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A prank call (also known as crank call and phony call) is a form of practical joke committed over the telephone. Prank phone calls began to gain an America-wide following over a period of many years, as they gradually became a staple of the obscure and amusing cassette tapes traded amongst musicians, sound engineers, and media traders beginning in the late 1970s. Among the most famous and earliest recorded prank calls are the Tube Bar prank calls tapes which centered around Louis "Red" Deutsch. Comedian Jerry Lewis was an incorrigible phone prankster, and recordings of his hijinks, dating from the 1960s and possibly earlier, still circulate throughout the country to this day.

Even very prominent people have fallen victim to prank callers, as for example Queen Elizabeth II, who was fooled by Canadian DJ Pierre Brassard posing as Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, asking her to record a speech in support of Canadian unity ahead of the 1995 Quebec referendum.[1] Two other particularly famous examples of prank calls were made by the Miami-based radio station Radio El Zol. In one, they telephoned Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and spoke to him, pretending to be Cuban president Fidel Castro.[2] They later reversed the prank, calling Castro and pretending to be Chávez. Castro began swearing at the pranksters live on air after they revealed themselves.[3] Radio El Zol was fined $4000 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the United States for the second prank.

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In popular culture

Prank calls are generally done for the amusement of the pranksters themselves. Many pranksters record the calls to share the joke with an audience. Some performers such as The Jerky Boys, Tom Mabe and Roy D. Mercer make a name for themselves producing albums of their recorded prank calls.

The television show Crank Yankers is a series of real-life prank calls made by celebrities and re-enacted on-screen by puppets for a humorous effect. Fonejacker, a show started on the 5th of April 2007 in the UK on E4, stars Kayvan Novak performing prank calls to the general public and being shown with animated pictures in a Monty Python style with their mouths moving and live recordings as the victim receives the call.

As a result of the popular show Crank Yankers. College students from Cal State Los Angeles and Cal State Fullerton created August 14th Southern California Prank Call Day. Every year hundreds of thousands of prank calls are made to have fun with friends, family, and strangers.

The internet radio station [wPCR] PrankCall Radio (www.prankcallradio.net) is said to be the oldest and largest web-site that records and broadcasts prank phone calls (sometimes live) on the internet. It was created by DJ FooDStamP (Brett Backman) in 1997 and since has completed over 180,000 prank phone calls and broadcasted them to nearly 5 million people worldwide as of Jan 1 2010.

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The Simpsons

During the early years of The Simpsons, a popular recurring gag involved Bart making prank calls to Moe's Tavern, inspired by the Tube Bar prank calls. The calls usually followed a set pattern: Bart would ask for a person, Moe would shout loudly for the person Bart asked for, and Moe would catch on only after the bar (usually) erupts in uproarious laughter, also threatening violent revenge upon catching the perpetrator ("Wait a minute... Listen you yellow bellied rat jackass, I ever find out who you are, I'll kill you!").

"People" for whom Bart have asked (excluding the last one) include:

  • I.P. Freely (I pee freely)[4]
  • Jacques Strappe (Jock strap)[5]
  • Ivanna Tinkle (I wanna tinkle)
  • Amanda Huggenkiss (A man to hug and kiss)
  • Hugh Jass (Huge Ass)
  • Al Koholic (Alcoholic)[6]
  • Mike Rotch (My Crotch)
  • Homer Sexual (Homosexual)
  • Seymour Butz (see more butts)
  • Bea O'Problem (B. O. Problem)
  • Oliver Clothesoff (all of her clothes off)
  • Ura Snotball (you're a snotball)(This one actually by Homer)
  • Heywood U. Cuddleme (hey would you cuddle me)

"Weird Al" Yankovic's parody song "Phony Calls" (a parody of "Waterfalls" by TLC) is entirely about the dangers of prank calls. It includes an audio clip from The Simpsons (from the "Mike Rotch" call).

Futurama

A prank call leads to Fry's delivery of a pizza to a cryogenic lab, which sets the whole series in motion. The name used is I.C. Wiener.[7] Fry also adopts a dog after receiving a prank call asking for a pizza to be delivered to a Seymour Asses ("see more asses"). Fry then names the dog Seymour following the prank call.

Degrassi: The Next Generation

In its first season, Jimmy Brooks and Spinner Mason make a prank call from Mr. Raditch's office to a Pizza Pizza store and place an order under Ms. Kwan's name. Earlier that day, Kwan had given both students a hard time about their behavior, and both wanted revenge. The following Monday, Ms. Kwan took a leave with absence due to the added stress of working overtime.

Sound Boards

Many prankers have created Shockwave Flash-based 'soundboards', featuring sound bites of dialogue from well-known television and movie personalities, such as Mr. Rogers, Judge Judith Sheindlin, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Dr. Phil, as well as fictional characters such as Homer Simpson, Darth Vader, Fred Fredburger, Hank Hill, and Stewie Griffin. They will call a business and see how whoever answers reacts to odd comments of a seemingly incoherent individual. In one notable example, a Howard Stern soundboard was used to make a prank call to Howard Stern himself during his show.

Literature

The plot of the thriller Out of the Dark by Ursula Curtiss revolves around prank calls made by a pair of teenagers. The novel was subsequently made into a movie starring Joan Crawford.

Prank calls are the subject of Jacob Appel's widely-anthologized essay, Phoning Home, in which a prank caller harasses a suburban family.[8]

On the internet

Ever since the opportunity has been available, there have been internet radio stations dedicated to prank calls. Most of them feature a so-called "rotation" of prank calls which is a constant broadcast of various prank calls submitted by the community, usually streamed from a SHOUTcast server host. Software such as Ventrilo has allowed prank calls to be carried out to a more private user-base, however, in real-time.

The internet has allowed many people to share their own personal prank calls and develop into communities. Prank calls can be carried out in many ways; live or pre-recorded. Sites such as Stickam and Ustream allow hosts to carry out prank calls live to thousands of listeners, who can also chat and discuss on-goings in real-time. The use of social networking and the popularity of user generated content also allows these prank calls to spread and popularity to grow.

Although prank call communities are still relatively small-scale compared to FM stations that feature live pranks, it is a growing community on the internet today and many new communities are developing.

Reaction videos and photo montages are also popular ways of sharing prank phone calls via video sharing websites such as YouTube.

Pranknet is an anonymous prank calling virtual community responsible for tens of thousands of dollars in damage to hotels and fast food restaurants. Posing as authority figures, such as fire alarm company representatives and hotel corporate managers, Pranknet participants called unsuspecting employees and customers in the United States via Skype and tricked them into damaging property, setting off fire sprinklers and other humiliating acts such as disrobing. They also post fraudulent ads on Craigslist, and then shout racial epithets and make violent threats of rape and murder against the people who call them to respond to the ads. Pranknet members listen in real-time and discuss the progress together in a private chat room. The group, who flaunted their anonymity, were outed during an investigation by The Smoking Gun.[9]

Reaction

Prank calls are now easily traced through Caller ID, so it is often asserted that prank calls since the 1990s have been harder to accomplish. However, most telephone companies permit callers to withhold the identifying information from calls using a vertical service code such as *57 call trace, *67 that blocks the caller's ID or *69 that gives the last phone number calling in unless it is blocked by *67 (141 in the UK). Callers can also call from payphones in order to hide their identity. Another increasingly popular option is to use some form of VOIP. With some VOIP services, the telephone number will simply not exist.

Legality

Prank calls range from annoying hang-ups to false calls to emergency services or bomb threats. Prank calls that waste the time of emergency services are a criminal offence in most countries and is considered telephone harassment in the US.

One such hoax call occurred in Perth, Australia, on New Year's Eve 2002, when a drunken teenager called the new anti-terrorist hotline to report a bomb threat against the New Year's Eve fireworks celebration.[10] The threat was taken seriously, and the celebrations were about to be cancelled when police discovered that no such threat existed. The teen was then arrested for the false report.

A decade-long series of prank calls against fast food personnel in the US ended in 2004 after the caller convinced the callees to arrest, strip search and sexually abuse a McDonalds employee in Mount Washington, Kentucky. The main suspect was acquitted in 2006.

Tension was also caused in December 2005, when a commercially operated radio station in Spain (COPE - owned by a series of institutions affiliated with the Catholic Church) played a prank on Bolivian president-elect Evo Morales. The hoaxer pretended to be Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, congratulating Morales on his election[11] and saying things like, "I imagine the only one not to have called you was George Bush. I've been here two years and he still hasn't called me".[12] The Bolivian government protested to Spain, and the real Zapatero called Morales and apologized. The Spanish government in turn summoned the papal nuncio in protest.

In the United States, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 makes some prank calls a felony with penalties of up to two years in prison, and possible fines (depending on severity). However, such penalties are rarely carried out.

Moreover, to make a prank call that falls afoul of the Telecommunications Act, 47 U.S.C. § 223(a)(1), the call must be done with the intent to "annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass". If the intent of the call is to amuse, confuse, or simply to engage the call's recipient, it would be possible to argue there is no violation of the Telecommunications Act.[citation needed]

See also

References

  1. ^ "Hoaxing: A national pastime". BBC News (BBC). 2000-01-2513:55 GMT. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/618065.stm. Retrieved 2007-09-15. "In 1995, Canadian DJ Pierre Brassard got through to Buckingham Palace pretending to be Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. He chatted to the Queen for 15 minutes on air - eliciting a promise that she would try to influence Quebec's referendum on proposals to break away from Canada - and she never realised it was a hoax." 
  2. ^ "Chavez falls for Castro hoax". BBC News (BBC). 2003-01-0802:57 GMT. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/2637395.stm. Retrieved 2007-09-15. "A radio station in the American state of Florida has played a practical joke on President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela with a hoax phone call he believed was from his friend and ally, the Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Two presenters at Radio El Zol, in Miami, called Mr. Chavez on a private line and used taped extracts of Mr Castro's voice to make him think it was the communist leader himself on the phone." 
  3. ^ http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/fidel/transcript.htm
  4. ^ Groening, Matt (1997). "Season 1 - Homer's Odyssey". in Ray Richmond, Antonia Coffman. The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family. HarperCollins. pp. 19. ISBN 0060952520. "Moe: Moe's Tavern. Bart: Is Mr. Freely there? Moe: Who? Bart: Freely. First Initials I.P. Moe: Hold on, I'll check. (calls out) Is I.P. Freely here? I.P. Freely?" 
  5. ^ Groening, Matt (1997). "Season 1 - Moaning Lisa". in Ray Richmond, Antonia Coffman. The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family.. HarperCollins. pp. 22. ISBN 0060952520. "Bart: Is Jacques there? Moe: Who? Bart: Jacques, Last name Strap. Moe: Hold on. (Calling out) Jacques Strap! Hey, guys, I'm looking for a Jacques Strap!" 
  6. ^ Groening, Matt (1997). "Season 1 - Some Enchanted Evening". in Ray Richmond, Antonia Coffman. The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family.. HarperCollins. pp. 30. ISBN 0060952520. "Bart: Hello, is Al there? Moe: Al? Bart: Yeah, Al. Last name, Koholic. Moe; Phone call for Al. Al Koholic. Is there an Al Koholic here?" 
  7. ^ Rich Moore (Director), Gregg Vanzo. (March 25 2003). Space Pilot 3000. [DVD]. 20th Century Fox. Event occurs at 01. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0584449/. "Hello! Pizza Delivery! For, uh "I.C. Weiner"" 
  8. ^ The Massachusetts Review, Volume 48, Number 1
  9. ^ http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2009/0803091pranknet1.html
  10. ^ "Perth, Australia bomb threat hoax". Archived from the original on 2007-05-04. http://web.archive.org/web/20070504182614/http://www.ag.gov.au/agd/WWW/attorneygeneralHome.nsf/Page/Media_Releases_2003_January_2003_WA_man_charged_over_hoax_hotline_call_(1_January_2003). 
  11. ^ Prank call to Evo Morales
  12. ^ Transcript of call (in Spanish)

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