Improvised Pranks: The Single-Speaker
When we think of college pranks, we typically think of a bunch of drunk frat boys putting icy hot on a toilet seat or, if they’re more creative (and sufficiently bored), wrapping a ton of stuff in a friend’s room with saran wrap. This can be hilarious, and in the future a large portion of this column will be devoted to the best of this sort of prank. But I want to start with a prank that simply and efficiently gets at the core of why we prank—that is, to elicit visible signs of surprise, disgust, or embarrassment. A prank is only funny because we see our friend’s jaw drop when he walks into his meticulously saran-wrapped room, or because we discover in his search history “ass burning AND venereal diseases” after he sits on an icy-hot-covered toilet-seat.
The following occurred in a literature discussion section near the end of Spring semester, 2009. My friend Alex always sat next to this frumpily dressed, super-skinny girl with thick glasses. She rarely made eye contact with anyone, took meticulous notes, and raised her hand and spoke exactly once every class. After noticing this habit, Alex began to observe her more closely, at which point he detected an even more peculiar pattern: her once-per-class hand-raise was invariably preceded by her staring down at her paper for two to three minutes and mumbling to herself. A closer inspection of her paper revealed that she was writing down, word for word, exactly what she was going to say, and that she practiced it and memorized it before raising her hand. Of course, someone this uptight is the perfect prank target.
One morning, with ten minutes left in class, this girl had yet to speak. Alex, having watched her perform her ritual for ten straight weeks, was beginning to think that she might finally break the pattern. However, with just a few minutes remaining, Alex heard that familiar whisper, and a sideward glance confirmed that she had begun the mumbling phase. Alex knew her hand would shoot up any second, and that he had only moments to act. So, he quickly peaked over her shoulder, and read through and memorized her words.
Alex’s and the girl’s hand rose simultaneously, and the professor said “Yes, Alex?” Alex, staring straight at the professor, said word-for-word what was written on this girl’s page. Peripherally, Alex watched her face descend into bewilderment, followed by disbelief, followed by, as he puts it, “sheer horror.” Her eyes were darting from her paper to Alex, and back to her paper. Her head began shaking “no,” and she rocked back and forth in her chair.
Class ended without her having a chance to speak—the first time all year. As people shuffled out, Alex, without a word, slowly packed up his belongings and walked out of the room, leaving her shaken, with her books sprawled out on the table. Next class, she sat on the other side of the room, wrote down a speech, muttered to herself, and spoke once.
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