What Can We Learn From YouTube’s Most Popular Prank Videos?

"Getting punched in the face is not as easy as you'd think", and other important lessons to be gleaned from this ever-growing online trend.

If you’ve ever been sucked into a black hole in the shape of the YouTube logo, you’d know it’s an eerie, unforgiving experience where time stands still, cats are deified, and strangers use any opportunity to discuss the intricacies of the Israel-Palestine conflict (in ALL CAPS). You’d also be aware of the growing online phenomenon that is the prank video — a generally despicable YouTube sub-genre where grown men and women still grappling with latent adolescence invade the personal space of unwitting bystanders.

But last week, US comedian Tom Mabe posted a prank with a purpose: one that attempted to send a stern warning to his DUI-happy (and presumably volatile) mate. This video was both encouraging (due to Mabe’s obvious — albeit blokey — concern for his pal’s well-being and the safety of the man’s daughter) and perturbing (due to his pal’s inability to take the end reveal seriously), and it raised the following question: can we find other prank videos that transcend tomfoolery, even for a moment?

1. ‘Do You Even Lift? (Gym Edition)’

Prankster: Vitaly ZD

Current view count: 7,634,388

The prank: Russian-American trickster mocks the physique of various meat-heads.

How it went: I don’t think this prank went the way the ballsy import had hoped. Instead of these no-necks retaliating with bravado or threats of violence, their reactions ranged from confusion, to polite justification for their choice of exercise routine, to unfazed acceptance of his assessment of their muscular condition.

The learning: Getting punched in the face is not as easy as you’d think.

2. ‘Extremely Scary Ghost Elevator Prank In Brazil’

Prankster: Silvio Santos

Current view count: 80,195,541

The prank: Lone commuters become stuck in an elevator with a frightening pre-pubescent girl.

How it went: Granted, this ‘YouTube video’ is ripped from a Brazilian television show, but it’s found a much wider audience online. The brilliantly staged and executed prank sees random commuters get stuck in an elevator during a blackout, who — when the lights return — are suddenly confronted with a ghostly girl who may as well have been plucked straight from The Ring. You’d think producers would have been at least a tad concerned with the health and safety of the (largely elderly) prankees, but I guess if 80 million views are on the cards, what’s a party-pooping lawsuit or two?

The learning: Little girls in pajamas are horrifying in real life too.

3. ‘Mistletoe Kissing Prank’

Prankster: Stuart Edge

Current view count: 24,342,780

The prank: Men and women are met with the sudden appearance of mistletoe.

How it went: With these kinda videos, one always wonders what ends up on the cutting room floor, especially when the prank involves forced intimacy with strangers. You’d expect that being manipulated into kissing a random would result in awkwardness or anger, but in this case, reactions from the victims are both humorous and heartwarming. I guess a lip-lock under mistletoe comes with less sleazy, and more romantic connotations.

The learning: Holiday flora-on-a-string is a powerful aphrodisiac.

4. ‘Put Your Number In My Phone’

Pranksters: LAHWF and Vitaly

Current view count: 9,436,673

The prank: Two ‘renowned’ YouTube ‘stars’ team up to accost women in the most arrogant fashion possible.

How it went: After watching this video, the primitive-male portion of my psyche had one foot (and one smartphone) out the door. Once again, who knows what was omitted, but victims of this prank were surprisingly accommodating and some seemed genuinely bowled over by the casual confidence on display. I’m still yet to approach a stranger, avert my eyes, hold my phone out and mumble “Put your number in my phone!”, but sadly, I can’t say I haven’t considered it.

The learning: Asking “What’s your favourite colour?” just doesn’t cut it anymore.

5. ‘Drive Thru Invisible Driver Prank’

Prankster: MagicofRahat

Current view count: 37,873,842

The prank: A seemingly unoccupied car pulls up to a fast food drive-thru window.

How it went: Rahat is one of the more ingenious jesters on the Tube, and this prank is no exception. The self-proclaimed ‘Magician Prankster’ managed to stowaway within the belly of a fake car seat, and rip some hilarious reactions from shift-workers. What’s great about this clip is watching the bored faces of employees coming to life with shock/disbelief/amusement; you can’t help but think that Rahat has provided his prankees with a memorable break from monotony.

The learning: Pranking and science aren’t mutually exclusive.

6. ‘How To Feed The Homeless’

Prankster: Tom Mabe

Current view count: 1,405,404

The prank: Mabe extorts a free meal for a pair of street-dwellers by claiming they’re undercover cops.

How it went: Another from Tom, and another of the do-gooder variety. ‘Sargeant’ Mabe calls the manager of a fast-food restaurant and asks if they’d be kind enough to provide a feed to two ‘undercover cops’ hugging the outside curb. Surely enough, five minutes later a register-jockey brings out two takeaway bags of hot charity. While it could be said that Mabe has worsened the pair’s situation by forcing plastic fat into their arteries, their bewilderment is enough to force a smile from anyone (lucky enough to own a device with internet capability).

The learning: This video would no doubt have reached a wider audience if someone had farted on someone else.

7. ‘Sexy Sax Man Careless Whisper Prank’

Prankster: Sergio Flores

Current view count: 22,066,245

The prank: Sergio turns up in random public locations and plays (and plays and plays) a George Michael masterpiece.

How it went: If a man with a mullet in tight leathers appeared by my side, screeching out the main sax melody from ‘Careless Whisper’, I wouldn’t merely chuckle — I’d call the Vatican and profess that I’d just witnessed a miracle. And if the rapturous applause from these prankees is any indication, they find that sweet, sweet brass as irresistible as I do. Although those in positions of authority successfully shooed the man away, they couldn’t shoo away the lingering spirit of genius.

The learning: Absolutely nothing.

Ned Chigliak is a recent Masters graduate of AFTRS, majoring in screenwriting, which means he is now employable as a wiper-of-tables.