Thursday, April 1, 2010

The three keys to a successful April Fools joke

This morning when I turned on the computer, Google had changed it's logo to "Topeka" -- and had a little subhead: "Not in Kansas: Learn about our new name."

I'm going to make a wild guess that this is Google's little attempt at an April Fool's joke.

Likewise, when I signed in to gmail, the homepage for gmail had a noticible dearth of vowels. ("Learn about our vowel outage" it says at the bottom.)


Perhaps I was prepared for this because last year (or maybe it was two years ago) Google made a similarly lame attempt at an April Fool's joke when they advertised some sort of gimmicky snail mail alternative to gmail. It was pretty obvious then -- it's pretty obvious now.

I'm not the biggest proponent of practical jokes -- but I did successfully play one on my dad last year. And it was a fairly good one.

At the time my landlord had asked me whether I was renewing my lease -- with no rent increase -- and I had only a week or two to give him an answer. I had been unsure whether to stay (rents were falling all over the city) and was still undecided on April 1.

"Hey! I figured out my living situation for next year," I told my father. "I'm moving in with the schlubette."

At the time, my ex- and I had been dating for about six or seven months. And she had just gotten in to law school, which would mean that she would probably be hoping for more meager (read: cheap) accommodations. Moving in with me would solve that.

"What?!" my father said. "Wait a minute, wait a minute... really?"

"Sure, why not? Solves all of our problems."

"I have to think about this, Max," Grosspere said.

Not that he didn't like the schlubette. On the contrary, he probably liked her more than almost every other girl I had brought home. But it was a definite shock to the system.

When he was dehoaxed (a few minutes later) he was grudgingly impressed with my ability to put one over on him. (My father has an unreal bullshit detector.) And I think the reason this April Fools joke was successful was because of three things.

1) It successfully diverted attention from the day itself.

Most people will be a little on guard when they hear something outlandish today. If you get a hysterical phone call from a cousin saying that he won the lottery, you would probably be well advised to hang up on him.

But the fact that I approached something that was already an issue and came up with a plausible scenario for that issue caught him off guard.

2) It was a gentle joke -- but not too gentle.

If you have news that's too good or too bad, you will always wind up hurting someone who believes you. This news wasn't bad or good. I wasn't getting married, I hadn't gotten some poor girl "with child" and I didn't have something terminal. I was doing something that wouldn't have the greatest of consequences if it turned out badly -- but did have some consequences.

I doubt very much that I would have fooled him if I had come up with any of those other things. I'm sure his b.s. detector would have been flashing red if he heard, "The schlubette and I flew to Vegas last night and tied the knot."

3) The "Hey!" put me over the top.

It was a little like it had just occurred to me to tell him. Not that I was planning some kind of strategic strike. Any successful April Fool's joke has to take its victim down a couple of blind alleys or garden paths before they're distracted enough to fall for it.

All Google has going for it is the fact that this is pretty harmless. And lame.