An office that pranks together, stays together. Thanks to the Internet, you have an endless toolbox at your fingertips to pull off the perfect joke.
If you’re a newbie to the pranking world, don’t worry — I’ve been at this for years. (My prank at age 5 almost got my grandfather arrested.)
Since day one on the job, Mashable Video Production Manager Evan Engel has been pulling pranks on me. So when he was out of the office for two weeks, I went in for the emotional long con. Here’s what I learned.
Step 1: Do your research.
You already have a major advantage: You’re sitting at the computer. Stalk your prey online (not creepy when you’re in prank mode). For our stunt, we found out that Evan’s lifelong dream was to meet Star Wars’ Mark Hamill. He’s even expressed his love to him on Twitter.
Find out who your co-worker follows on Twitter. What brands does she like on Facebook? What articles is he sharing? You’ll find a pattern, and it will lead to great things. Hats off to those who pranked pre-Internet — they actually had to get to know people face-to-face. (Sounds awful.)
Step 2: Brainstorm realistic ideas.
If you watch this prank, that prank or — holy crap — this epic prank, you’ll come up with jokes too elaborate and impossible to pull. It’s a dark and disappointing place when you’re inadequate by the rest of the Internet’s standards (hi, trolls!).
Unless your office has a separate pranking budget (for the record, Mashable does not, but I think it would be an effective use of funding), you need to set realistic standards for the amount of time and money your prank will cost. The only cost for the Mark Hamill stunt was our time. However, we did spend about $20 on diversion tactics, but more about that later.
Step 3: Get everyone in on it.
Not just everyone in your office — get the whole Internet in on it. Reddit, for example, has an entire subreddit dedicated to pranking. Redditors love getting in on a good joke. And thanks to the web, big names are within your reach. Last year, we pranked another co-worker using Reddit and eventually got cofounder Alexis Ohanian in on it, too.
Exercise caution here. If your target is all over social media, you may spoil the surprise. Since some Mashable employees have tons of followers, we kept this prank inside the office to ensure the breadcrumb trail wouldn’t lead back to Evan.
Step 4: Have a dress rehearsal.
We made a huge mistake that could have ruined the joke. We sent out a fake email that made it seem like our entertainment reporter was crowdsourcing questions to ask Mark Hamill when he came to the office. We wanted Evan to think the email went to the whole company, so we BCC’d him and few others in on the joke. But (*face palm*) you can’t Reply All to BCC — something very basic we overlooked because we focused our attention elsewhere.
Luckily, we corrected this by sending out another email.
Moral of the story: A dry run will uncover tiny details that could spoil the whole prank.
Step 5: Create a red herring.
Evan and I prank each other a lot. So, he expected to return to something. The real Mark Hamill prank wouldn’t have been believable had it stood alone. He was on high alert. So, we pulled something way more obvious first — we wrapped his desk in aluminum foil and used 500 square feet of plastic wrap on his chair. That cost $20, but it was worth it.
Step 6: Don’t take it too far.
There is a fine line between the perfect prank and the prank that takes far too much time and draws attention to the fact you’re not doing actual work. Even the most laid-back of employers hate this. For example, we wanted to have everyone pose for original photos and Photoshop in Mark Hamill, requiring our busy photo editor’s time and skills. We got around this by claiming there was an embargo on the story and we weren’t allowed to take photos and share them on social.
However, since Evan is our video production manager, he would naturally expect his team to plan ahead and get an on-camera interview. We got around this by having our video producer send a complaint email to two other editors, claiming no one told her about Mark Hamill’s visit until the last minute. She claimed that she was on another shoot, and had therefore missed it.
Step 8: Remember that the reveal is everything.
What was I supposed to do? Turn to Evan in two days and just say, “Oh, by the way, Mark Hamill was never here.” No, it had to be bigger — like an article that will forever live on the web, even if there’s a zombie apocalypse.
— Mashable (@mashable) June 27, 2013
Every good prank has the perfect uncovering. And thanks to this beautiful thing called the Internet, your prank can also haunt the archives forever, inspiring other deviants around the world.
Just keep in mind that payback is a bitch, especially when in retaliation for a prank that targets one’s mental state. That’s why I’m buying a gas mask and relocating to an underground bunker in an undisclosed location.
(Oh hey, Evan, Mark Hamill was never here.)