Why Your April Fools Post Isn’t Funny

Ah yes, April 1. The day I wipe all my news feeds and wait for April 2. “Why?” you ask. Here are the general problems with the posts I’ve seen so far this morning.

A corporate prank post announces a feature in a product that would actually solve a problem for people.

But ha ha, you’re kidding.

A corporate prank post announces a feature that wouldn’t solve a problem for anybody.

What made the early April 1 RFCs a little amusing was that they relied on deep insider knowledge of networking topics and were decent original parodies in their own right. Imitation might be the highest form of flattery, but you’re ripping them off, not imitating them. Please stop. Besides, very few joke RFCs nowadays are actually funny, mainly because there’s nothing original about them. Yet another protocol over an implausible overlay network? Side-splittingly hilarious![0][1]

A prank post announces something that is completely plausible, and really isn’t funny to most of the audience.

YouTube is shutting down? In the wake of Google killing other products we like and use that may seem plausible to many. The defensedistributed.com DOH/DHS takedown page is also plausible, if it is actually a joke. These types of “jokes” damage your reputation by getting people worked up over nothing. It’s also not funny to tell someone they’re fired, someone died, etc. That’s how you cause heart attacks.

A post shows a physical, in-real-life prank pulled on someone else which is dangerous, annoying, makes a giant mess, or is super unprofessional.

A few years ago I met a guy that was fired because someone pulled an April 1 “prank” on him. He gets a call on the way into the office from a vice president that’s out at a customer site trying to make a huge sale, they need some changes made to a demo system ASAP. No problem, he’s on his way anyhow. When he gets to the office he finds that someone had rearranged his cube, booby-trapped his PC physically and in software, disabled his desk phone, and then filled his cube with packing peanuts. He didn’t get the changes done in time to be shown to the customer. To be fair, all the rest of the team and their manager was fired shortly thereafter, and this is probably an extreme example, but still. I rely on my office to be reliable in the face of business needs, and when someone threatens that I have a problem with it because it usually isn’t their duff on the line. These sorts of things tend to escalate, too, from harmless to increasingly annoying, as people try to one-up each other. Many pranks are denial-of-service attacks, and I thought we didn’t like denial-of-service attacks. Right?

I might seem like a humorless bastard with this post, but I’ll say that I don’t actually like sterile & always-professional office environments. You spend a lot of time with the people you work with and if you can’t joke and have fun it makes for a real soul-sucking experience. It’s worth thinking about the unintended consequences of pranks, though. The best pranksters do things that are very easily recovered from and don’t endanger lives or careers. Most others would be better served by retelling a joke they heard, or passing along the occasional WTF-style URL. My coworkers and I have a non-work, invite-only email list for precisely that. After all, on the Internet the cliche holds: truth is often stranger than fiction.

In the social media world it’s worth thinking about whether you’d make it as a comedian or not before you post that “funny” stuff. Since the barrier to entry is really low social media doesn’t necessarily follow the P.T. Barnum “no such thing as bad publicity” rules, especially if you waste people’s time and energy reacting to something false. Just remember, we describe sour milk as “funny,” too.


[0] That’s sarcasm.

[1] It’s funny if it’s over an implausible physical medium, like Token Ring. ROFLMAU.[2]

[2] Just kidding, that’s wearing off for me, too.

3 thoughts on “Why Your April Fools Post Isn’t Funny”

  1. Strongly agree with this. The occasional post with actual humor value is acceptable (e.g. Google Nose).

    However – I have read no less than 7 posts this morning announcing products which SHOULD BE ANNOUNCED by vendors that have glaring holes in their lineups. It serves as a clear indication that:
    1) They aren’t going to announce it
    2) It’s so far beyond the realm of possibility that such a product would be built, we’re going to go ahead and laugh about it now

  2. The first thing I said on IRC today was “April 1, the day you realize most people really, really aren’t funny”. It’s not that I don’t have a sense of humor; I joke all the time (perhaps too much…). The problem is that April Fools jokes tend to be forced, which saps all the humor. No thanks.

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