Why April Fool’s Day Is No Laughing Matter

Here’s something that sounds like a joke but isn’t:

When is a joke not a joke?
When it’s an April fool.

I told you it wasn’t a joke. It’s not funny. But then again, neither is April Fool’s Day. You will detect a mild note of disapprobation in my tone here. I’m not a fan of April Fool’s Day, mainly because, as you have discovered, I’m boringly technical about comedy.

Practical jokes aren’t jokes. They are pranks. They are hoaxes. Not jokes. Here’s why:

If you read the first section of The Sacred Art of Joking, you’ll know why practical jokes are not really jokes. Jokes require shared information. But if you are being pranked, either by an individual or by a national newspaper, you don’t have all the information. If you’re being pranked by a schoolboy in a black-and-white Will Hay film, you don’t know he’s put a bucket of water above the door. You aren’t in on the joke. You are part of the joke. In fact, you are the joke.

The dynamic shifts when we scale this up to a full-blown hoax. This is the favoured April Fool gag of the moment. Newspapers, radio breakfast shows and large corporations love to tell a story that is on the edge of believability but is actually pure fiction. In 2017, Emirates airline announced its triple-decker plane, complete with swimming pool, games room and park. A year earlier, the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts tweeted that Texas would start to issue its own currency. In 2014, King’s College Choir in Cambridge announced that they were replacing boys singing soprano with older men using helium instead. They produced an amusing video illustrating this.

In these cases, an enormous bucket of water is being placed on a huge doorway in order to drench an entire nation. Only the perpetrator of the hoax has all the facts. The rest of us are not in on the joke. We are all the joke. Anyone who ‘falls for it’ is the joke. And rather than getting wet, you feel foolish. How is that a joyful comic experience? The hoax then is not a joke. It’s a prank.

This is why I’m not a fan of April Fool’s Day. Thank you for reading.

For more insights into comedy and how it so easily goes wrong, especially in the realm of religion, get hold of a copy of The Sacred Art of Joking, either directly from the author (UK Only) or via Amazon UK or Amazon US.

One Response to Why April Fool’s Day Is No Laughing Matter

  1. Lyndsey Simpson April 1, 2019 at 11:43 am #

    Yes James this is absolutely right. The test of April Fools’ day (I’ve already been ‘got’ this year) is if you’re a good sport or not, and can deal with humiliation without bothering too much.

    I like what you say, it makes sense. Also, since we had our first baby on April Fools’ day (and it certainly was an April Fool- on me, that is, won’t go into details…) we’ve never remembered it as a family ever since. Which makes us easy targets, I fear.

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