Practical Jokes and the art of the Jape

I’m a prankster and there is no denying it.  I have never believed in reincarnation, but, if I did I could, no doubt, draw something profound from the fact that I happen to share the same birthday with the most famous prankster of all time.  Of course I am referring to Horace de Vere Cole.  For those readers unfamiliar with Horice’s body of work I will now provide a few examples.

Horace was fond of walking the streets of London with a cows udder protruding from the open front of his pants.  When he had achieved the maximum level of outrage and disgust he would produce a pair of scissors and cut off the offending protrusion.  Horace once purchased a select and calculated number of tickets to a theatrical performance he found to be less than satisfying.  He handed them out for free to bald men in the street who, upon taking their seats for the next performance, clearly spelled out, when viewed from the stage, the word [S H I T] complete with the dot over the [i].  His most famous prank was The Great Dreadnought Hoax. On 7 February 1910  he fooled the captain of the Royal Navy warship HMS Dreadnought into rolling out the red carpet and mistaking himself and a group of his friends, including Virginia Woolf, for the Ambassador of Abyssinia and company.  My admiration for this man, as you can well understand, is immense.  It is also widely believed that he was the brains behind The Peltdown Man fiasco.

So, what is it about pranks and practical jokes that make them, to some, but, certainly not all people, so attractive?  Why are some of us clearly addicted to the performance of them while others are never anything but appalled?  My guess would be that it is genetic.  I, having been appropriately tested, was informed that I carry a double complement of a gene called [CL-48-62] known to geneticists as the cheap laugh gene.  Now this begs the question, of what possible survival advantage could a gene that forces its carrier to engage, uncontrollably, in what he/she finds to be hilarious nonsense and folderol in spite of the fact that other people find them rude, annoying and socially unattractive?  I have given this thought.  The conclusion I have come to is that people like myself and people similarly afflicted act as canaries in the coal mine of civilization.  We, being addicted, as a consequence of the dice throw of genetics, to the wholesale production of nonsense, bullshit and foolishness are, in fact, best equipped to detect its presence, or possibility, in both the population and the social circumstances we find ourselves surrounded by.  We cannot help but root out even the slightest “hint” of comedy potential and exploit it to the fullest.  As a result society benefits in the long run.  Who better to detect a bullshitting politician and expose their soft underbelly?  Who better to take the starch out of an overly snooty authority figure?  Who better to send an incompetent teacher running to a career councilor than the class clown?

My lovely wife of 42 years carries no [CL-42-64] gene.  Nature, in its infinite wisdom, I do believe drew me to her like a rat to cheese.  To this day she still smells the same and this, science knows, is a sure sign of healthy genetic diversity.  When we met I not only found her to be beautiful and smell great, but to be perhaps the most gullible young lady I had ever laid eyes on.  It was, as they say, love at first sniff.  To this day when I tell her anything her first response is inevitably…  “Is that true?”   It rarely is of course and I inform her of the fact.  I love her because she never even minds a bit.  But I digress.

The point of this little essay can be reduced to this.  There are basically two kinds of assholes.  There is the kind that everybody has.  The kind that helps us eliminate the shit “from the inside” of our lives.  Then, there is the other kind.  I like to think of them, and I myself have been referred to on many a proud occasion “as”,… The REAL ASSHOLES.   Our function is to detect and mitigate the effects of the overly serious ones in our population.  To poke fun.  To point out the absurd.  To act the fool as it were for the safety and benefit of all mankind.  I like to think of us as not merely assholes, but, the purveyors of little rays of sunshine in what otherwise would be a dim and cloudy day.

For the benefit of readers interested in the study of Assholery I am in the process of writing an autobiography containing a history of the practical jokes, foolishness and outright idiotic behavior I have engaged in throughout my life.  It will be entitled, “What an Asshole”.   Until its publication I offer, to the serious student of  Assholery, an essay of mine that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Essays.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t nominated by anyone even remotely connected to the Pulitzer organization.   It can be found at  To Everyone, from Prison.


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