Commentary

How to pull off the perfect prank

Originally Published: November 30, 2009
By Neil Janowitz | ESPN the Magazine

New York-based prank posse Improv Everywhere recently decided to reprise its Yankee Stadium "Rob!" mission at a recent New York Knicks game. (Click here to view the hilarious results.)

Realizing the wealth of knowledge that mischief maestro Charlie Todd and his group possess, I tagged along for a crash course in stuntery.

Do keep things simple
The stunt involved actor Rob Lathan making a food run, getting lost, and not hearing us yell for him. Success meant getting nearby fans to help us hail Rob. Failure meant having to watch a Knicks game for no reason.

Do smuggle smartly
Arenas have strict rules about the types of cameras allowed inside. If you're going to bring in primo recording gear, you'll need to be a crafty concealer. As photographer Katie Sokoler learned, putting a camera in a bag beneath women's undies and tampons will ward off the probing hands of squeamish security.

Don't spend too much on tickets
With 11 members of the cast and crew (Rob, five of his friends, and five lens folk) needing access to a recession-unfriendly Knicks game, the mission could have grown costly. Turns out all you need are a handful of specially priced $10 upper-level tickets to get you in, and then keen eyesight to get you down to empty seats closer to the action. If your team is 1-7, some will be available.

Try to sneak down to a section full of tweens, teens and Spanish exchange students
Their youthful and/or foreign exuberance will be as manifest as their skepticism isn't. In a pinch, a block of jolly drunks will suffice.

Do stay focused
All the planning in the world won't prepare you for the chaos caused by a Knicks halftime lead over the Hawks. Shake it off and stay the course.

Don't fret a late liftoff
Rob didn't embark until halfway through the third quarter, leading to some concern among Rob's friends about whether the mission would have time to unfold properly. But within three confused reappearances, neighbors were already biting -- and inside an arena, a little "Rob!" goes a long way. It helps if fans are eager for a distraction from the home team's hasty collapse.

Do suspend rationality
When they see you having trouble getting your lost friend's attention, surrounding fans will offer suggestions like: "Just go get him." Explain to them that this is impossible, then mumble and turn away when they ask why.

Don't overestimate the vigilance of ushers
All it took Rob to get wherever he wanted was a trayful of victuals, an orange Santa hat, and a vexed expression. Walk with intent and you'll find yourself within feet of the $3,004.50 floor seats in no time.

Don't pass up a T-shirt that happens to be shot at your feet as you wander around pretending to be lost just a couple dozen feet in front of hundreds of people yelling your name
Hey, swag is swag -- especially if it's your size.

Do, um, hurry
A prank that relies on crowd reaction isn't as effective if there's no crowd left. Be sure to wrap up while there's still a section full of people to come back to.

That said, don't make postgame plans
When the friend you deployed is the sole source of enjoyment for the majority of the spectators in your corner of the arena, he's going to be asked to pose for lots of photos. Allow him the time to oblige. The fans have earned it.

Neil Janowitz is a general editor for ESPN The Magazine.

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