April 1 isn’t just the day when media outlets across the land either prank their audiences or get pranked themselves — it’s the day when professional head-scratchers scratch their heads about the nature of comedy in the modern era. We’ve got a roundup of both for you and will add as the day goes on:
- Public Radio International’s “The Takeaway” led off this morning’s show with blockbuster news about the putative Democratic presidential nominee. From the broadcast:
Official papers seem to have been filed in Westchester County, New York family court. Someone named Hillary Rodham Clinton has filed for divorce from a William Jefferson Clinton. Now, whether or not this is the former First Lady and former Secretary of State and the former President of the United States has not been officially confirmed. There have been no statements yet from either camp.
- The Paris Review announced its new sister publication for children, insisting that even the world’s prepubescents live up to the editors’ reading comprehension standards. Articles include “Karl Ove Knausgaard Helps You Navigate the School Yard,” “Which John O’Hara Protagonist Will You Grow Up to Be?” and a new story from Brett Easton Ellis: “American Lunchroom.”
- The New York Observer fell for a gag by the marketing firm Boogie, which announced the introduction of “Chute,” a new app that will protect your smartphone’s screen from shattering, even after a fall from as high as 10 feet. Chute would use the phone’s accelerometer and gyroscope to detect when the phone was in free fall, then use the vibrate function to make sure the phone landed face up. Too good to be true, of course. But the editors wanted its readers to know that they weren’t complete suckers:
It’s worth noting that unlike several recent media stunts, this was not the product of overly credulous re-blogging. The Observer’s reporter contacted the company and interviewed its supposed founder, Daniel O’Connor, who either lied or “stayed in character,” but the net result is the same. We printed a story that turned out not to be true.
- The Washington Post decided to test its readers’ skepticism with a short quiz: Japanese invention, or something we just made up?
- Fortune Magazine has run a list of famous brands that fell victim to pranks by Internet mischief-makers. Victims include H&M (a new line of heavy metal-themed clothes featured phony band stickers, prompting a Finnish musician to create entire videos and occasionally neo-Nazi backstories for the nonexistent bands), Bic (someone posted to Reddit a fake customer service letter from the company, responding to someone who claimed his Bic pen would only draw penises), and Burger King (the company’s Twitter account was hacked and forced to tweet that McDonald’s had bought the company). Noting that Burger King had gained roughly 30,000 followers in the course of 24 hours, writer Colleen Kane claimed that there can be an upside to such elaborate jokes: “sometimes these hoaxes can result in an increase in social media followers, and if handled with finesse, they can elicit praise from the fickle denizens of the Internet.”
- At The Atlantic, writer Megan Garber made the case that the Internet has become so suffused with clever people constantly pulling clever stunts that what used to be the hallmark of a news outlet’s April Fools’ Day prank — telegraphing the gag, making sure that everyone knows it’s not serious and can good-naturedly chortle over it together — has been replaced with a smarter but more predatory kind of prank. “April Fool’s jokes are less funny than they used to be precisely because they are now less obviously jokes,” she wrote.
- And at Slate, Sharan Shetty wrote about how celebrity roasts have evolved from showbiz veterans drunkenly ribbing each other at the Friars Club into carefully scripted campaigns by the roastees to promote or rehabilitate their public image. With the help of Comedy Central, which produces and airs the roasts, celebrities in need of a public image makeover — think Charlie Sheen and Justin Bieber — actually organize and control the event, picking the roasters, declaring what sensitive incidents in their lives can’t be mentioned, and even picking the jokes that ultimately get on the air.
They’re publicity stunts masquerading as punch lines, and no celebrity—Charlie Sheen included—has come out of one looking worse in the public eye.