A history of co-worker pranks

by 5 years ago

Prank image by Shutterstock

Pranks have long served as a way for people to break up the relentless death march known as work. And naturally, since people are both social creatures and tremendous assholes, these pranks usually come at the expense of their co-workers, including both their friends and Jerry from accounting who everyone hates.

These pranks have had a long and ridiculous history, having evolved over the years from simple one-off pranks to wild, destructive month-long displays of utter sociopathy. Yes, from the banal to the entertaining, from the harmless to the “oh shit, somebody call 911!” pranks have become a way of life. But if there’s one thing people love more than pranking each other, it’s telling everyone about it after.

And so here, today, inspired by the office shenanigans on TBS’s Men at Work (Wednesdays 10/9c), we bring you their stories in this history of co-worker pranks as told on the Internet.

The Harmless and Simple

Most pranks fall into this category. They’re quick, they’re easy and nobody gets hurt. Embarrassed? Sure, like in the following story, told by Ian S. Tucker to Grantland, in which an eager-to-please co-worker gets his dull, sweet stupidity taken advantage of:

“So one night I see this guy coming out of the walk-in cooler with a huge, black garbage bag full of air, taking it out the back door, and releasing the air into the parking lot. Then he’d walk back in, get more air, go back out, release, repeat. A couple of the other cooks had told him that the air in the walk-in was stale, and that it needed to be changed. This poor guy changed the walk-in air — one garbage bag at a time — for about 10 minutes until no one in the kitchen could hold it together anymore. It was great for us, of course, but completely humiliating for him. I felt just a little bad for him, actually, so after his shift, I treated him to a tall sippy cup of Guinness.”

Well, at least he got beer out of the whole deal. That helps with the embarrassment. Still, nobody was hurt, and while creative, it still lacks the evolutionary panache of something like the following…

The Harmless and Strange

While the harmless and simple might be good enough for your ordinary prankster, there are some who like to take their benign mischief to another level. These are artists, in it for the love of the game more than the immediate satisfaction of shaming a co-worker. Take this story, for instance, told on Retail Hell Underground by the mysterious Ilia:


LOL image by Shutterstock

“I took a sharpie and wrote “LOL” on a ton of sticky notes that I began to leave in various locations around the store, both conspicuous and inconspicuous, that I knew an employee was destined to find.

I left them in paper towel dispensers, under register trays, behind monitors, in cigarette cartons, in our paperwork envelopes, in safe drop envelopes, in a stack of bills, inside the receipt compartments of the gas pumps, underneath things, places on high — you name it.

One of my co-workers was a little annoyed with my prank, however, and even weeks later I would occasionally find a note from her to stop leaving LOL post-its everywhere. Nobody else seemed to mind though, and in fact were even more amused by the fact that so-and-so would get so flustered each time she discovered one.”

Ah yes, like the exquisite joy felt by the Chinese Water torturer. Of course, that sort of thing might be too small a scale for some people. They might need something like…

The Strange and The Showy

These are pranks for people who enjoy the thrill of the long-game, but also need the explosive pay-off when their co-worker realizes just what the hell is going on. Something like this, shared on cheezburger.com:

Something like that requires time, dedication, and soul-crushing boredom that can only be relieved by the payoff of seeing someone’s WTF face. For many, this level of achievement would be enough. But man is nothing if not a constantly evolving creature, and so he figured that maybe there was a quicker way to the glory of a co-worker’s panic and shame…

The Quick and Borderline Sociopathic

These are pranks that pack a little more punch to them. They can be well thought out or they can be quick and brutal. The best, however, combine both, like in this prank, shared with Gawker by a reader who goes by the name of GregIsNotAnAlien:

“I worked at a small law firm in the late 1980s. Just three attorneys, plus the son of one of them part-time while he was in law school. Me and my pranking cohorts were all women a couple years older than the son — let’s call him Mike. He was a sweet kid, but not the sharpest tool in the shed. Had his father not had a job to give him, I suspect he would have had some trouble getting a job. For April Fool’s one year, we decided to dummy up a paternity suit and serve it on Mike. We called his sister and got the name of a plausible ex-girlfriend. We found out from the courthouse which judges or city attorneys would issue such a complaint, and which of them would be out of the office on April 1. We got hold of official court stationery and created a legally accurate Summons/Complaint and Order to Show Cause and signed it in the name of the correct person. In those days, the court had official stamps where you could dial in a case number and stamp documents yourself. We picked a number that was currently unassigned and stamped the docs. Then — our masterstroke — we got one of the regular legal messengers to serve Mike in the lobby of the building. We had him going for most of the afternoon — he tried frantically to reach the ex-girlfriend, someone at the courthouse, anyone. It was only when his dad came in (he knew our plans) that the game was up — HE couldn’t keep a straight face.”

A quality prank to be sure, but at this point in the evolution of prankery, the love of the prank game has clearly given way to the love of seeing a dude shit his pants in terror. Of course, with that comes some drawbacks…


As the love of pranking gives way to just plain ol’ dickery, the pranks themselves sometimes become simpler while the reaction becomes less “Okay, you got me” and more “See you assholes in court!”, like in the following sad tale:


Kick me image by Shutterstock

“Intel workers secretly taped a “Kick Me” sign to the back of a co-worker as a prank, then kicked the confused man a number of times as employees at the Rio Rancho Intel plant laughed hysterically at the episode, according to a federal lawsuit.

The Intel employee, Harvey Palacio, said in the complaint recently filed in Albuquerque that once he suspected something was taped on his back during the August prank, he went to senior staffer Randy Lehman to ask if something was there.

‘Lehman said turn around and as Palacio did he saw and heard (another employee) yell out ‘Don’t read it, just do it’,” the lawsuit said.
Lehman then kicked Palacio three times in his buttocks, according [to] court documents.

Another employee, Chris Zeltinger, who the lawsuit said exchanged Christmas gifts with Palacio, kicked him twice as he was seeking help to remove the sign.

“Palacio decided that this could not continue and walked back in front of the group to ask someone else to remove it,” the lawsuit said. “Palacio felt demoralized and assaulted and he began to cry during the drive home. He could not tell his wife because he was so embarrassed and ashamed.’”

Naturally, the best way to deal with that kind of embarrassment is to file a federal lawsuit so that everyone knows you cried in the car on the way home like a hormonal teenage girl after Hot Topic closed early. Clearly, pranks can backfire, but usually they don’t end in court. No, sometimes they start there:

The Stupid and Illegal

Look, pranking your co-workers is fine, but anytime the law gets involved, you know you’ve gone too far. You really know you’ve gone too far – and you’re a goddamn idiot – when you involve the law right from the start, as in this ridiculous case:


Guest check image by Shutterstock

“A 41-year-old Casa Grande man told sheriff’s deputies that he went to his truck while on a break from grand jury proceedings and found a threatening note. The note was written on a guest check commonly used by restaurants and read, in part, “You better not find my dad guilty! I followed you home last Wednesday I know where you live!”

Grand jury proceedings were interrupted as detectives began to investigate this case.

Detectives went to restaurants to track down where the check came from and spoke to a waitress at L & B restaurant in Florence. She was shown the note and said she found one similar to it written on a check by the cash register when she came in to work. She told detectives another waitress was on duty at the time and the note for the foreman appeared to be written in her handwriting.

Detectives then spoke with that waitress. She told them that two men came into the restaurant and asked for something to write on because they were going to play a joke on a co-worker. One of the men wrote the note and then asked her to rewrite it so their friend wouldn’t recognize the handwriting.

She told the men it was a bad idea, but they convinced her to write the note by saying they would tell their friend the following day at work, according to sheriff’s office spokesman Tim Gaffney.”

When even random waitresses are telling you that you’re a fool, you should probably dial your prank back a notch or eight. Nobody needs to go to jail just to get some laughs in at the expense of a co-worker. Besides, at that point, you’re not even doing anything funny. You’re just being a dick. Still, there’s being a dick, and then there’s this:

The Illegal and Horrifying

At some point in the evolution of pranking, it stops being about the pranks altogether and just becomes about your own horrific depravity. Take for example this horrific “prank”, told by a sheriff:

“A North Lauderdale man played a cruel April Fool’s joke on a co-worker Thursday when he tied a dead dog to the back of the man’s truck.

When Kevin Meloy, of Pompano Beach, left work about 6 p.m. on April 1st, he was unaware that another employee had tied a lifeless Chihuahua to the bumper of his pick-up truck. As Meloy pulled out of the parking lot and headed home, those who saw the dog being dragged behind the truck tried to stop him. Meloy is deaf and did not hear the people trying desperately to get him to stop.

After about two miles a motorist got Meloy’s attention, and he pulled over near Sample Road and Powerline Road. Disturbed by what he saw, Meloy put the dog in the truck and returned to work. Before Meloy got back to the asphalt company, a Broward Sheriff’s deputy who had been alerted to the incident from 911 calls, stopped him.

BSO Pompano Beach detectives were able to determine that one of Meloy’s co-workers tied the dog to the truck as a practical joke. Following the incident, Paul Goobie told another employee he was driving and found the dead dog in the street. Goobie said he took the dog back to work and decided to dispose of the animal by tying one end of a rope to the dog’s neck and the other end to the bumper of Meloy’s pick-up truck. Goobie said he got the idea from a scene in National Lampoon’s Summer Vacation. In the movie a scene depicts the Griswold’s family dog being dragged by the unsuspecting father, who is portrayed by actor Chevy Chase.”

Just… Jesus Christ. Look, when your prank is being recounted by a sheriff’s department, you know you’ve taken things waaay too far. Naturally, this happened in Florida, where even the pranking is on bath salts. Still, somehow, the pranking world still had unexplored horizons beyond dead dogs and Chevy Chase:

Severe Injury Pranks

As with all things in the human experience, it was inevitable that prankery would evolve into something more akin with a brutal assault. Sure, man likes to laugh as his fellow human being ends up with a desk full of grass or panics because he thinks he knocked up some chick, but in the end, man is a more primal creature and he can’t be truly satisfied until his bros are writhing in pain, engulfed in flames like in the following tale of pranking gone awry:


Man on fire image by Shutterstock

“A prank gone horribly wrong left Gianni Catanzaro with legs so badly burned he needed skin grafts.

On the eve of his wedding, the concreter was grabbed by two co-workers and hit in his groin and his hands and had his legs bound with duct tape.

His supervisor, Leonardo Zaccardelli then cut his clothes off with a knife, leaving him in his underwear while eggs were pelted at him.

The “egging” was where it was supposed to end, but Zaccardelli decided to slug him with a final indignity, pouring an arc of petrol around his feet and lighting it.

With the flames lapping at his knees and the wind blowing the flames toward him, a bound Mr. Catanzaro struggled to move away from the flames. But he fell towards the fire, burning his legs.”

Of course, setting people on fire has its consequences, and as with all things, there is a yin to this prankish yang:

Severe Injury Pranks – For the Pranker

Sometimes pranks get so out of hand that eventually the pranker himself ends up eating the proverbial shit sandwich. It’s at this point that you should probably realize that you have played the pranking game long after the stadium lights shut off and that security guard in your head told you it was time to head home, champ. These are the pranks that end up like this:

“Police say a man stabbed a co-worker who confronted him about placing motor oil on his peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Fountain County Sheriff Robert Bass says 22-year-old Jeremy Gordon was stabbed twice in the lower leg by 27-year-old Bradley McManomy during a confrontation Tuesday in a bathroom of the Fountain Foundry Corporation in Veedersburg, where they both work.

Bass says Gordon thought McManomy had put the oil on his sandwich, but it was someone else.

McManomy was arrested on suspicion of battery with a deadly weapon. Gordon was treated at a hospital and released.

Bass says charges may also be filed against Gordon for starting the fight.

The sheriff says it’s an example of how a practical joke can turn bad.”

Indeed. And again, it’s always a bad sign when your prank is being recounted by the cops. Of course, the workplace prank’s natural evolution inevitably brings it to the same place as everything else in this world:


What starts out as harmless post-it notes eventually ends with a dude running amok with a gun, because that’s just what happens in America. One simple prank begets another simple prank which begets a slightly more complex prank and so on and so on until you’ve got dead dogs and Chevy Chase involved, or this:

“A bouncer at a Florida nightclub shot and killed three other bouncers early Sunday morning after being humiliated by a video prank.

Andrew Joseph Lobban, 31, was held without bond on three felony counts of first-degree murder after he admitted having shot the three men shortly after midnight at AJ’s Bar, part of the Ocala Entertainment Complex in Ocala, about 50 miles south of Gainesville, authorities said. He was arrested about noon at his girlfriend’s residence.

All of the victims worked with Lobban as bouncers at the complex. One died at the scene; the two others died at the hospital.

According to an Ocala police statement, Lobban said he shot the men — identified as Benjamin Larz Howard, 23; Jerry Lamar Bynes Jr., 20; and Josue Santiago, 25 — because they were laughing and teasing him over an embarrassing video of Lobban that one of the victims had recorded and shared with the others.”

Yet again, Florida, ladies and gentlemen.

As you can see, the pranking game has had a long and sordid history, and we’re just glad that the internet exists so we could compile all these ridiculous stories in one grand compendium. Maybe our grandchildren will read this one day and realize that there’s a better way to deal with workplace doldrums. Or, more likely, they’ll see this and realize they need to step their pranking game up. After all, we’re all about helping the children here, especially if it involves one of them getting laughed at by his friends after a hilarious, hilarious prank.

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