Pranker or wanker? (I still don’t know if I was being stooged)

practical joke zing

Have you ever had the feeling you were being watched at work? Or at least felt that the client, colleague or customer you were dealing with was such a clown that you must have been the butt of a practical joke?

More than a year ago, I completed a ‘collaborative project’. Collaborative project is the term foisted upon the debacle by others. In fact, it was an encounter with a person apparently dragged out into reality, through the fourth wall, from inside a very badly written comedy television show dealing in the most facile stereotypes. 

I appreciate little in the world more than mischief. And a really sophisticated practical joke is one of the ultimate expressions of mischievousness. So I spent many quiet moments during this futile assignment excited by the possibility that I was being stooged.

My antagonist was a preposterous cliche who hid his ulterior motives with the same discretion as a trenchcoated 1980s flasher might have hidden his jibbly bits.

Like an angry little mynah bird, he strutted and preened and fluffed himself into a ball of idiocy.

Then he pecked.

I needed to “ease down, mellow out and hit a groove”, he told me, before I’d said a word to him. After he’d read a draft of my work he said he wanted a “second draft that… I’m not sure… but it needs to be lifted… and uplifting”. My work, he said, after 25 minutes of working with me, “ha[d] a deficit of pop”.

His, on the other hand, “straddle[d] the key zones of conceptualisation matrices and innovative entrepreneurial mapping”. 

All the while I carefully surveyed the architraves and cornices of the offices we were working in for hidden cameras.

Mild insults continued throughout. So did the mind-knotting explanations of his own expertise, which sat on the precipice of speaking in tongues: utter gibberish that hadn’t fallen off the cliff into totally indecipherable babble.

I managed not to lose my composure. Nobody ever burst into the room yelling “Gotcha!” I finished the job. He said “You tried your best and that’s all that really matters at the end of the day.” I got paid. I never heard from the unhinged mollusc again.

If it was a hoax, it continues, and in doing so it has reached a new echelon of brilliance.

If it isn’t, the extracted cartoon entity is at large in the world and I fear for my fellow inhabitants of this realm.

If you’ve encountered something similar, I can offer reassurance: you’re not alone.

I can also offer a little bit of advice: keep your eye on the cornices.


An edited version of this article first appeared in the MyCareer section of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.

You can read the column – Benign to Five – in those papers every Saturday, and if you miss it, you can look it up online in the Workplace section of The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Canberra Times, WAToday and Brisbane Times. (I now wankishly call myself a “syndicated columnist” on my CV.)

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