I love workplace pranks. To me, nothing breaks up the stress and monotony of the work-week like a carefully choreographed practical joke. Nothing. In my 10+ years in office settings, I've pulled off a handful of pranks that are still talked about today. I've been on the receiving end of a number too, though, sadly, only one sticks out as truly epic (thank you, Tom Breen!). So what distinguishes an epic prank from a crappy one? I’m glad you asked...
Originality & Personalization – A quick Google search for “Office Pranks” might spark some inspiration, but overall, you’ll find that most lack originality. To stand out, do something that’s highly individualized and unique. At my last job, I borrowed a brash colleague’s beloved Rajon Rondo poster and, over the course of two weeks, emailed him photos of Rondo “visiting” locations throughout our area with text detailing his travels. All the correspondence came from a fake email address that poked fun at both his Celtics fandom and alma mater. Because I thought this prank was too good NOT to share, I CC’d the nine members of his staff on each email (original text with redacted name below).
Close game with Toronto last night. Who would have thought a 7 Footer named "Andrea" was going to put up 29 on us, and make KG look like a ten-year old girl? NOT me...
After the game, I drowned my sorrows in a bucket of Rum-Nog (Rum & Egg-Nog), and went drunken caroling by myself.
Miss you Friend,
Select Your Victim Carefully – Most people are not going to like being the target of high-profile prank. In my experience, the best pranksters are generally the best prankees. If they’re poor sports, they’re still fair game assuming they’ve pranked you (after all, they drew first blood). Generally speaking, you should select a target that is going to take the joke in stride and not have a reaction that could land you in the Human Resources office. It’s also important that you have an understanding of your organizational culture and tolerance for sophomoric behavior. I’ve been in my current role two years and, in that time, have not orchestrated a large-scale practical joke. Doing so could potentially alienate my more serious colleagues and severe the rapport I’ve worked hard to build. Err on the side of caution, and thoroughly assess the potential downsides of your joke before you fully commit.
Plan, but Retain Flexibility – Years ago, my friend and I had an elaborate plan to retarget our Rondo victim. We intended to remove his car’s wheels, place them on cinder blocks, and project a picture of our handiwork during a training involving 30+ colleagues. As luck would have it, our victim caught us removing his car’s wheels when he stepped outside for a pre-lunch cigarette. We came clean and laughingly confessed our intended plan; he then brilliantly suggested we target another colleague, “Greg”, since we had the necessary tools at our disposal. As we broke for lunch, our original victim (now an ally) projected a picture of Greg’s car perched on cinder blocks with a caption reading “Watch Out for that Back Lot!”. Needless to say, everyone had a great laugh... All the planning in the world can easily go awry, but that doesn’t have to ruin the joke. Always have a Plan B and pivot when necessary.
Be Resourceful – Years ago, I had a chance encounter with an award-winning Robotics engineer whom I pitched on letting me borrow a remote controlled robot for April Fools Day. I hid said Robot in a Certified Mail package and placed it under the bracketed sink in the Men’s bathroom. When my boss got up to relieve himself, I lingered behind (remote control in hand) and our entire staff followed. I then manipulated the Robot to move towards his feet while he was doing his business. Hilarity ensued. Always seek out opportunity, leverage your network, and don’t be afraid to pitch someone on your crazy prank plan once you’ve thought it through; people LOVE being part of an original and game-changing practical joke.
Embrace The Payback - Don't dish it out if you can’t take it. If you pull off an epic prank, revenge is going to come. My boss got me back for the robot stunt a solid 2-3 times, all of which were both deserved and hilarious (on one occasion, he circulated a picture of me sipping a rainbow colored “girly drink” to all the all the managers within our division). Take it stride and be comfortable with yourself enough to fully embrace the funny.
Planning, originality, resourcefulness, and the ability to think on your feet go a long way with orchestrating an amazing practical joke. No matter how elaborate, be sure your joke contains no malintent; a good joke is one where everyone can laugh about it in a few days time.
I’d love to hear about the best pranks you’ve seen in the comments section. Include as much detail and context as you’re willing to share...