In praise of the innocent prank

In praise of the innocent prank

Growing up, there were kids who were into sports and kids who were into music. Kids who lived for the four-square game at recess and kids who were off doing their own thing with fake swords and magic spells.

But every school, maybe every grade, had at least one kid whose passion was for the innocent prank. They carried around a Whoopee Cushion the way others might carry around a football. Nine times out of 10, the innocent prankster could burp the entire alphabet and would proudly enter this skill into the annual talent show. In the cafeteria, the innocent prankster was known to say, "Hey, check this out," then proceed to put their hand under their armpit, move their arm up and down, creating a sound that was like 70% farting noise, 30% duck quacking.

There was a big difference between the innocent prankster and a bully. A bully finds a weakness, something another kid is self-conscious about, and then zeroes in on that. With the innocent prankster, there's nothing personal or mean-spirited about their jokes. If you're the victim of an innocent prank, even if the whole room is laughing at you, it's because you sat on a cushion that made a farting sound. That's it. There's nothing mean about that moment. Plus, the innocent prankster was usually going after the people in power (the teacher, the principal) not looking for the weakest link.

A bully's focus is on saying things like "four eyes." The innocent prankster prefers to work in googly eyes. A bully singles out the lowest person on the totem pole. The innocent prankster's focus is on, "How do I get a pair of boxers up the flagpole?" 

Sadly, the innocent prankster usually peaks in elementary school. In middle school, everyone is trying to be too cool. A Whoopee Cushion gag is deemed immature and the new cool, more adult humor is to shout, "Penis!" as loud as you can. That joke would get a huge laugh every single time. The innocent prankster simply shook their head and threw away their Groucho Marx glasses.

In high school, now things were getting even more serious. You have to start thinking about your GPA and preparing for the ACT. The innocent prankster still tries to have fun on April Fool's Day with the Saran wrap toilet seat move, but it's just not the same. The senior prank is their last hurrah before heading off to college.

There's a little bit of a comeback in college. That first weekend away with no parents, the innocent prankster is the first one to shout out, "We're going streaking!" But, again, by junior/senior year things become more serious. You have to start preparing for the future. Build your resume. Their final prank is usually hiding a Smirnoff Ice bottle to setup an icing. Whoever ends up with the bottle looks at the innocent prankster--who has a huge smile on their face--then looks at everyone else in the room who solemnly nods their heads. "Just do it. Let him have this."


What happens after college? What does the innocent prankster do out in the adult working world?

I'd like to say I was sitting on the train pondering this question, but the truth is I was sitting there on the Red Line doing all of the boring adult commuter things like scrolling through LinkedIn or going through email. Or letting out those slightly audible sighs when another ten people squeeze through the doors, cramming everyone even closer together.

And right when I was about to roll my eyes again, I looked up and saw the googly-eyed work of an innocent prankster. I started cracking up. Then I was just in awe of their work. It seemed incredible to me, someone was sitting there looking up at the same advertisements, saw the same photo of the two models and their next thought was, "You know what, I'm going to get some googly eyes, some Elmer's glue, and bring some joy to this train."

That's a completely different way to think about things. Completely different way to experience the world around you.

It turns out the innocent pranksters have some pretty impressive alumni. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were notorious pranksters. As a kid, Jobs somehow got the bike lock combinations of every kid in his class and then switched the locks around to be on different bikes. Another time he posted flyers advertising a "Bring Your Pet to School Day," something the teachers didn't approve of or know about. Kids brought their animals in the next day and there was a healthy level of innocent chaos. A few decades later, that kid was on stage introducing the iPhone.

And I feel like Bill Murray semi-retired from acting to become a full-time innocent prankster.

The innocent prankster shouldn't be discouraged or disciplined in elementary school. Their work should be praised. Today it might be a Whoopee Cushion that the teacher didn't see on her chair, tomorrow it could be an invention that nobody else saw coming.

Or, just as important, delivering a few smiles to a group of strangers on a train.

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