Practical joke  

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This page Practical joke is part of the laughter series.Illustration: Mona Lisa Smoking a Pipe by Eugène Bataille
This page Practical joke is part of the laughter series.
Illustration: Mona Lisa Smoking a Pipe by Eugène Bataille

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A practical joke or prank is a situation set up usually to produce what the perpetrator imagines to be a humorous outcome at the expense of the target. Practical jokes are distinct from slapstick comedy or knockabout, in which the goal is to make physical events appear miscalculated, inept, or stupid. The term practical refers to the fact that the joke consists of someone doing something (a 'practice'), rather than a verbal or written joke.

Since the set-up or deception is generally eventually revealed to the victim, the butt of the joke is thereby made to feel foolish or victimized. Therefore there is an inherent strain of cruelty in most practical jokes. There is no clean-cut boundary between practical jokes and hooliganism, vandalism, or sadism.

Well-known practical jokers include the illustrator Hugh Troy and the publicist Jim Moran.

The Trapezium of Xenophanes was cited by Aristotle as a notable compendium of practical jokes, but only a few fragments of this work have survived.

The American humorist H. Allen Smith wrote a 320-page book in 1953 called The Compleat Practical Joker 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 Paris 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.


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