In some form or another, we’ve all heard the piece of wisdom that says if you’re the only one laughing at the joke, then it’s probably not funny. This of course doesn’t apply to the times that the listeners don’t appreciate your corny sense of humor and the punch line of your joke, but rather reminds us that a joke that is at someone else’s expense is usually not that humorous. If someone is left crying while another laughs, this sounds like cruelty, not wit. Why then do we all get a kick out of trying to prank people on April Fool’s Day? Who knows, but I do know that I, too, have fallen prey to the seductive temptation of having a laugh at a loved one’s expense.
Throughout most of my childhood, April Fool’s Day came and went without much notice. I might have uttered a few, “Mom, I broke a glass – April Fools!” but I never attempted any elaborate schemes. Around the age of thirteen, though, something changed. Suddenly, I desired to pull off the world’s best prank and actually take notice of the first of April. Deciding my younger brother was a decent target to focus on, I got to work.
Mixing handfuls of cat food with water, I churned the mixture until my finished product looked like our cat had indeed consumed his food and then regurgitated it. Squeezing it into small clumps, I strategically placed the cat barf around my slumbering brother’s room. I chuckled to myself as I imagined his horror in the morning and the gallantry with which I would swoop in and tell him not to be such a baby about it as I horrified him by cleaning the cat puke with my bare hands. With my brother still snoring, I gave my handiwork one last glance over. Satisfied, I snuck away to await the dawn of April Fool’s Day.
I sat in the living room with my mother when my little brother stumbled out of bed. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes and looking ever so vulnerable with his bed head hair, he whined, “Mom, the cat puked all over my room.” I could barely contain my giggles, but I restrained my laughter so that all would not be lost. Too bad my mother’s compassionate heart ruined the whole joke. Seeing her baby so distressed, she assured him it was all right, that his big sister had simply pulled a prank. I’m not sure who was more frustrated at that point, I at my mother or my brother at me. Suffice it to say, Josh was not laughing and I indeed did get to clean up the mess I’d created, though not with the fun I’d imagined of impressing my sibling by my willingness to sacrifice on his behalf and clean with my bare hands. Instead, I picked up the remains of my joke while my brother scowled in the corner and refused to speak to me all through the morning cartoons. But alas, I did not learn my lesson, for a few years later, I was once again trying to think of the world’s best April Fool’s prank.
This time, at sixteen, I enlisted the help of my mother. There would be no spilling the beans on her part if she were involved. And besides, I needed a grown-up’s voice for the telephone call. If my actions towards my younger brother had been cruel, then the prank I planned for my stepdad was nothing short of heartless. He was busy finishing up the last of his certification to begin teaching Driver’s Education. Having taught ESL for many, many years, he was looking forward to a change and some new material. But to his great distress, he’d recently received a moving violation for not completely stopping at a stop sign (apparently slowing way down but not rocking back in a complete stop doesn’t quite cut it if the authorities of the road are watching). Hoping this new ticket wouldn’t hurt his ability to transition into teaching Driver’s Ed, my stepdad was already worried about the whole situation.
Intentionally playing on my father’s fears, I dialed the house phone from my mother’s cell, answered the main phone, and went to tell my stepdad that his boss was on the phone. Then I sat back and watched the cruelty of my joke play out. Hidden in another room, my mother pretended to be his boss and proceeded to interrogate my dad about his recent ticket. He very professionally explained the circumstances and apologized with all the sincerity he could muster, but the disappointment and worry in his voice couldn’t be masked. Finally, our chorus of “April Fool’s!” relieved his fears, but he most certainly wasn’t laughing. Though I’m sure he was more than grateful to discover his boss hadn’t actually called, our prank had hit a little too close to home, had made him live out the very nightmare he feared.
Fortunately, my stepdad’s giant heart forced him to forgive my cruel sense of humor. However, I don’t think he ever joined me in laughing at this particular joke. Watching his spirit break as I stood in the wings ready to laugh had been enough to remind me of the age-old wisdom about jokes. Indeed, without everyone laughing together, it really wasn’t that funny in the end. So the next time I picked an April Fool’s joke to tell, I made sure it was something that all parties could laugh at come the end of the day.