In this special 25-minute episode, Ken distills the best, worst, and most memorable recent North American college and university pranks and hoaxes for April Fool’s Day (and his producer, John, plays pranks on him in post-production.) Please, watch the episode – it’s much funnier than this written summary!
College and university campuses see a lot of foolish behaviour year-round, but it’s officially endorsed on the morning of April First. Students often play “gotcha” pranks on each other in residence, from cellophane on the toilet to wrapping an entire dorm room in newspapers. When pranks get out of hand, they directly impact campus police forces, and in the worst cases can cause property damage or personal injury.
Perhaps that’s why campus security offices have to keep their sense of humour about it. Certainly Queen’s University’s security team has a long track record of pulling April Fool’s hoaxes, from a web page that makes it look like cockroaches are crawling around your monitor, to a series of emergency protocols for monster attacks, from aliens to zombies. And campus security at Michigan’s Calvin College seem willing to play the fool themselves, in a video reminiscent of the Keystone Kops.
Most faculty members take themselves too seriously for pranks, but Matthew Weathers, a math prof at California’s Biola University, plays the prankster every year.
Journalists have a long track record of subverting our expectations on April First, starting with the BBC’s 1957 documentary on the “Spaghetti Harvest” in Switzerland. (If you haven’t seen it before, it’s 3 minutes well spent!) Student newspapers likewise try to publish satirical stories in spoof issues, but often miss their mark and offend more than they amuse. A decade ago it was a story about feminist in the Western Gazette; last year it was the Cavalier Daily at the University of Virginia. Satirical articles about racism and sexism are seldom funny and always contentious, and every year dozens of student journalists and editors lose their jobs over tasteless jokes.
But April Fools has gone mainstream, and big corporate brands are getting in on the action. In 1996, Taco Bell announced that it had bought the Liberty Bell, to reduce government debt. Last year, Microsoft announced “MS-DOS for Mobile,” to bring the C:> prompt back to your smartphone. So naturally, college and university marketing and PR departments have been getting in on the April Foolishness as well, and tend to target 10 themes.
1) Name Changes: John’s Hopkins University perennially jokes that it is dropping the ‘s from its name, and Bryn Mawr College has suggested that it would drop all vowels from its name to save characters on Twitter. Pittsburg State University put together an elaborate video announcing a major change to its name, prompted by “the spell-check factor”.
2) Mascots: The student paper at the University of Maryland at College Park reported that the president wanted to replace the famous Terrapins with a Giant Panda. Minnesota’s Luther College launched a contest to find the right “Fighting Gnome” to replace the “Fighting Norse”. The University of Saskatchewan announced that their beloved Huskie would be replaced by Plucky the Duck-Billed Platypus. And Missouri State University launched on online poll for replacing Boomer the Bear with “Scrapper Squirrel.”
3) Improbable Infrastructure: SAIT Polytechnic, Houghton College, and Nipissing University are just 3 of the institutions that have announced massive transparent domes to cover their campuses. At the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the student newspaper just had to make the dome angle misogynist, by announcing a new structure in the shape of a vagina, to “honour” female students. Campus monorails are also popular, as at Ohio’s University of Findlay, and Smith College in Massachusetts. Somebody at the University of Cambridge got into the foolery last year, posting notices on doors across campus that they had been upgraded to “voice recognition technology.”
4) Celebrity Students: A perennial April Fool favourite, usually celebrity student announcements are absurd and filled with amusing nonsense – such as the Daily Gazette’s report that 5 Na’vi (the blue aliens from the movie Avatar) had enrolled at Swarthmore College for the class of 2014. But last June, the student paper at Penn State University announced that Emma Watson (star of Harry Potter) was enrolling in grad school there. Because the story was deadpan, and released on March 25th, it was picked up as real news by Vanity Fair.
5) Cats! The internet’s “killer app,” naturally appears in plenty of April Foolishness. Oberlin College in Ohio reworked their entire website for a day, replacing all photos with cat pics, and changing their name to “Meowberlin.” The University of Idaho announced the Feline Undergraduate Relationship for Retention Initiative (FURRI for short), which would see all incoming undergraduates given a free kitten. And the University of Nebraska-Lincoln announced an exciting new major in Feline Recruitment Studies.
6) Absurd New Programs: Why is it that all the most interesting new initiatives get announced on April 1? Colgate University, in New York State, announced a new School of Dentistry in a video. Oakland University promoted a new interdisciplinary major in Post-Apocalyptic Survival Studies. One of my favourite April Fool videos of all time comes from Berklee College of Music in Boston, who announced the introduction of the membranophone to the curriculum. Then there was the CERN LHC’s announcement that they had discovered “the Force,” and Brock University’s new varsity athletics team, Bubble Soccer. The University of Michigan School of Public Health announced an interesting new research priority to combat “Hipsteria.”
Simon Fraser University takes the cake for the most consistent, amazing quality videos in this category. In 2013, they announced a new Healthy Campus Initiative to remove all chairs from campus. You might think they couldn’t top that, but in 2014 they announced a whole new kind of satellite campus, with the launch of their Semester in Space program. And then in 2015, SFU’s Facilities Management office announced phase 2 of the campus traffic management plan, to provide pedestrian texting lanes on campus.
7) Campus Security: Maybe SFU was mocking over-zealous campus security officers, or perhaps they were really making fun of
8) Millennial Students: SFU’s pedestrian texting hoax was likely inspired by an April 1 announcement from Northeastern University in Boston the year prior. But last April SAIT Polytechnic proudly announced a new initiative to improve student safety on campus, to Walkabot. (“Walking around is so medieval!”)
9) The Language Itself: If puns are jokes at the expense of language, they are also integral to many campus April Fools announcements. Sometimes the pun is the whole point, as at Nipissing University, when they announced the appointment of a new “Chancellor” – Sheev Palpatine, the evil Emperor from Star Wars.
10) Deep Anxieties: Sometimes you can sense the nervous laughter behind an April Fools hoax, such as when UC Berkeley announced that they would be closing their library and reopening it as a café. (Librarians would spend the summer retraining as baristas.) Or when the University of Windsor announced that their library would be reorganized by colour of books. Or when Brigham Young University announced that the Harold Lee Library was being turned into on-campus housing for students. In 2014 the University of Winnipeg announced that their deficit was resolved, thanks to a winning 6/49 Lotto ticket purchased in the president’s office. In 2015, uWinnipeg announced new student fees for premium services, like advance selection of exit-row or aisle seats in lecture halls.
So those are the top 10 targets for April Fools hoaxes on college and university campuses. But if you’re planning your own, here are 5 important tips for would-be pranksters:
(When you watch the episode, be sure to stick it out until this section – this is the funniest part of the whole thing!)
To watch the full videos, and any new ones coming to our attention, check out our April Fool’s playlist.
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