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13 April Fools Pranks That Went Horribly Wrong

An April Fools' prank is always hilarious...that is, until things go terribly, terribly, wrong. Here are the worst April Fools' Day pranks of all time.

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The very first April Fools’ Day

There are many theories as to the origins of April Fools’ Day, but some historians believe the day originated in 1582 when France switched over to the Gregorian calendar, which changed New Year’s Day from April 1 to January 1. Back in those days, the news took a little longer to reach everyone, and those who were a bit slow on the uptake (celebrating New Year’s Day on April 1, for example) became the butt of pranks, including having paper fish glued onto their backs—because fish are easy to catch. People still refer to easily fooled people as “fish” to this day. They would call them “gullible,” except—ahem—that word isn’t in the dictionary. Fish may be easy to prank, but no one will see these jokes coming: here are the 40 funniest April Fools’ pranks to pull this year.

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I swear I’m not dead

In 1708, Gulliver’s Travels author Jonathan Swift set up an epic April Fools’ prank by pretending to be an astrologer by the name of Isaac Bickerstaff. He published a set of predictions, the most notable of which was that a celebrity-astrologer of the time, John Partridge would die on March 29. On March 30, Swift circulated an anonymous account of Partridge’s death of fever. On April 1, someone knocked on the Partridge’s door to set up funeral arrangements. Partridge, of course, was alive and well, but for the rest of his life, he had to insist he was not dead. The prediction finally came true seven years later without Partridge ever finding out the real identity of Isaac Bickerstaff. This prank is pretty elaborate, so if you want to keep your prank simpler, try one of these April Fools’ text pranks.

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The Great Blue Hill eruption

For April Fools’ Day in 1980, Boston TV news producer, Homer Cilley, (it actually rhymes with “silly”) produced a television broadcast about a hill in Milton, Massachusetts, that had begun oozing lava and spewing flames. He included fake warnings from then-president Jimmy Carter and real footage from Mt. St. Helens eruptions that implied the Massachusetts volcano had fully erupted. “April Fool” read the card at the end of the segment, but hundreds of panicked citizens flooded law enforcement phone lines anyway. Cilley was promptly fired for failing to exercise “good news judgment” and breaching FCC regulations.  Even though that prank didn’t go over so well, here are 15 silly pranks to pull on your kids this year.

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That time when a prank nearly led to war

In 1986, an Israeli intelligence officer played an April Fools’ prank involving fake news that an Islamic leader had been seriously wounded in an assassination attempt. Haha? No. Not really. The news caused an immediate flare-up in tensions in the region, and the high-ranking prankster was court-martialed.

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I’m really not a crook

On April 1, 1992, a man claiming to be Richard Nixon told NPR he would be running for president and that, “I never did anything wrong, and I won’t do it again.” Despite the date, thousands believed it was actually Richard Nixon announcing another bid for the presidency. Of course, it wasn’t actually Nixon speaking, but that didn’t stop the outrage, and many began gearing up to protest. These are the best text pranks to play on your friends.

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Whoppers for southpaws

On April 1, 1998, Burger King announced it would now offer a version of the Whopper that had been carefully designed for left-handed folks. The joke was on Burger King, however, when stores across the country were flooded with orders for the left-handed Whopper. Turns out, your favorite fast-food chains have a history of pranks.

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A cliff-hanger

In 2001, a DJ in England decided to prank his listeners on April 1 by broadcasting that a ship that looked suspiciously like the Titanic could be seen from the cliffs at Beachy Head in East Sussex. Hundreds of listeners believed him, trekking to the cliffs to catch a glimpse. Unfortunately, all the foot traffic caused a large crack in the cliff face. A few days later, it fell into the sea. Hilarious? These are the best April Fools’ pranks to pull on your parents.

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Poisoned by DHMO

On April 1, 2002, a couple of Kansas City DJs announced the local water supply had been found to contain high levels of “dihydrogen monoxide” (DHMO), whose side effects included sweating, urination, and skin-pruning. Hundreds of citizens flooded the water department and the police with distressed phone calls. Too bad dihydrogen monoxide is actually H20—the chemical name for water. The DJs were widely criticized and accused of “terrorism” by one government official. In 2013, two Florida DJs pulled the same prank. The resulting clamor got the DJs yanked off the air and nearly saddled with felony charges. That’s not funny, but these hilarious April Fools’ jokes will make everyone laugh.

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Armed robbery is hilarious…?

For April Fools’ in 2003, a clothing store employee in Columbus, Ohio, decided to call her boss and tell him that someone was robbing the store at gunpoint. Before she had time to call him back and confess to the prank, her boss had called the police. Four patrol cars rolled up to the store. The employee was arrested for inducing panic. Avoid this kind of trouble by sharing the best April Fools’ Day memes.

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Take us to your leader

A newspaper in Jordan ran an April 1, 2010, article claiming a UFO had landed near the town of Jafr. The mayor of Jafr’s response was to evacuate 13,000 people. Facing a potential lawsuit, the newspaper staff apologized publicly, saying “we meant to entertain, not scare people.”

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Perhaps death isn’t a laugh riot

In 2013, Susan Tammy Hudson of Kingsport, Tennessee, called her sister on April 1 saying, “I shot my husband, I’m cleaning up the mess, let’s go bury him in Blackwater.” Though Hudson may have thought she was being funny, no one else did—and soon the police showed up. No charges were pressed after Hudson’s husband arrived home alive and well. Try these Facebook pranks that you can pull off in seconds.

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Pregnant pause

For April Fools’ Day of 2013, 18-year-old Tori Wheeler of Tulsa, Oklahoma, pranked her boyfriend, Derek Bauer by pretending she was pregnant. Wheeler—upset that Bauer didn’t find her prank as funny as she’d hoped—ended up pulling a knife on him and the police ended up having to settle the matter. Predictably, she later said the knife was yet another prank. Don’t prank with knives, kids! And if you want to prank your boyfriend, maybe pull something from this list of the best pranks for boyfriends instead.

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Mic drop!

In 2016, Google, as an April Fools’ prank, added a “mic drop” button to their email program, which when clicked, sent a GIF to the recipients of the outgoing email and, here’s the kicker, literally disabled replies, in effect, shutting down the conversation (as mic drops do). But the big problem was that the “mic drop” button was right next to the “send” button, leading countless hapless—and later, horrified—people to mic-drop their bosses, clients, spouses, children, friends, and family. Although Google disabled the button, the damage was done. At least one individual reported getting canned thanks to Google’s jest. If you don’t think you can pull off a good prank, try reciting one of these funny one-liners from the Internet.


  • History.com: “April Fools’ tradition popularized”
  • DamnInteresting.com: “The Extraordinary Astrologer Isaac Bickerstaff”
  • Grunge.com: “April Fools’ Jokes Gone Wrong Throughout History”
  • Metro.co.uk: “April Fools’ Day: five times practical jokes backfired horribly”
  • National Geographic: “Gotcha! History’s Most Outrageous April Fools’ Jokes”
  • NPR: “5 April Fools’ Pranks Gone Bad”

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York–based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest and in a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction, and her first full-length manuscript, "The Trust Game," was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.