One of the better April Fool’s Day pranks in recent memory happened right here in Michigan just a couple years ago. A group of seven students at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids decided to prank their economics professor. Turns out, the professor had a policy about cell phones in the classroom— if your phone rang during class, you had to answer the call on speaker phone in front of everybody.
Taylor Nefcy was a theater major at Aquinas, and she came up with the idea of using that rule to her advantage in creating a prank.
In a spur of the moment decision, she has a friend call her and pose as someone from a local pregnancy resource center. He tells her she has a positive pregnancy test result.
The professor feels badly. That’s when she reveals that it's an April Fool’s prank.
“We really didn’t plan anything. So that’s why it’s still kind of a surprise for us that it worked out,” Nefcy says. “We were able to take those improv instincts, those theater instincts and just go with the flow.”
They posted video of the prank online, and it blew up. Recently, the video passed 50 millions views on YouTube.
In thinking about April Fool’s Day— a day of pranks and jokes which is now engrained in American culture— we started wondering how the tradition began.
Alex Boese is the curator of The Museum of Hoaxes in San Diego. He says April Fool’s Day originated in the Netherlands around 1500 with a festival called Fool’s Errand Day.
“For various reasons, the festival quickly spread throughout all of Europe and became the April Fool’s Day that we know it as today,” he says.
Boese says one of the fascinating things about April Fool’s Day is the fact that it even exists today. Many early festivals from the middle ages are no longer observed in modern times.
“April Fool’s Day has appealed very much to particular groups in society at different times, and they’re responsible for kind of keeping it going,” says Boese.
Boese says a lot of people find the day obnoxious. But because small groups of people have continued to embrace it, the tradition endures.
“Back in the 19th century, it was really young children— small boys in particular— who embraced the day with a passion,” he says. “Then in the 20th century, it became reporters who kind of picked up the tradition."
Today, he says the April Fool's Day tradition continues on the web and in advertising.