April 1st isn’t only for fools

The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year.  — Mark Twain


April brings plenty of good things: good weather, Easter bunnies and especially spring break. But for millions around the world, April holds something far more sacred: April Fools Day.

On this day, friends, family, co-workers and neighbors scheme to have a laugh at each other’s expense. The spring air fills with laughter at those who have turned a syrup-coated doorknob or screamed at the sight of a rubber spider. Some religiously observe this holiday, treating practical joking as a ritual. 

Pranking at Fairmont

Fairmont students and their families partake in the festivities, too. “My mom put Kool-Aid powder in her friend’s sheets so when they sweat during the night the Kool-Aid would color their skin,” said sophomore Ciara Collins. “She also put Kool-Aid in her friend’s soap so they would clean themselves and turn different colors.”

When Gifted Education teacher Beth Wells took 30 students to Cleveland for a competition, it slipped her mind that the last day of the competition fell on April 1. The group stopped to shop and a clerk asked Wells if she was with Kettering City Schools. “She said I needed to talk with the manager because one of my students had been caught shoplifting! I couldn’t believe it! I threw down everything in my arms and raced to the front of the store,” said Wells. “Then I hear from the back of the store: ‘APRIL FOOLS, MRS. WELLS!’  It was a good one. They got me.”

This year’s senior baseball players recall a prank last year when the Class of 2009 players told them the practice time had been pushed back a half hour. The juniors sauntered in to be greeted by a staged, but intense verbal reaming from Baseball Coach Kent Drake. “I got ‘em good,” said Drake. “One kid looked like he was about to cry.”

One of the victims was Adam Thompson, now a senior. “Drake just pulled that stuff out of nowhere. He’s really good at improvisation,” said Thompson with a grimace.

The art of good pranks, the scourge of bad ones

With any prank, there’s always a fine line between entertaining the victim and harming or humiliating them. Anyone can trip a person or put a “kick me” sign on somebody’s back, but a well-thought-out prank leaves the prankster AND the prankee laughing.

An ingenious prank takes planning and imagination, but sometimes simple beats elaborate. For example, take “Sheila’s Broom” from the British show, Candid Camera.  A seemingly harmless elderly woman is sweeping a quiet sidewalk, but whenever someone passes by, she lands a broom on their rump. When the shocked pedestrians turn around to identify their “attacker,” all they see is a sweet old woman sweeping the street. They chuckle and move on with their day.

Walter Barnett produced a hidden camera show, the Jamie Kennedy Experiment. Barnett said there’s no formula to a good prank. “It’s certainly an art, and it’s a people skill to know the right prank to play on the right person,” said Barnett. On the Jamie Kennedy Experiment, the cast would ask an acquaintance if they would like to have a friend pranked by actor Jamie Kennedy.

Barnett still laughs the hardest at a prank they pulled at a restaurant with actress Kathie Lee Gifford. Gifford starts flirting with a group of guys at the next table and then invites the targets to her table. After ordering them an expensive bottle of champagne, she tells them that she’s going to the restroom. “Then they see out the window Kathie Lee running out into the street,” said Barnett. But it doesn’t end there. “The waiter brings over a bill for $2,500.”

Even shows like Jackass have their moments. Steve-O and Johnny Knoxville have staged brilliant sketches (look up the Port-O-John hoax), but any prank show runs the risk of taking it too far. As for shows like Scare Tactics that play off fear for kicks, Barnett is not a fan. “Punk’d has done some funny stuff, but they focus more on the celebrity factor,” said Barnett.

What April Fools Day means to me

Part of the spirit of April Fools Day lies in exposing gullibility. This is one of my guilty pleasures. My ex-girlfriend fondly remembers her first dinner with my family, during which I convinced her that our entrée would be the family dog, Sidney. She was not amused.

For the O’Donnell household, April Fools Day is observed almost more religiously than Easter, with practical jokes as our rituals. To this day, I check my sock drawer for the “ancient family heirloom” that has been known to mysteriously appear there – a fake severed arm.

Pranksterism runs in the blood, as a certain grandmother’s college roommate will attest. This grandmother, who asked to go unnamed, placed a bust of Venus in her friend’s bed with a cigarette taped to its mouth. The roommate screamed bloody murder, and grandma was promptly suspended.

The first of April will always be a day to let our mischievous sides shine and get a good laugh. But it means more than just that. Having a sense of humor has helped me through a lot of things, and it certainly makes everyday life more enjoyable. April Fools Day is a time to set all seriousness aside and recognize that sometimes life needs a little mischief.