Think of your favorite April Fools joke (AFJ). Why was it so delicious? What makes an elegant AFJ work? Maybe it’s because most people are caught up short by a surprise resulting from their own calendar ignorance, and some of the laugher is nervousness at their own oversight.
My father was an inveterate lover of AFJs and woke us all up at the crack of dawn shouting “The downtown water tower has burst and we have to leave ahead of the flood!” We all knew of this landmark but didn’t have the calculation ability to realize a few swimming pools worth of water a mile away posed no threat. Still, my mom bit, and that meant all 7 children fell for it too and with a lot of yelling and flapping pajamas we piled into the old station wagon. The same station wagon my father had pulled a distributor cap wire from so the car turned over and over without starting. Some kids were screaming by now and my Mom was pleading “What will we do? Climb trees?”. Dad really should have let her climb a tree and all six of us boys were part ape so it would have been fine with us. Instead, he just calmly asked her what the date was. She said in peaked slow motion “ A.p.r.i.l F.i.r.s.t! dammittohell!”. And she had the task of talking six hysterical boys back to earth and breakfast.
For some AFJs are just an excuse for cultivating a mischievous streak; an excuse to do something they want to do to someone else. A good example was early one April 1 morning, my wife insisted it was my turn to do the (pre-coffee) sunrise dog walk and poop pick up so she gave me a plastic bag to take with me. The joke was that it was an apple bag with hundreds of little hole-puncher perforations that made for a messy pickup ewwww . . . got me.
Some say the nut doesn’t fall far from the tree though so when my 7-year old daughter decided it was time to play a class action AFJ on my entire university building I went along for the ride. First she asked me to get some marijuana incense from the local head shop — OK, regular pot would have worked as well but this was before Canada legalized the stuff. At 9:00 AM on 1 April, she carefully lit and paraded the odiferous wand in front of the central air intake for the building. The whole building smelt of pot and heads were peeking over cubicles, strangers were smiling at each other in the elevator and the Department heads were strolling the halls wondering who was toking up.
But my 7-year old blondie hellion was not finished. She had brought a pair of scarlet red high heels and carefully positioned them in the first stall of the men’s washroom so they were visible under the stall’s walls. Every man that entered backed out, inspected the “Men’s Washroom” sign on the door before re-entering. To add to the sting, she posted small “April Fools!” above the urinals and in the adjacent stall. We stood in the hallway and observed in sweet hilarity.
With me bordering on meanness, I knew my fiancé was so so looking forward to the 1 April dance. However, when she walked in and saw me with crutches and an inflatable cast on my leg her face fell and she forced a sympathy tone. After explaining my biking injury and reaping her attention, I threw down the crutches and did a little jig to her unfolding incredulity, then curiosity, then “Oh shit!” realization that I was faking.
In 2016, early in the mainstreaming of sensitivities, one fellow writer almost got fired for his April Fools faux press release he circulated to his trail maintenance staff. He made it from an imaginary US Forest Service bureaucrat dubbed “Purdue” and it was written in government-speak on faux letterhead.
Paraphrased it said
“Therefore, today I am honored
to announce that the USDA Forest Service will study and designate up to
fifteen ‘transgender trails’ for the use of people who identify in that way.
Such trails shall be for the exclusive use of transgendered individuals who
can hike in safety, free from harassment, discrimination, or fear.”
Hikers using these trails will be required to don a lightweight bib marked
with a large, prominent “T” to signify they are eligible to use that
recreational resource. Bibs, which are reusable, will be provided free of
charge at the trailhead in a small weatherproof box.” . . .
Purdue’s office was unavailable for further comment as they were out of the office celebrating April Fool’s Day.
Whew! That seems so out of line today but when I first read its convincing tone and officiousness six years ago, I was a bit incredulous but didn’t think to question the veracity until the last line when the classic AFJ dawning caught me up short with “you got me!”.
Such late realizations and reversal of belief cause a nervous jolt to the system like shifting a moving car into Park. As philosopher Thomas Hobbes once said “Hell is the truth learnt too late”. Our momentary hell causes a little shock of relief at its resolution and that release from discomfort might be the source of hilarity and reprieve — possibly the highest calling of humor. The popular TV show “Just for laughs” filmed in Quebec is full of gags that for a short time prior to revelation, are at the expense of a trusting innocent passerby — and we laugh at and along with them once the gig is explained. It is their initial reaction that we can so relate to. I would love to see the out takes of “victims” who responded poorly too.
Clearly, AFJs are era- and context-dependent but while we are learning to keep them from being hurtful or malicious, I would hate to see AFJs disappear entirely. Isn’t there room in this world of crisis, angst, worry and oppression for humorous relief and laughing at our own gullibility and preconceptions?
Sure hope so!