was put on top of the Senate House building. Pranks can also adapt to the political context of the era. Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are particularly known for their "hacks".
The 2003 TV movie Windy City Heat, is an elaborate practical joke on the film's star, Perry Caravallo, who is led to believe that he is starring in a faux action film, Windy City Heat, where the filming which is ostensibly for the films DVD extras is actually a documentation of the long chain of pranks and jokes done at Caravallo's expense.
Peter Funt wrote, "Pranksters must always be accountable for their actions, but in the digital age the burden of responsibility also lies with those who use the echo chamber to amplify things to the point of distortion and stress."
- The Complete Book of Outrageous and Atrocious Practical Jokes by Justin Geste (ISBN 978-0-385-23044-5)
- Cubicle Warfare: 101 Office Traps and Pranks by John Austin (ISBN 978-0-06-143886-8)
- The Compleat Practical Joker by H. Allen Smith (ISBN 978-0-89966-931-1)
- The Practical Joker's Handbook by Tim Nyberg (ISBN 978-0-7407-4198-2)
- Prank University: The Ultimate Guide to College's Greatest Tradition by John Austin (ISBN 978-0-307-33843-3)
- Prank the Monkey: The ZUG Book of Pranks by Sir John Hargrave (ISBN 978-0-8065-2780-2)
- Pranks by V. Vale and Andrea Juno (ISBN 978-0-940642-10-2)
- If at All Possible, Involve a Cow: The Book of College Pranks by Neil Steinberg (ISBN 978-0-312078102)
- Nightwork: A History of Hacks and Pranks at MIT by T.F. Peterson (ISBN 0-262-66137-3)
- The Official Handbook of Practical Jokes by Peter Van Der Linden
Films in which practical jokes are featured include:
- One Hundred Men and a Girl (1937)
- Carrie (1976)
- Porky's (1982)
- April Fool's Day (1986)
- Men at Work (1990)
- Grumpy Old Men (1993)
- Watch It (1993)
- Grumpier Old Men (1995)
- Dirty Work (1998)
- Super Troopers (2001)
- Jackass: The Movie (2002)
- Windy City Heat (2003)
- Jackass Number Two (2006)
- Jackass 3D (2010)
- Big Fat Liar (2002)
- The Prankster (2010)
- The Howard Stern Show
- The Jerky Boys
- The Phil Hendrie Show
- Rickey Smiley
- Roy D. Mercer
- Touch-Tone Terrorists
- Tube Bar prank calls
- America's Funniest People
- America's Funniest Home Videos
- Beadle's About
- Boiling Points
- Candid Camera
- Crank Yankers
- The Dudesons
- Game For A Laugh
- Girls Behaving Badly
- Howie Do It
- Just For Laughs
- The Jamie Kennedy Experiment
- Joe Millionaire
- Just For Laughs Gags
- Naked Camera
- Our Gang shorts
- The Office
- The Office (UK TV series)
- Loiter Squad
- Prank Patrol
- Rad Girls
- Room 401
- Scare Tactics
- The Tom Green Show
- Trigger Happy TV
- TV Bloopers And Practical Jokes
- What's with Andy?
- Wild Boys
- truTV Presents: World's Dumbest...
Some people have developed reputations as pranksters in addition to other work, or in some cases have made pranking their primary work. Many pranksters are comedians or entertainers, while others engage in pranks connected to social activism or protest movements.
- Alan Abel — prankster, satirist
- Ken Babbs — writer, famous member of Merry Pranksters group
- Jeremy Beadle — British television personality
- Jello Biafra — musician, political activist
- Cyrus Broacha — Indian comedian
- George Clooney — film actor
- Sacha Baron Cohen - comedian, writer, actor
- The Diggers — social activist group, originated Free Stores in the 1960s
- Rio Ferdinand - footballer
- Richard Feynman — Nobel prize winning physicist
- Allen Funt — producer of television show Candid Camera
- Rémi Gaillard — French humorist, prankster
- George Gamow — physicist, science writer
- Mel Gibson — film actor
- Eddie Gossling - comedian, writer
- Tom Green — actor, comedian
- Abbie Hoffman — political activist, leader of the Yippies, writer
- Andy Kaufman — comedian
- Ken Kesey — writer, organized Merry Pranksters group
- Jimmy Kimmel
- Ashton Kutcher - host, executive producer of Punk'd
- Tom Mabe — comedian
- monochrom — German
- Odd Future — rap crew
- Keith Moon — rock band musician
- Jim Moran — publicist, publicity stunt promoter
- Camille Paglia — feminist writer, teacher
- Janoskians - Australian web-based comedy group who deal with pranks and stunts
- Sean Penn — film actor
- Penn & Teller — comedians, magicians
- Darren "Whackhead" Simpson — South African radio host, prank caller
- Joey Skaggs — prankster, culture jammer
- Vivian Stanshall — English singer-songwriter, eccentric, worked with Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band
- Carl Dean "Alfalfa" Switzer — child actor
- Hugh Troy — painter, Cornell student prankster
- Dick Tuck — political prankster against Richard Nixon
- The Yes Men — pranksters, satirists of corporate behavior
- Darryl F. Zanuck — film producer and director
- Anton LaVey — Occultist and writer
Fictional characters 
- Al Bundy, on Married... with Children
- Alex Russo, on Wizards Of Waverly Place
- Andy Larkin on What's with Andy?
- BJ Hunnicutt, on CBS's sitcom M*A*S*H*
- Bart Simpson, on The Simpsons
- The Comedian, on the comic book series Watchmen
- David Brent, on BBC's sitcom The Office
- Dean Winchester, on the CW's Supernatural
- The Electric Company regulars Francine Carruthers, Manny Spamboni, Danny Rebus, Annie Scrambler, and Gilda Flip
- Emil i Lönneberga, the title character of Astrid Lindgren's fictional children's novels
- Hawkeye Pierce, on CBS's sitcom M*A*S*H*
- Jim Halpert, on the US sitcom The Office
- The Joker, the DC Comics supervillain
- Jokey Smurf, on the comic book and animated series The Smurfs
- Naruto Uzumaki, the main protagonist and titular character of Masashi Kishimoto's anime and manga franchise
- Megan Parker, on the show Drake and Josh
- Pinkie Pie, animated show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
- Prankster (comics), the DC Comics supervillain
- Sheldon Cooper, on CBS's sitcom The Big Bang Theory
- Tim Canterbury, on BBC's sitcom The Office
- Trapper John McIntyre, on CBS's sitcom M*A*S*H*
- Tricky Dicky from The Topper had been a prankster as his main trait.
- Valentina La Paz, on The Sopranos
- Fred and George Weasley, Harry Potter series
- Hermann Fegelein, (not the real SS Obergruppenführer, but his counterpart in the Downfall parodies, played by Thomas Kretschmann).
- Heinrich Himmler, (not the real SS Reichsführer, but his counterpart in the Downfall parodies, played by Ulrich Noethen).
- Felicity Merriman and Elizabeth Cole from the American Girl series.
See also 
- Dreadnought hoax
- Gag name
- Practical joke device
- Prank call
- School prank
- Senior prank
- Snipe hunt
- Student prank
- The Yes Men
- "Practical joke". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 2012-05-27.
- "Japes of the great (book review of April is the cruellest month: The history and meaning of All Fools' Day)". The Economist. Retrieved 2011-04-18.
- "Funny Office Pranks". Weirdomatic.com. Retrieved 2012-10-25.
- Curiel, Jonathan. "Beetle Overboard! / VW hung off GG Bridge in prank", San Francisco Chronicle, February 5, 2001, accessed March 9, 2011
- Wood, Graeme. "UBC dean says punishment uncertain for botched Volkswagen Beetle stunt", The Vancouver Sun, February 5, 2009, accessed March 9, 2011
- From Hermes to bonsai kittens. What makes a jape great?, from The Economist, December 20, 2005. Discusses the origins and evolution of pranks.
- Priceless pranks, from The Economist, February 21, 2006. Lists famous and successful pranks throughout history.
- Kravets, David. "April 1, 1998: Disney to Buy MIT for $6.9 Billion" Wired, March 31, 2010, accessed March 10, 2011.
- Funt, Peter. "The Joke’s on Whom?" The New York Times. 8 December 2012. 8 December 2012.