In an effort to promote his excellent book Prank the Monkey, author John Hargrave of the humor site ZUG attempted to pull off a nigh-impossible prank at the Super Bowl. The plan: sneak in over 2,000 lights to spell out a secret message during Prince’s halftime show. His account of the Super Stunt is impressive, full of details of how he and his confederates manage to work under the noses of security and avoid detection and, quite possibly, jail time. The logistics, material and planning required $40,000 of Hargrave’s own money to even get a shot at pulling it off.
So why didn’t you ever heard about it?
Because ultimately, despite circumventing security and distributing their lights to the audience, the message wasn’t legible. Attendees appear to have just grabbed a light rather than one meant for their particular seat. It’s a heartbreaking end to something that would have been a rousing achievement.
Hargrave seems to muddy the issue, describing it as a code that would lead people on a chase to find out a message (which turned out to be zug.com, probably what it was supposed to be in the first place). But who would know there was a message in the first place in all that mess, save for ZUG visitors? Spending 40 grand to reach his own captive audience for a scavenger hunt would be insane.
Some of his readers have said that it would be more interesting to have John come clean about the failure of the prank and his feelings behind it. Talk about the experience of executing something perfectly, only to have it go wrong because of a human factor outside of your control. I’m inclined to agree. It’s epic stuff - the ultimate cosmic joke played on a genius prankster. There’s nothing wrong with making a lemon into lemonade for his readership, but when he talks about a movie being made of the prank, this is the twist at the end that would make a brilliant film. (To be fair, he flirts with this idea when he talks in the end about how risk is essential in life.)
It doesn’t help that John has a video that postures that the media is trying to cover up the success of his prank. If there’s no unexpected message there’s no proof that he did it. In the eyes of the media, almost doesn’t count in pranking. In the parallel he makes the terrorism, almost does count. The media loves fear, but the anticipation of joy? They don’t know what to do with that.
That said, Hargrave has pulled off some incredibly wonderful pranks, including one where he signs his credit card purchases with scribbles, cartoons and “I stole this card” in an attempt to see if anyone would actually call him on it. I think about it whenever I’m signing for something. It’s worth picking up Prank the Monkey, even if his “super stunt” to promote it didn’t pay off.