The Museum's list of the Top 100 April Fool's Day jokes
celebrates the best of April 1st. But sometimes April 1st inspires attempts at humor that don't turn out so well. Some attempts are, in fact, truly awful.
Saddam Hussein and his sons may have been ruthless, power-hungry dictators, but that didn't stop them from trying to give the people of Iraq a good chuckle every April Fool's Day. On April 1, 1998 the Babil
newspaper, owned by Hussein's son Uday, informed its readers that President Clinton had decided to lift sanctions against Iraq, only to admit later that it was just joking. One can imagine the knee-slapping guffaws when readers realized how they'd been taken for a ride. The laughs continued in 1999 when Uday mischeviously announced that the monthly food rations would be supplemented to include bananas, Pepsi, and chocolate. Again, just a joke. At this point, the Husseins appear to have run out of material, because in 2000 they recycled the sanction-lifting gag, and in 2001 trotted out the ration-supplement crowd-pleaser one more time. The merciless quality with which the same joke was repeated year after year had an almost surreal quality to it. In fact, it almost makes one sympathize with Saudi Arabia's chief cleric, the Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Al al-Sheikh, who in 2001 decreed that the celebration of April Fool's Day should be banned altogether. It's not known if the Sheikh had his neighbor's hijinks in mind when he issued the ban.
Imagine reading that your husband or brother who has been held in a squalid Romanian prison for years is finally going to be released. You make the long journey to the prison and stand outside the prison gates, waiting desperately for the moment you'll be reunited with your loved one, only to hear... 'April Fools! No one's being released!' This experience happened to sixty people in April 2000 who read in the Opinia
newspaper that their loved ones were going to be released from the Baia Mare prison in Romania. They made the long journey to the prison, only to learn that the paper had played an April Fool's joke on them. The Opinia
later published an apology.
Glenn Howlett's colleagues at London city hall thought they had dreamed up a great gag. They sent him a memo informing him that the really big report he was working on was going to be due early, in just two weeks. The tip-off was that the memo was dated April 1st. Ha Ha. Except Howlett didn't realize it was a joke. He received the memo while on vacation and immediately cut his vacation short and phoned the office to tell everyone to start getting busy. But as he contemplated the new deadline he worked himself up into an increasing state of panic, until soon he began to experience heart palpitations. Finally he collapsed from the stress and had to take leave from work. As he was recovering he realized it just wasn't worth risking his health to finish the report, so he filed for early retirement. At which point someone told him the early deadline was just a joke. He responded by suing for damages. As a consequence of his lawsuit, city hall banned employees from pulling any more pranks.
The film National Lampoon's Vacation includes a scene in which Chevy Chase ties a dog to the bumper of his car, then forgets the dog is there and drives away. Inspired by this scene, Paul Goobie tied a dead chihuahua to the bumper of his co-worker's car. His co-worker, Kevin Meloy, got in the car and drove off, unaware that the chihuahua was there. Obviously passing motorists were horrified. But what made the situation even worse was that Meloy was deaf, so he couldn't hear the other motorists frantically honking at him. Happily he drove on for miles until finally someone was able to get his attention. Police charged Goobie with unlawful disposal of a dead animal.
Randy Wood's marriage was over, but apparently he was still a little bitter about the divorce. So he decided to play a prank on his ex-wife. He called her up and asked her to come over, telling her that he had something to show her. Obligingly she drove over, only to find him hanging by a noose from a tree in his front yard. Terrifed, she immediately dialed 911. Emergency services, including firefighters, policemen, and paramedics, soon showed up. But when they went to cut Wood down they discovered he wasn't dead. He wasn't even hurt. He had strung himself up as a prank to scare his ex-wife, using a lineman's harness similar to those used by utility crews. The authorities warned that he would face a fine of up to $1,000 and a year in jail for his prank.
Sitra Walker was an employee at a clothing store in Columbus, Ohio. She had only been working there for two weeks, but already she felt that she knew the manager well enough to joke around with him. So on April 1, 2003 she called him up at his home and told him that armed men were robbing the store. The manager immediately called the police, who promptly dispatched four cruisers. Minutes later Walker phoned the manager again and screamed 'April Fools'. Too late. When the police arrived moments later they weren't amused and charged her with inducing a panic. Walker's manager fired her.
In 1996 the Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported that the Russian parliament was debating whether to revive the Warsaw Pact. The startling report was immediately repeated by news agencies in the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, causing widespread panic. A few hours later Itar-Tass admitted that it had just been joking, and apologized for any confusion it might have caused.
In 1986 Israel Radio broadcast that Nabih Berri, leader of the Shi'ite Amal movement, had been assassinated. The news caused an immediate flare-up of tensions in the region. However, Israeli officials quickly denounced the report as a hoax. The false report was traced back to an army intelligence officer who had planted the news item in the broadcasts of the Israeli Army's intelligence monitoring unit, from which it had been picked up by Israel Radio. Apparently the officer had meant it as an April Fool's joke (because hey, nothing says funny like stirring up tension in the Middle-East). Israel's Defence Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, announced that the unnamed officer would be court-martialed. "Berri Berri funny," one foreign correspondent wryly commented.
In the category of 'really bad fake death reports' one must also note the time in 1998 when Boston DJ's Opie and Anthony announced that the mayor of Boston, Tom Menino, had died in a car crash. Because City Hall couldn't immediately reach the Mayor to confirm that he was actually alive, many believed the report, including members of the Mayor's family. The next day Opie and Anthony were suspended without pay.
In 1999 DJs at Oregon radio station KSJJ announced that the Ochoco dam had burst, threatening downstream areas with massive flooding. What made the warning believable was that hundreds of houses in these areas had been damaged the previous year when the Ochoco Creek had flooded, so terrified homeowners who heard the news quickly prepared to flee. Later the DJs informed their listeners that it was all a joke. They had just been 'having a little fun'. The homeowners were not amused.
In the same genre of non-funny disaster warnings, there's also WNOR's 1992 April 1st report in which it warned that a large build-up of methane gas was about to cause a fiery explosion at Mount Trashmore, a landfill near Virginia Beach. Residents were warned to evacuate the area, causing the local 911 to be flooded with calls. The DJs responsible for the prank were suspended without pay for two weeks.
On April 1, 2003, as thousands of American-led coalition troops stormed across Iraq, the Iraqi ambassador to Russia, Abbas Khalaf Kunfuth, held a press conference in Moscow. Many were expecting him to announce that Iraq conceded defeat. Instead Kunfuth chose this moment to hold a gag press conference. Holding up a piece of paper that he identified as a news flash from Reuters, he read aloud from it: "The Americans have accidentally fired a nuclear missile into British forces, killing seven." Immediately the room full of reporters went silent with shock. Then Kunfuth grinned and shouted 'April Fools!' Only a few days after this unexpected moment of levity, the Iraqi government completely collapsed.