Why I Don’t Like April Fools Day Jokes
And how Jesus is teaching me to love them - and him.
When is a joke not a joke?
When it’s an April fool.
It’s not a joke, but it looks like one. It’s also not funny.
But then again, neither is April Fool’s Day.
You will detect a note of disapprobation in my tone here. I’m not a fan of April Fool’s Day, mainly because, as you have discovered through this blog, I’m grindingly technical about comedy and how it works. But then again, that’s my job. I write sitcoms – and now funny murder mysteries – for the BBC, I have a podcast called Sitcom Geeks, and I also make YouTube videos about this sort of thing.
So let’s get technical here. April Fool’s Day jokes aren’t jokes. They are pranks. They are hoaxes. Not jokes. If you read the first section of The Sacred Art of Joking, you’ll find out why practical jokes are not really jokes.
In on the Joke
Jokes require shared information. But if you are being pranked, either by an individual or by a national newspaper, you don’t have all the information. If you’re being pranked by a schoolboy in a black-and-white Will Hay film, you don’t know he’s put a bucket of water above the door. You aren’t in on the joke. You are part of the joke.
In fact, you are the joke.
The dynamic shifts when we scale this up to a full-blown hoax. This is the favoured April Fool gag of the moment. Newspapers, radio breakfast shows and large corporations love to tell a story that is on the edge of believability but is actually pure fiction. In 2017, Emirates airline announced its triple-decker plane, complete with swimming pool, games room and park. A year earlier, the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts tweeted that Texas would start to issue its own currency. In 2014, King’s College Choir in Cambridge announced that they were replacing boys singing soprano with older men using helium instead.
In these cases, an enormous bucket of water is being placed on a huge doorway in order to drench an entire nation. Only the perpetrator of the hoax has all the facts. The rest of us are not in on the joke. We are all the joke. Anyone who ‘falls for it’ is the joke. And rather than getting wet, you feel foolish.
How is that a joyful comic experience? The hoax then is not a joke. It’s a prank.
And this is why I’m not a fan of April Fool’s Day. But…
But studying the words of Jesus closely demonstrates that, once again, my own preferences and predilections are challenged. Scripture clearly shows that Jesus messed with people.
I’ve written about Jesus trolling people in the past. But if he trolls his enemies, he messes delightfully with his friends. One example can be found in Jesus feeding the 5000, which we find in all four gospels. Let’s look at John’s account.
Here’s what John writes – and as you read, imagine the colour draining from Philip’s face as Jesus looks at the massive hungry crowd coming towards them, then turns to Philip and says:
“Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”
He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. (John 6:5-6)
Jesus is having a joke with Philip. He’s not really expecting him to run to a corner shop miles away and buy everything. Philip doesn’t realise this – like an April Fool - and takes the bait, answering:
“It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (John 6:7)
Jesus is messing with Philip. Philip has no idea what Jesus is cooking up in his mind – a major Mosaic-Manna miracle. This leads Andrew to speak up, saying:
“Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” (John 6:9)
Seriously, Andrew? There’s a crowd of five thousand people, and you are essentially wondering if you can feed them with a fish sandwich platter.
The Big Joke
But the really big joke is this – and it’s on us: the sandwich platter is enough! The bread and fish are passed out, and everyone eats. Until they are full. Full. How often were people full two thousand years ago? Not often, I’ll wager. And here they are in the barren wilderness, following this Moses-like leader, receiving nourishing Manna on their way to the Kingdom of God.
Jesus messes with his friends and I think that’s one of the signs of friendship. Jesus offers his followers that level of intimate, affectionate friendship that is tempered and tested with wind-ups, teasing and April Fools. That is a true friend and we have that in Jesus Christ.
I talk about this in my Water into Wine show, that I’ve been enjoying performing. I’m in Wimbledon on Friday 8th April. Do come and say hello! I’ve got upcoming gigs all over the place including Exeter, Balham, Chessington, Eastbourne and Canterbury.
There are still dates available in June if you’d like to book it (especially if you’re within 3 hrs drive of Yeovil). Get in touch. Do consider booking the show soon as I’d like to move on to something else, so the last time I will perform it will probably be at the Keswick Convention in August (whereafter it will only be available on video).
Do you want your kids to be grateful? Sure you do. I’m really proud of this episode of the Keswick Convention podcast that I made with Ed Drew, Anna Putt and Girma Bishaw.