Pranks can do more than provide a little comic relief. They can teach important lessons. Like, "Don't take yourself too seriously." Or "Here's a taste of your own medicine." Or "I'm a dick." Here are pranks from science fiction and fantasy, some of which say something of value and some of the "I'm a dick" variety.
A lot of pranks rely on surprise of some sort. Some are parts of plot twists. Therefore, this whole article has a massive spoiler warning attached to it.
A lot done by Trelane and Q is some form of prank by bored, nearly-omnipotent beings. Q gives Riker Q powers and bets on it. Q puts humanity on trial. Q turns the Enterprise into Sherwood Forest. Q appears as God and moves Picard through time. Q introduces the Federation to Borg. Hahaha! His son was more annoying but less massively destructive: he removes clothes, has a computer talk back to the captain, removes Neelix's vocal chords, and apparently shifted a planet's tectonic plates.
The lesson: Powerful beings are always going to mess with you.
Look, we've said it before, and we'll say it again: There's something wrong with Starfleet Academy. At least this time the psychological torture isn't a required Starfleet activity, but the added stress of dealing with pranking classmates cannot be good for the head. In fact, we know it isn't, because it left enough of a scar on Kirk's psyche that, in "Shore Leave," his fantasy was to beat the man up. And when Wesley got to Starfleet Academy, Cadet Adam Martoni programmed Wes' sonic shower to spray him with mud. This earned Martoni a antimatter regulator spray of chili sauce.
While it's all kinds of fun playing jokes on the Vulcan Tuvok, being the best friend of Tom Paris does not shield you. As Harry Kim found out in "Fair Folk". He went to the Irish holographic town of Fair Haven to go on a date (of course) with a hologram named Maggie (stay with it) who Tom programmed to turn into a cow (and boom goes the dynamite).
But for sheer mental torture, the prize goes to the team of Dax and Quark, who moved Odo's furniture two or three centimeters, three or four times, in a single year. This apparently drove Odo so crazy, he just had to confront them about it in "Homefront."
A very high Bill Murray thinks a truly hilarious prank would be to dress as a zombie and
scare Columbus and Little Rock. This does not end well for him.
The lesson: Dressing as a dangerous enemy as a prank will get you dead.
The episode "Hell House" had pranks as a running plot thread. Dean and Sam are engaged in an escalating prank war consisting of:
- Dean puts a spoon in a sleeping Sam's mouth, takes a photo, then turns the music up really loud, waking him up.
- Similarly, Sam turns the car's radio all the way up, startling Dean.
- Dean puts itching powder in Sam's underwear.
- Sam glues Dean's hand to a beer bottle.
The episode even ends with the two pranking the instigators of the problem that week, with Sam calling them as a movie producer and offering them a movie and Dean putting a dead fish in the back seat of their car.
The Lesson: Don't engage in prank war you have no intention of ending.
There's also the archangel Gabriel/Loki, who uses pranks to dole out "just desserts." Among his greatest hits are trapping the brothers in a time loop and trapping them in TV shows.
The Lesson: Pretty much the same as the Q and Trelane, with added "do unto others" on top.
Marvel, Johnny Storm and Spider-Man
Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, is pretty known as a prankster, which was given live action life in the Fantastic Four movie, where he plays shaving cream pranks on the Thing. Then there's the time he had Spider-Man had to wear an old Fantastic Four uniform. And a bag on his head. And a "Kick me" sign.
The Lesson: Johnny Storm's a dick. (At the least, he absolutely is in the movie.)
Also, enjoy this series of pranks from The Amazing Spider-Man # 657 - Torch Song:
Babylon 5, "The Gathering"
Put this one in the "teaching a lesson" category. When Sinclair believes that G'Kar endangered the station with an attempt to poison Ambassador Kosh, he tells G'Kar he's slipped a nanotech tracker into his drink. Although, it turns out that's not exactly true:
Garibaldi: I wonder if they'll ever find that transmitter you slipped in G'kar's drink.
Sinclair: No they won't. Because there is none. If I had put one in, sooner or later, they would have found it. This way, they'll keep looking.
Garibaldi: Are you aware of the tests they'll perform and the things they'll do to him?
Sinclair: Yes. Come on.
Garibaldi: There are some days I love this job.
The Lesson: Don't endanger a space station and think you'll get away with it. You won't. You'll get probed
Red Dwarf, (Not) April Fools
In season 1's "Me²," Holly tells Lister that he's wanted for "crimes against humanity" as the result of leaving sausages to go moldy and cover 7/8ths of the Earth. Also, Holly tells him he left a light on, so he owes £180 billion. The whole thing ends with this exchange:
Holly: April fool.
Lister: But it's not April!
Holly: Yeah, but I could hardly wait six months with a red hot jape like that under me belt, could I?
The Lesson: Um. . . Sometimes a prank can't wait?
Harry Potter, Mooney, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs/The Weasley Twins/Umbridge
As is appropriate for a school full of preteens and teens, Hogwarts has its fair share of pranksters. Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew, Sirius Black, and James Potter were fans, if the default response of the Marauder's Map to outsiders is any indication. Of course, Sirius also thought that sending Snape through the tunnel to confront a werewolf was a harmless little "prank," so his judgment is pretty suspect.
The Weasley Twins, Fred and George, were masters of the prank. So much so that they later opened a joke shop. They changed Percy's Head Boy badge to read "Bighead Boy." And before they decide to leave school altogether, they turned part of a hallway into a swamp.
After they leave, it's open season for pranks. Students eat from the Weasley's Skiving Snackboxes and make themselves sick and claim it's "Umbridge-itis." The other teachers refuse to help Umbridge. And Peeves, well:
Cackling madly, he soared through the school, upending tables, bursting out of blackboards, and toppling statues and vases. Twice he shut Mrs. Norris inside suits of armour, from which she was rescued, yowling loudly, by the furious caretaker. He smashed lanterns and snuffed out candles, juggled burning torches over the heads of screaming students, caused neatly stacked piles of parchment to topple into fires or out of windows, flooded the second floor when he pulled off all the taps in the bathrooms, dropped a bag of tarantulas in the middle of the Great Hall during breakfast and, whenever he fancied a break, spent hours at a time floating along after Umbridge and blowing loud raspberries every time she spoke.
The Lessons: Young Sirius was a dick. Pranks can be a form of civil disobedience.
Doctor Who, "Voyage of the Damned"
In "Voyage of the Damned," the upper-class snobs tell contest-winners Morvin and Foon that the formal dinner was a costume party instead. This does not please the Doctor, who uses his sonic screwdriver to pop the cork on a champagne bottle, spraying the snobs.
The Lesson: Being a dick to those "below" you will earn you a sonicing.
In this episode, the crew, minus Jayne and Simon, are exploring a wrecked ship. Early in the episode, Simon is reluctant to get into a space suit. After the crew learns that the ship doesn't need space suits because the air is breathable. When they find evidence of Reaver activity, Mal tells Jayne to join them, and Jayne tells Simon to come with him and to bring a suit. When Simon get to the wreck, Mal says, "Hi... What are you doing here and what's with the suit?" That's when Jayne loses it.
The Lesson: Showing weakness is asking for it.
Star Wars Expanded Universe, Wraith Squadron
Let's end with the team that inspired this list: Wraith Squadron. Aaron Allston's run of X-Wing books featured some truly epic pranks. Wraith Squadron was a team of very capable, very creative people with less decorum than might be expected. A few anonymous pranks led Garik "Face" Loran, foreshadowing his later specialty in psychological warfare, to say, "Well, maybe the prankster will turn his attention to me. Won't that be fun? Won't that be fun? I'll destroy him psychologically. Put him in fear for his sanity. Cost him the will to live."
And when he was the next victim, he pretty much did just that. The prankster broke into Face's X-Wing and let loose a creepy crawly. Face a) created a fake encyclopedia entry for a similar looking creature that was deadly b) had speakers with the sounds of the creature put into the pranksters walls c) worked him up, cut the power, and had a mechanism hit him the face. The prankster fainted and woke up, raving, in the infirmary. After wandering the halls naked (nudity is running theme in Wraith Squadron.)
Then there was the throw-away joke about an Ewok pilot that turned into a wandering Ewok doll dressed in uniform. Which somehow became Wedge Antilles' voice being translated and transmitted into Ewok. And ended with Wedge having to pretend to be an Ewok pilot, so he flew with the doll on his lap.
That prank earned Wes Janson Wedge's greatest revenge. A series of set ups ended with Janson naked (see?), smeared in food, in the mess hall. He learned an important lesson, courtesy of Wedge: "Just remember that, when it comes to pranks, you have the necessary enthusiasm, you have the inventiveness, you have the experience. . . I have the resources."
The Lesson: Always make sure the person you're pranking isn't better at it than you.
Thanks to ncasolowork2 for the article idea!