Thoughts by Richard Bleil
He was a Physician Assistant and professor at my first college. He was also a long-time Vikings fan. So much so that, during the season, he put an old, tattered Vikings flag on his very expensive car. One day, I saw the same kind of flag for sale for the Bengals. The top of the post had a little clip that was easy to remove, so, I bought the flag, and at work replaced his Vikings flag with the Bengals flag. As part of the joke, I hid the Vikings flag in the dean’s office (back when I had a cool dean). I was curious to see how long it would take him to notice it. As it turns out, he noticed it pretty much immediately, and found the flag I had hid in short order and switched it back. But I put the Vikings flag on the flag post that came with the Bengals flag, and some days later when I confessed, he said the only thing he could not figure out is how I broke into his locked car with the alarm system to switch the flag.
To this day, he believes I’m a master car thief.
I don’t mind practical jokes that are not meant to embarrass, hurt or otherwise humiliate others. It doesn’t really leave much, and there’s always the chance that the joke will backfire. I hired a young man as my student assistant in the lab a year before he took my chemistry course. He wanted to see if the subject interested him enough to enroll in the program, which eventually he did. Working together, we got to know each other pretty well in that first year. Being a middle-aged (then, anyway) single male professor, there was always one of two rumors about me floating around, neither of which were true. One of these rumors popped up a year later when, sitting in the lecture hall, one of his classmates asked this young man if I was gay. Knowing my sense of humor, he immediately responded “yes, he is.” The joke backfired though, because as soon as the rumor, once again, flared up that I am a homosexual, the immediate follow-up rumor was that he was my lover.
Honestly, I could have done better.
At my gun club, today, they should be drawing for a prize. It’s for a charity, a basketball league for people restricted to wheelchairs. I love the cause, and have purchased, quite literally, hundreds of dollars’ worth of tickets. I really don’t even care about the prize (although it’d be a cool addition to my gun collection), but I enjoy supporting the cause. I cannot imagine losing the use of my legs, so to support an athletic organization that empowers these heroes, yeah, I’m all for that. But, they said the drawing will be on April Fool’s Day.
I asked if it was just a joke.
Clearly, I have participated in a practical joke or two in my day, and I’ve been the target of many, but I try to avoid practical jokes that make people look bad or are hurtful or harmful. They’ve made entire movies about “jokes” intended to cause physical harm. I’ve never seen these as funny. I hate to say it, but the Three Stooges? How are those movies funny? Because they’re hurting each other? If I want to see a grown man slap another, I’ll watch the Oscars.
Speaking of, as tired as I am about that incident, it does provide an interesting example of what constitutes humor, and what simply does not. Making fun of somebody’s health or physical condition is both low class and low-hanging fruit. I cannot imagine a “professional” comedian stooping to such depths for a truly cheap laugh. He deserved to be slapped. But this kind of physical response is every bit as unacceptable as the jokes he was enduring targeting his wife.
If you decide to participate in antics today, please consider the potential consequences. Will your joke be emotionally or professionally painful to another? Then it’s not a joke, it’s just cruel. Could your joke result in injury? Then it’s not a joke, it’s reckless. Is your joke based on belittling another? Then it’s not a joke, it’s bullying.
Enjoy your April Fool’s Day, but let’s be smart about it. I think it’s fair to call “foul” on “practical jokes” that are hurtful. And, yes, that includes the entire genre of “jokes” intended to end with finger pointing and shouting “you look like such an idiot!”