15 April Fool’s Pranks That Went Terribly Wrong

These are the all-time April Fool's Day backfires.

15 April Fool’s Pranks That Went Terribly Wrong

These are the all-time April Fool's Day backfires.

Nobody plans an April Fools’ Day joke and thinks, “I sure hope this goes horribly wrong.” Every prank starts with the best of intentions, with hopes that it’ll lead to hilarious confusion and, in the end, wild and appreciative laughter. It’s April Fools’ Day, not April This Is Going To Haunt You For the Rest of Your Life Day. But sometimes things don’t go according to plan. And sometimes it goes even worse than that, ending in police sirens, tears, and possibly a felony conviction.

As a warning to all you ambitious April Foolers out there, here are 15 examples of how this national holiday for humor can turn ugly. Consider them your canary in a coal mine, a warning to really think things through before trying to pull off an elaborate ruse this year. As that old saying goes, “It’s only funny until someone dials 911.” And for much better—and more harmless—ways to make your friends, family, and colleagues laugh, try one of these 50 Knock Knock Jokes Guaranteed to Crack You Up.

taco bell sign

1
The Liberty Bell… Brought to You By Taco Bell

Taco Bell stunned the nation in 1996 when they published full-page ads in several major newspapers, announcing that they had bought the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and were renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. The fast food franchise had obviously done nothing of the kind—if you’re not already aware, America’s most historic symbols aren’t for sale—but at the time, there was serious outrage about how this could’ve happened.

Even politicians like Senators Bill Bradley and James Exon called the National Park Service to find out why this priceless Revolutionary War-era antique had been sold to a place that sells Gorditas. If only the Taco Bell executives had remembered to shout, “April Fools!” And if you’re jonesin’ for some Taco Bell, allow us to direct you to a much better alternative: This Healthy, Easy Taco Salad.

franklin institute

2
The End Is Near

When the renowned Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia makes a cataclysmic prediction, it makes sense to treat it seriously. Which is exactly what local media did when William Castellini, a museum spokesperson, delivered this scary press release in 1940: “Your worst fears that the world will end are confirmed by astronomers of Franklin Institute, Philadelphia. Scientists predict that the world will end at 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time tomorrow. This is no April Fools’ joke.”

You gotta hand it to the scientists, they even thought to include an April Fools’ disclaimer. Well, spoiler alert, none of it was true, it was just a promotion for an upcoming planetarium show on cosmic apocalypses, but it did cause a mild panic in Philadelphia, and Castellini was fired for the incident. And for more from those wacky scientists, check out the 30 Craziest Predictions About the Future Experts Say Are Going to Happen. 

water with lime

3
Don’t Drink the Water

It certainly sounded ominous when Kansas City DJs Johnny Dare and Murphy Wells warned audiences in 2002 that their drinking water had been tested for high levels of “dihydrogen monoxide.” Well, turns out that dihydrogen monoxide is the chemical term for H2O, so technically what they said wasn’t a lie.

More than 150 of their listeners called the water department to complain, causing one water official to describe the prank as a “terrorist act.” As Scooby Doo might say, “Ruh-roh.” And for more dishonest fun, here are the 40 Lies Kids Say That Parents Always Fall For. great blue hill

4
The Volcano’s Gonna Blow!

The last time the Great Blue Hill in Milton, Massachusetts, could be described as an actual volcano was about 600 million years ago. Today, like the name implies, it’s just a hill. But when WNAC-TV, a local Boston station, aired a report on April 1, 1980, warning that the hill had become volcanic, a lot of people freaked out.

To be fair, the news station included some frightening footage of hot lava, and there was no way viewers could’ve known it was just stock footage. Unless they stopped to think, “Wait a minute, a hill isn’t capable of spewing lava, is it?” The news segment also included a card at the end that read “April Fool,” which might’ve been a hint that the whole thing was fake. Anyway, the story caused a panic, the police received numerous calls, and the producer responsible for the “story” was canned.

Alcatraz Prison Unsolved Mysteries

5
Vote to Release Your Favorite Criminal

The Manchester Police Department in the U.K. was just having a laugh in 2015 when they tweeted this not so funny offer: “Know someone in prison? You can get them released early by voting for them on here. The prisoners with the most votes also wins a holiday.” That didn’t go over so well with some of the parents whose children had been murdered by prisoners incarcerated in Manchester. One grieving father even called it “a slap in the face.”

Google headquarters

6
Google’s Mic Drop

Google thought they were adding a fun April Fool’s feature to Gmail in 2016, a “Mic Drop” button that let users insert an animated GIF of a Minion (from the movie Despicable Me) dropping a microphone to the end of any email. What’s more, after using the Mic Drop feature, it would immediately disable the email chain, because duh, you dropped the mic and there’s nothing more to say.

Unfortunately, the Mic Drop button was right next to the send button, and not everybody could tell the difference. Some people sent Mic Drops to future employers, or to family members informing them of personal tragedy. It was an epic disaster, and as Google admitted in a statement, “Well, it looks like we pranked ourselves this year.” And for more on the dishonest things we do, don’t miss these 40 Lies Everyone Tells on a Daily Basis. 

noose

7
The Ol’ Suicide Gag

Nothing says “gotcha” like a faux suicide. Randy Wood from New York state thought he’d have some fun with his ex-wife in 2004 when he staged an elaborate front yard tableaux where it would appear that he was hanging from a noose when, in actuality, he was safely attached to a harness.

No harm, not foul, right?

Well, shockingly enough, it turns out his ex-wife didn’t immediately think “Oh wait, isn’t it April First? Maybe I’m being fooled.” She did what any reasonable person would do, she called 911, who sent over ambulances and fire trucks and police cars. Randy’s prank was discovered, and he ended the night in a jail cell. And for more crazy facts, here are the 30 Craziest Corporate Policies Employees Must Follow. 

drunk driver about to get dui

8
The Lighter Side of Drunk Driving

You know what’s hilarious about driving while intoxicated? Absolutely nothing. But that didn’t stop the Seattle Seahawks’ Bruce Irvin from trying anyway, tweeting in 2015 that he had been busted for a DUI.

“I will do everything to get ur trust back and will become a better person after this,” he wrote, only to tweet again later with, “Haha April fools!!!”

People were understandably upset, and then Irvin got upset that they missed his (not at all obvious) joke. “Relax,” he scolded them, before finally “banning myself from Twitter the rest of day.” As CBS Sports noted, “Jokes are great. Not being too serious about life is also great. But not having any situational awareness is a bad thing.” Oh, and speaking of the Seahawks? They definitely have one of the 30 Ugliest Uniforms Every Designed. 

pregnant women

9
Fake Pregnancy

Twenty-five year old Brandon Griffin was on a skiing vacation with his parents in 2012 when he decided to break the news to them: His girlfriend was pregnant, and they had decided to keep the baby. He broke down into tears as his mother comforted him, assuring Brandon that they’d always be there for him.

But then he revealed the truth, it was just an April Fools’ gag, and his parents responded like any loving, compassionate caregivers would, by screaming “beat him up” and then slapping him senseless. The video went viral, with two million views on YouTube and counting.

alien abduction

10
The Aliens Are Coming!

Al-Jafr, a small city in Jordan, isn’t used to a lot of foreign visitors, let alone interplanetary ones. When the Al Ghad newspaper reported in 2010 that an alien spacecraft had landed near them, they took it as legitimate news.

“Students didn’t go to school, their parents were frightened and I almost evacuated the town’s 13,000 residents,” the mayor explained. “People were scared that aliens would attack them.” An editor for the paper insisted that their intention was “to entertain, not scare people.” Mission not accomplished!

crime scene

11
Sisters Help Sisters Bury Their Husbands

It’s easy to say in hindsight that when Tennessee resident Susan Tammy Hudson called her sister in 2013 and said, “I shot my husband, I’m cleaning up the mess, let’s go bury him in Blackwater,” it was probably an April Fools’ joke. And not just because she made the call on April 1st. It just sounds like a suspicious request. But Hudson’s sister wasn’t so sure—apparently she’d hear rumors of marital trouble—and when she called the rest of the family to tell them what Hudson had confessed, somebody decided they couldn’t let a relative get away with murder.

A squad car showed up at Hudson’s home, and after her husband revealed himself to be entirely un-murdered, no charges were pressed, although Hudson did get to enjoy some time in the back of a police car, to ponder how maybe her next April Fools’ prank wouldn’t involve burying dead husbands.

Hooters

12
The Waitress Was Promised a Car, So She Gets a Car

Jodee Berry, a 27-year-old Hooters server in Florida, had every reason to believe she’d won a car in 2001. The restaurant owners held a contest for their staff, offering a new Toyota automobile to the server who sold the most beer. But when the moment of truth came for Berry, and she was blindfolded and taken to a parking lot to receive her prize, she was actually given… a Yoda doll. (Get it? Toyota. Toy Yoda. It’s funny cause they kinda sound alike.)

The whole contest was supposed to be an April Fools joke, but Berry was not amused. (Hey, you try driving a Yoda doll to work.) She hired a lawyer and successfully sued the restaurant for damages. All she wanted, her lawyer explained, was enough money so she could “pick out whatever type of Toyota she wants.” And that’s exactly what she got.

dj radio station

13
The Mayor Is Dead!

Greg “Opie” Hughes and Anthony Cumia, two Boston radio shock jocks—what is it with DJs and April Fools’ Day pranks gone wrong?—ruined 1998 for a lot of listeners when they announced that Boston Mayor Thomas Menino had died in a head-on collision with another car.

The story spread quickly, and didn’t end until the mayor, who was on a plane during the broadcast, heard about it after landing. “I got off the plane,” Menino told a local paper, “and my driver said, ‘You’re dead.’” Opie and Anthony were fired, but the pair soon found work in New York, and went on to long careers in radio. Menino died for real in 2014, for causes unrelated to April Fools or snickering radio DJs.

titanic sketch

14
Titanic Disaster: Part II

When a DJ in the British seaside town of Brighton announced that a replica of the doomed Titanic ship would be sailing along the Sussex Coast and visible from the cliffs at Beachy Head, thousands of his listeners flocked to the area, some from as far as 40 miles away, to witness a piece of history.

Unfortunately, the ship wasn’t coming—it was all a big April Fool’s prank by the DJ—and all those extra bodies caused a five-foot crack to form on the cliff, leading to a genuine panic among the already disappointed and now terrified crowd. Nobody died, but a spokesperson for the Coast Guard claimed the gag “put the public at risk.” The DJ apologized later, saying it was “just a bit of fun.”

radio towers

15
The Pseudo-Assassination

You know it’s a funny April Fool’s Joke if it sparks an international incident. Oh wait, no, we mean the opposite.

In 1986, an Israeli intelligence office spread a rumor to Israel’s state-run radio that Lebanese Shia Muslim leader Nabih Berri was seriously wounded in an attempted assassination. Well wouldn’t you know it, the report spread to Lebanese radio stations, and it made the already tense relations between the two nations even worse. Apologies were made and the doofus who spread the rumor (who was never identified) was threatened with a court-martial.

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