On Tuesday, I played two April Fools jokes.
One of them almost got me in big trouble.
First, I emailed all my USC screenwriter friends with a bogus news article about our friend Victoria, whose father is a famous composer. I copied some graphics and a reporter’s name from Variety’s website to make it look authentic. This is what it said:
“Sound” Redo Trapps Strouses
FOX plans to update family classic with family creative team
By JOSEF ADALIAN
FOX has announced plans for a major reworking of film classic “The Sound of Music” to be authored by veteran Broaday tunemeister Charles Strouse (“Annie”, “Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge”) and his daughter, red-hot scribe Victoria Strouse, who just completed “Macabre” for Imagemovers, with Robert Zemeckis attached to helm. Following the success of Strouse Sr.’s recent TV adaptations of “Annie” and “Bye Bye Birdie”, the net approached him with the idea of revisiting a classic from its vault. He immediately thought of the Julie Andrews smash and brought his daughter on board to script.
Strouse Jr. won the net’s approval after she proposed transporting the tale of the crooning strudel brood to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the days prior to the U.S. invasion. “It just seemed very timely at this time,” Victoria said. “Iraqis live under oppression, just like the Nazis, and they have big families, too.” Charles plans to write all new songs for the film, with the exception of “Do-Re-Mi”, which will remain intact. “I just couldn’t see the movie without that song,” he said.
The flick is set to air in May 2004, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, fresh off her Oscar win for “Chicago”, is in talks to star opposite previously-announced Ted Danson and Markie Post, in the Baron and Countess roles, respectively. There’s a chance Victoria could take a role in the film as well, as her deal includes a screen test for the role of Liesl.
Additional Reporting by April Furst
(Sorry, I don’t know how to indent yet, so I bolded the article instead. I know that probably looks lousy.)
My friend Janice told me I went too far over the top, with the Iraq setting and ridiculously redundant quotes like “It just seemed very timely at this time.” She said if I had reeled it in a little, I may actually have gotten people to believe it.
Only they did believe it.
Of the nine people I sent it to, only two people knew it was a joke. Four others completely bought it. The rest didn’t respond, so I don’t know if they believed it or not.
I got a good laugh out of it — okay, I’m still laughing (see blog title — it’s true, I am!) — but in the end, it wasn’t a big deal. As Homer Simpson would say, it was the good kind of prank: “Nothing is hurt but feelings.”
Prank #2 almost got ugly.
April Fool’s day was also the day Drew and I were going to see American Idol.
Drew, who never watched or liked American Idol before he met me, had scored tickets to the live taping through a connection at FOX. He had little or no interest in going to this live taping, but he knew I would swallow a donkey for the chance to go. (See what I just did? Unable to come up with a cool, non-cliched way to express my excitement at going to see American Idol live, I simply made up a new catch phrase. “Swallow a donkey”. If you like it, spread it around.) Drew was doing something he didn’t want to do, entirely for my benefit.
Drew’s a nice guy.
And given that I took advantage of his kindness to play an April Fool’s joke on him, I, clearly, am not.
A little background: Drew works at MTV and has been developing a show with Paula Abdul. He’s had several meetings with her and knows her well. Due to a recent dispute with her, he was not her biggest fan, though they remained cordial on a business level.
Tuesday morning, Drew emailed me an article with the latest Idol bombshell: Corey Clark had been kicked off the show due to pending criminal charges. (That was my first hyperlink. I’m so proud.) So I copied the format of this article and made up my “prank” article. It read as follows (again, apologies for the boldface):
Ousted ‘Idol’ Fights Back – Alleges Affair With Host
Tues Apr 1, 1:06 PM ET
By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Disgraced “American Idol” contestant Corey Clark, who was kicked off the FOX-TV program after the network learned of his criminal rap sheet, has lashed out against the show, claiming producers are hiding the real reason for his expulsion. Clark claims that two months ago, during the show’s semifinal round in Glendale, California, host Paula Abdul “made advances of a sexual nature, after which we had sex”. The affair allegedly continued until last week, at which point Clark claims Abdul dumped him for another, unnamed contestant, who remains in the running for the show’s title.
Abdul’s affection for Clark’s talent is no secret. During his semi-final audition, Clark hopped down from the stage and serenaded Abdul with a sexy R&B ballad, after which Abdul fanned herself and remarked, “I’m hot! I think I’m in love!” On several occasions, Abdul has accepted male contestants’ requests for dates, and Clark claims the former pop princess isn’t kidding around when she claims to have crushes on the competitors. “She’s a predator,” he says. “She’s pushing 40, she’s lonely and she hasn’t had a hit in years. She’s doing the show for two reasons. To revive her career and to meet men. Period.”
Throughout their fling, Clark says Abdul lavished him with expensive gifts and gave him tips on his image, encouraging him to wear a sheer mesh shirt during last week’s show. “I didn’t want to wear that,” he says. “It was skanky.” He claims he was often absent from the Hollywood Hills mansion that houses the other contestants because he was at Abdul’s home with her and what he describes as “her ugly dogs”.
Clark, who is considering legal action against the show, is still hoping to be reinstated in the competition in time for tonight’s show. “She’s the one they should kick off, not me,” he says. “I feel used.”
Again, I felt this was sufficiently over-the-top that by the end, there would be no doubt it was a joke. I even included an in-joke about Paula’s dogs (Drew had told me about her favorite dog, Thumbelina, which always accompanied her to her meetings and is one of those foofy little things like the Osbournes have).
Maybe the problem is that Drew wanted to believe it a bit too much.
Now, the thought had entered my mind that Drew might know people who would not have a good sense of humor about an article like this, even when it was revealed to be a prank. After all, forwarding a legitimate news article is one thing; forwarding slander is another. But I thought my joke was sufficiently bogus that Drew would see right through it (it was, after all, April Fool’s Day — aren’t people supposed to be on guard?)
Instead, I got an email from Drew. “HOLY SHIT,” it said. Three times.
Sitting at my desk at work, I broke out laughing. I laughed even harder when I thought of how foolish Drew was going to feel when he realized the truth. Maybe I should keep the prank going all night, I thought. Maybe at the taping, I could get him to speculate on who he thought Corey was alluding to when he said Paula was having an affair with one of the other contestants. Maybe I could convince him that there was some obvious sexual tension between Paula and Rickey, or Paula and Clay. I fiendishly plotted Phase Two.
Then, Drew called me up in a panic.
When I didn’t pick up my work phone right away, he called my cell phone. His voice sounded grave and serious. “Tell me you didn’t just burn me with an April Fool’s joke,” he pleaded. I tried to play coy, but he wasn’t kidding around. “Tell me the truth,” he said.
I told him he had indeed been burned — to a crisp. He gasped and explained that he had forwarded my fake article to half his address book, including his boss and a girl at his office who feeds gossip to Page Six of the New York Post. Only after checking online for further news on the supposed scandal and coming up empty, did he realize he’d been had.
Now he was terrified.
And so was I. There was no telling whether Drew’s business contacts would have such a good sense of humor about the article, or whether they’d already forwarded it onward in a million different directions in cyberspace. We’ve all heard stories about internet hoaxes that get picked up by major news outlets and take in millions of trusting people — is this how they began? If the story somehow got back to Paula, there could be trouble. Drew could lose his job. I could lose my boyfriend.
A couple of hours went by. I heard nothing. I called Drew’s assistant to ask her if he was really in trouble. She laughed and put Drew on the phone. Thankfully, the damage control had been effective, if humiliating. Drew sent out a lot of explanatory emails and got a lot of shit from people for falling for such an obvious joke.
That night, after the taping, we said hello to Paula, and Drew introduced me to her. “It’s nice to meet you,” she said, as she gave me a big hug. Paula’s very friendly. Paula wears a lot of makeup. Then, as we were leaving, she waved to me and said, “Bye, Jimmy!” Paula has short-term memory issues.
The story never got out. Everything was fine. If I learned a lesson from my pranks, it was this: I have more credibility with people than I ever dreamed possible, or maybe people are just more gullible than I’d imagined. And that’s something I need to use to my advantage, definitely next April Fool’s Day, but possibly sooner. Bwa-ha-ha-ha!
I’ve been thinking about how easy it would’ve been for Drew to turn the joke around on me. After he cooled things down and made sure he was safe, he really could’ve sought revenge. He could’ve called me and told me the story was picked up by the Drudge Report, that he had lost his job over it, that it would be best if I left the country for a while. And knowing how nervous I was at the time, I probably would’ve fallen for it. I probably would’ve been terrified. If he’d thought to take advantage of the situation, Drew really could’ve screwed around with me.
But he didn’t.