April Fool’s Day is dumb. Now it is, at least. It didn’t always used to be.
In elementary school I skateboarded with a group of friends every day after school. One of them, Alex, was a rare breed in suburban Iowa at the time: his parents were divorced. He lived with his mother, and his father lived in another state and so wasn’t around often. I knew Alex for eight or so years and only met his father once.
In the fifth grade I was aware of April Fool’s Day, but didn’t really pay much attention to when it came around. There was school, video games, and really terrible skateboarding (my career number of Ollies: one) to worry about, and I’ve never been much of a practical joker regardless.
So when Alex told us before school on April 1, 1998 that he would be moving from West Des Moines to Lexington, Kentucky to live with his dad, I completely and utterly believed him.
“I’m moving” isn’t exactly a solid hoax even by lax April Fool’s Day standards but, in that moment, Alex was a master salesman. He wanted to be closer to his Dad, he told me somberly, and was tired of living with his mom and little sister. His parents both supported the move, and so when school ended a scant two months later he would be gone forever.
“That sucks,” I said. It was about all I could muster in the face of losing one of my best friends, the one who introduced me to skating and punk music and busting on friends and a lot of the things that would shape my life to an extent I didn’t even realize until I wrote this (I should call him).
“Yeah, it does,” he replied.
He kept a straight face, and had the perfect amount of soberness and frailty in his voice to lead me to conclude now that he either practiced this bit for days ahead of time or should be acting his ass of in TV and movies now. We stood there in silence for a few moments, both reflecting ad best as 11-year-olds could about our friendship and the brief time we had left to make some final good memories.
Well, I was, at least. He was trying to keep a straight face while also enjoying the tight hold he had on his mark, how thoroughly he had beaten me, and how completely hilarious it was.
“April Fool’s,” he said to break the silence. It’s the only punch line you ever needed back when April Fool’s Day jokes could work. Two simple words to lord over your target, and show them just how much you bested them.
Relief came first. Then lots of laughter. I wasn’t a comedian then, at least not a self-identified one like I am now (even if that identification is simply just “open mic comedian”). I was firmly in the “awkward fat kid who uses humor as a defense mechanism” camp. I guess I still am, but now I’m more self-aware and confident enough to try and use it to my advantage on a stage. But even then I recognized a damn good joke when I saw one, and rewarded it with the high-pitched yips and gasps for air I call a laugh. Alex laughed as well, and we both celebrated a damn good practical joke.
The fun continued when our other friends started showing up. Alex delivered the same spiel to them as I watched on, also trying to keep a straight face. Even more laughs were had. Bigger laughs, actually, multiplied by the effect of many friends sharing a good time together. To be in on the joke and watch it being delivered to more people was even better than the laughs and joy that followed being the target of it (Suddenly the comedian thing makes sense to me).
The ability to drop a practical joke like that is dead, though, at least on April Fool’s Day. The “holiday” dedicated to pranking one’s friends and family is expected to the point where even well thought out and expertly performed jokes like telling your fellow 11-year-old friends you’re moving and will never see them again are brushed off with “oh, it’s April Fool’s day, isn’t it?” If my roommate tried to pull a joke similar to Alex’s on me today it wouldn’t work. The 14 years I’ve lived since the fifth grade matter in that regard, yes, but April Fool’s oversaturation plays a much larger role.
Maybe it’s the Internet’s fault. The sense of mystery surrounding not just practical jokes but pretty much every aspect of life is pretty much gone. A quick Google search or trip to Snopes instantly quashes even the most believable hoaxes. That’s a good thing when it stops elderly people and Luddites from wiring money to an endangered relative who is supposedly in trouble in a faraway land but who is really just downstairs watching TV. When it comes to a good practical joke, however, it’s like having the Fun Police on speed dial.
Companies don’t help, either. Google’s actually-pretty-funny April Fool’s Day hoaxes started gaining a ton of traction a few years back, and now everyone is on board and hyper-aware of the shenanigans that used to make April Fool’s Day fun. Google, Think Geek, Netflix, and tons of others all pull out faux news or announcements every year. Some, like YouTube’s announcement that they are shutting down tonight to finally pick a winner, are downright funny, others not so much. But every single one of them is an obvious joke. We already had 364 days of the year for those.
Now we have 365, though, because everyone is painfully aware of April Fool’s Day. We all expect it, and so see everything that comes at us as the joke that it is, making such pranks nothing more than tongue-in-cheek notifications saying “Hey. We, too, know today’s date.” I’d venture to guess at least 99% of people that use Google know they’re not going to release a scent-based search engine. Yet we applaud the joke and throw page views at the announcement because it’s “funny,” even if it isn’t and we only laugh because “Ha ha, they know what April Fool’s Day is.”
What used to be a day dedicated to practical jokes, legitimate hoaxes, and all kinds of good flimflam is now pretty much just an ad campaign, the Internet equivalent of self-aware Super Bowl commercials. Even personal jokes between friends and family carry little to no fun when every website or company that wants to show how “with it” they are trots out an April Fool’s day page or press release, telling us that they, too are cool and would you please buy their real products now okay thanks.
At least Hilaria – the ancient Roman precursor to April Fool’s Day – had amusements and goat sacrifices to go with its indoctrination (religious, in that case).
Personal jokes are perhaps even worse now. The effort put in to April Fool’s Day by most is minimal. Jokes are now little more than overly self-referential nods to it being April Fool’s day, the Facebook status equivalent of a “Family Guy” episode that turns inward on itself so much as to become not a parody but the very thing it purports to mock and revile.
Pranks, practical jokes, and flat out telling your friends and family horrible things to see the looks on their faces are still awesome things, and should be wholeheartedly encouraged. But before you tweet about how you’re pregnant and/or gay and/or a llama but ha-ha just kidding not really, think about it. It’s uninspired, and everyone knows it’s coming anyway, so what’s the point? Unless you really are pregnant or gay, in which case you should embrace it with open arms and happily tell the world, but maybe pick a better day to do it, like literally any other day of the year.
Prank your friends. Play practical jokes on your mother. Tell giant lies to your friends to make them confused and scared and emotional. It’s funny to you, and they will most likely find it funny also. Eventually, anyway. But don’t do it on April Fool’s Day.
This April Fool’s Day, and every first of April for every year hence, the funniest joke is watching everyone else revel in their own smug self-righteousness as they poorly celebrate a formerly awesome fake holiday that went to hell the moment Tim Berners-Lee got a good idea. Because you’re the one who is really in on it. And while they pat each other on the back and celebrate their obviousness, you’ll be plotting to get them good by faking your own death in the middle of September when they won’t see it coming.
Also, I have canceraids.
See? That was terrible, wasn’t it?
Home Sweet Bone™: The Mötley Crüe-themed adult film idea that would’ve made me a millionaire in 1986
Watch this. It’s great. And I’m in it, eventually (not this episode).
with Jordan Tuerler as “The Russian Guy”
Written by Gideon
Directed by Patrick
Over a year in the making!
New episode every Wednesday folks!
Hey all (so basically @PatrickHastie and @shutupjacklewis). Tonight I’m guest hosting the open mic at Billy Joe’s Lounge in Clive, IA.
Signup is at 8:15 and the show starts at 8:30. Come do comedy, watch comedy, and drink booze. Maybe eat, too, if that’s your thing. What are you, rich? I might even buy you a drink!*