About Your April Fools Joke

So you want to make an April Fools joke. Yeah, me too. I love lying. I love surrealism and building other realities and changing people’s minds.

Photo of a line of plastic clowns with identical wide-open mouths.
“The Laughing Clowns” by Bernard Spragg, CC0 1.0

There are reasons I don’t do that every day, though. Once, a long time ago, I made a friend sincerely doubt that it was raining as we were out walking in it. She punched me. I deserved it. I was treating her like an experiment—Can I do this?—rather than the friend she was.

This is why a lot of people hate April Fools Day. As it turns out, most of us hate being treated as experiments, as means to someone else’s end. (If you’re not one of these people, let me know. There are a few things I’d like to know that I haven’t been able to get past an IRB. No, there’s no consent form. No, I’m not going to tell you what the experiment is. Why should that be a problem?)

It isn’t hard to lie to people:

  • I’m wearing green shoes. (I’m currently barefoot and don’t own green shoes.)
  • I’m staying off the internet today. (Ahem.)
  • I’m pregnant. (Never have been, to the best of my knowledge, and not looking to start now.)
  • I’m gay. (Not even the tiniest bit queer.)

Nobody tells those first two lies for April Fools. A lot of people tell the second two. I told one of them back in high school. I believe it also got me properly punched at the time, because I told it well. I got a friend good and invested in my joke, then flipped her emotions over just to see the look on her face. I treated her as though she existed for my amusement.

Those are the only points of most April Fools jokes. “Can I make people believe this?” “I’m going to fuck with people’s emotions for my own amusement.” That’s it. No wonder people hate the day.

Still want to make an April Fools joke? Yeah, me too. I still love everything I love about fooling people. Most years, though, I don’t. I get to the end of March and realize I haven’t put in the work to build a good one.

What is a good April Fools joke? It’s one that treats your audience as an audience rather than a toy. I gives them something, something more than a fleeting emotion that’s then jerked away from them with the reveal.

  • It’s decent satire.
  • It encourages their creativity.
  • It’s escapist.
  • It reaches a level of commitment or craft that’s entertaining in itself.

Did I mention work? Jokes are work, and jokes that play for more than that handful of buddies who like you and want you to think you’re funny are much harder work. You suddenly have multiple audiences for whom you have to provide something worthwhile while still treating them as people instead of toys. There’s a reason we pay people who can do this on demand.

So you want to make an April Fools joke. Still. Cool. Go for it. We could use more good ones. But if yours still only exists to make other people amuse you, don’t be surprised when people tell you you’re part of the problem with the holiday.

About Your April Fools Joke

2 thoughts on “About Your April Fools Joke

  1. 1

    I thought of a situation where an April Fools’ Day “prank” can resemble a horror movie:

    Imagine waking from a long coma. You are unaware of what year it is, but in the hospital room you are in, someone has left a TV on. There is a morning news program airing, and the newsreader announces that these are “the headlines for April 1.” The announcer then states that “President Donald Trump” had “vented on Twitter” by “threatening North Korea.”

    A-HA! April 1 — April Fools’ Day! I’m watching some kind of spoof comedy show. This beats the real news any day. “President Donald Trump” indeed.

    The next headline also references “President Trump”. They going with the same joke again? Maybe this show needs better writers. But then several thoughts flash quickly through your head: The newsreader seems quite serious; and there was no audience laughter at the North Korea thing, though that is pretty funny, in a dark way–

    This train of thought stops immediately, however, as the camera cuts away from the newsreader. The next thing you see is the Oval Office, and there is a man sitting there, familiar-looking, pen in hand. The camera zooms in…

  2. 2

    ” (If you’re not one of these people, let me know. There are a few things I’d like to know that I haven’t been able to get past an IRB. No, there’s no consent form. No, I’m not going to tell you what the experiment is. Why should that be a problem?)”

    Derren Brown routinely gets people to *volunteer* to be involved in experiments of very questionable ethics which he does not describe to them in advance. They do it because he’s a cool mentalist and they’ll be on TV. You could try that.

    There’s some serious ethical questions about what he’s doing. But they are volunteers, and they do sign a consent form saying that they agree to ANYTHING HE WANTS. He is usually actually trying to teach them a lesson about their own cognitive biases, too.

    I don’t know who these people are, but I seriously hope they are not normal. Evidence says they are probably normal though. :sigh:

    Still, nothing he’s doing would ever pass IRB review, so this is the way to go for research which IRBs would never support — get a TV show. Derren Brown *hypnotized someone into committing an assassination* (with a trick gun so that nobody died), in order to prove that Sirhan Sirhan could have been telling the truth. Try to get that past an IRB.

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