Prank shows: A comparison

October 21, 2007

One is a silly ‘family’ show with cheesy music and what feels like canned laughter. The other is a hip, ‘edgy’ yoof show. Notice how the edgy yoof show sucks (oh, how it sucks!). Then see how the the family show makes its participants undergo a genuinely mind-bending experience that is very amusing and pleasurable to watch.


  1. ‘Balls of Steel’ (which spawned the ‘Black Militant’ prank for anyone that didn’t know……and I truly wish that I didn’t) is a typical example of the abhorrent, hate filled and sickening nature of this genre of television.

    Why is it that the twat (I am capable of articulating myself in an intelligent manner, I just loathe him) fronting this show is behind so many others of it’s ilk.

    ……..and now I’m just…………….ranting.


  2. Oh I get it. Because “get off the grass” can also mean “get off the drugs” Oh yeah… hahahahahaha zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. That brand of “candid comedy” really shits me. I see little humour in being nasty to people for no reason. Public figures – if they have it coming, yes. General public – no.

    One interesting thing about the second clip though is the music. It’s so jolly and funny. I’m sure if you put a darker soundtrack underneath it and ditched the laughter track instead of thinking “jolly good prank”, you’d empathise more with the victim and not laugh as much. Or perhaps I’m just really tired.

  3. Yes, there’s a far better quality of humour in making a member of the general public feel confused than simply intimidated.

    There’s also a greater craft to it – intimidation just relies on the hope that the target won’t shout back, the confusion method relies on the careful balance of pushing the target as much as possible in a surreal direction but not so much that they subliminally refuse to accept what’s going on and call you on the set up. It can also require very careful preparation and execution.

    That said many of those family-friendly prank shows are terrible – the jokes are usually based around something stupid like someone’s (the actor’s) pants falling down in public to the shock of people around… they top it off with a novelty sound effect to underscore the “zanity” of it all.

    Here’s another great prank, brilliantly done – excuse the German but you’ll figure it out quick enough without an explanation anyway (hint – twins):


  4. I think this is more to do with the Militant Black Guy being not-funny than it is to do with the family show being funny.

    The Militant Black Guy is consistently one of the worst segments on Balls of Steel. And yet that segment seems to win all the time. I don’t understand it.

    I think a far stronger segment on Balls of Steel was the naked guy. It has the same sort of feel to it as the family show above: he confuses the public, rather than being confrontational. And people’s reactions are just a joy to watch. I can’t, of course, find a video of it anywhere: you try doing a search for “naked balls of steel” and see what you turn up!

  5. Wow, what a brilliant comparisson. To be honest I haven’t a clue why channel 4 has recommissioned this bile, it’s nasty and leaves a horrible taste in the mouth, and as you’ve stated on here before Graham a lot of it is staged.

  6. Wow. That is just genuinely threatening. For a start, the word “Fuck” being used by a stranger is immediately frightening for the person (I work in a hospital, and the use of the word immediately makes your pulse race).

    The victim is then supposed to go “Oh, it was all a joke! Phew! I am so relieved! Yes, you can use it on TV!” I’m not sure I would have been so generous.

  7. Why is the Militant Black Guy supposed to be American? Is it because there are no Militant Blacks in Britain? Or is it because they’re lazily copying some stereotype they may have seen in some movie somewhere?

    I wonder if the people responsible for making this shit ever actually sit down and watch it? And if they do, do they then wonder exactly what they’re doing with their lives?

  8. Balls of Steel kinda clumsily reminds me of stuff like Jackass TV where I watched one episode over a few beers and laughing my tits off. Then during the adverts I got another beer, had a piss and returned to my couch to watch the second half … and I sat in complete silence.

    I stared there realising that within 12 minutes I’d already got the joke and it didn’t need repeating and reworking … yet it goes on for series after series after spin-offs after films ad nauseum … and it is the same stuff.

    BoS, by extension, is a similarly lazy development of a threadbare idea that survives by convenient youtube-sized clips spreading across playgrounds.

    I’ve seen the future of Web 2.0 and it stinks !

  9. Balls of steel lacks any sort of wit and invention. Repetitive and boring. Same with the Friday night project. But you can’t deny the popularity of these things.

  10. I’ve just had an idea for a TV show…

    A person goes around town and just randomly spits into people’s faces.

    Where’s my million quid?

  11. I hate any kind of show like this. I used to hate ‘Game for a Laugh’ for goodness sake, and that was just really tame and silly – and Noel Edmonds “Gotcha” – haha yeah you got me, no you can’t put it on your tv programme, now get lost.

    It’s the same as ‘audience participation’ in the theatre – No, you morons I’m paying you to entertain me, I am not the entertainment. Next time I might just do a Moss (“Hello!”)

    Sorry I’m ranting too now – I couldn’t watch the whole of the first clip cos I was getting really angry!! Ha ha in-fucking-deed.

  12. “I’m raping your gran! But it’s ok……cos it’s for telly!”

  13. While we’re on the subject, anyone seen Phone Jacker? Here’s a transcript…

    Phone Jacker: Hello, my name’s Steve Swanson. I’d like a curry please.

    Person on the other end of the phone: No, I’m afraid this is a shop that sells raincoats.

    Phone Jacker: Oh, really? I’ll have extra rice with my curry.

    Person on the other end of the phone: No, this is a raincoat shop. Goodbye.

    It’s like Jeremy Beadle’s come back from the dead.

  14. Oh, my aching sides.

  15. Well, I have to say I smirked a little during the first sketch, despite it being a really poor premise. By the second one, it became clear that the whole thing was a set up. I don’t see the point in having a prank show that isn’t actually pranks, but just acting (and poor at that). By the third part, I wasn’t really paying much attention any more and started thinking about the Militant Black Guy – why has he lowered himself to this?

    The second sketch is slightly better, but I don’t really like the show it’s from. It all seems a little cheap.

    That said, it’s all a million miles above the stuff Derron Brown did for his last show. Hey look you’re dead and you’re now a ghost looking at the ambulance taking your body away. Should have been more careful driving! Ha ha got ya.

  16. What’s worse is that a lot of what’s in the Militant Black Guy doesn’t look genuine. The reaction of the girl who buys coffee just doesn’t seem believable to me. And the nice shot of her leaving the shop with her coffee in hand just seems too neat. Likewise the shots in the chess bit. I can’t help thinking that the girl buying coffee and the guy playing chess were probably researchers making sure they got the shot they needed.

  17. I think Phonejacker had its moments, Bobkins – I think you’re selling it short.

    The guy who reads acronyms like words tickles me, as did the one with ‘Brian Abuteybuteybungbung’ trying to spell his name.

    That said if you’ve seen one episode you’ve pretty much seen them all – very, very repetitive stuff.

  18. Grahem

    Just thought i’d let ya know that there’s a severe shortage of season 2 of The IT Crowd in Dublin. I went into a few shops and was told that they haven’t got them in yet even though its been out a while. I’m still gonna buy asap but just thought you should know.



  19. I don’t think prank shows or pranks are inherently bad. A really intelligent prank that reveals an insight into human behaviour is a wonder to see (ever see the candid camera one in the lift where one man kept turning to look at a door on the opposite side and everybody copied him?). Unfortunately, the clever stuff is few and far between. We simply get down to the sort of cruelty and stupidity that appeals to cruel and stupid people.

    I like the German twins prank, though. A good idea well executed. And the twins were easy on the eye, too.

  20. I found alot of what MBG did quite funny so I guess I must be stoned by the city walls then? Jees. G, you do posts about human rights & govenment crimes. I just think there’s so much more vile crap on tv than this.

  21. I just have to tell you that I laughed so hard I almost peed my pants at the second clip. So much funnier than watching people being sworn at.

    And as for the militant black guy – after the point (such as it is) is made in the first clip its pointless, unfunny and offensive. And irritatingly staged.

  22. The red flag gag is swiped from Chaplin’s MODERN TIMES. Maybe I’ll allow some credit for translating it from visual gag in a film to a prank, but I’m afraid it’s still a direct steal. No chance whatsoever this is coincidence.

  23. Not sure where to post this, but…

    “Can I has ur moneys? I’m in ur middle east, unstabalizin ur region”
    Silly, silly shrub.

  24. Also, I’m interested in whether you’ve seen this before. It’s a clip from the new Sam and Max games by Telltale Games.

  25. Hehe, the second one made me laugh more, but, I guess I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t completely hate Militant Black Guy. While the second two ‘scenarios’ were terribly and horribly staged, the first one was kind of amusing in a Trigger Happy TV sort of way, and the Militant Black Guy himself had some pretty good delivery considering how stupid the situations were. I know, I know, I’m an idiot. I guess I was more impressed by the MBG himself making such terrible dialogue seem 10% effective…

    Now if only it didn’t skate quite so close to exploiting a young black man, making fun of race issues and being embarrassing for entirely the wrong reasons. Hmmm.

    The reactions of those poor innocent people in the second vid, on the other hand, was much more wholesome, and made me laugh out loud, too. The guy who put his hands up was hilarious! Tee!

  26. Also, a big thank you for answering my Todd Unctious question, Graham! (I’ve left a longer comment on the original blog.)

  27. I see you’ve discovered another Canadian staple, Just for Laughs gags. Otherwise known as ‘The Reason Most Canadians Are Too Scared to Visit Montreal.’ The dangers of being had by a French-Canadian prankster are all too real!

    They range from unbelievably creative–there’s one where a man emerges fully suitcased and briefcased from an open water main/trough/gutter thing before disbelieving prankees–to your more run of the mill (say, ripped-pants sound-effect prank) or horrible (inexplicably, a blind touch-test of raw chickens–only one of them turns out to be a man’s naked ass!)

    Mostly, though, they just make me feel the aforementioned fear.

  28. Hi,
    Off topic, well, not really actually.
    A man in the UK has been arrested for running tv-links.co.uk, a site that posts links to tv shows.

    (and about a million other places)

    An interesting case, as anyone posting links to YouTube etc. could also fall foul of this.

  29. Ah, that’ll be why I couldn’t get on TV Links to watch Dinner For Five…

  30. Says he might get ten years. He can’t, can he? CAN HE?
    “You’ve watching films and TV the way way don’t like you watching them so we’re locking you up in room to be raped by murderers.”
    My neighbours car got wrecked last night by Youths (of all people) and the cops are more concerned about some impatient nerd.
    There’ll be an uprising, I’m talking head-on-poles.

  31. I see your point, but probably bad examples. Trigger Happy TV, Ali G, Borat… All good examples of ‘Yoof’ prank shows.

  32. The flags thing is genuinely funny.

  33. Hey Graham,

    That link I mentioned while taxi-waiting that’s similar to the above… like the one at 1:35 myself…

  34. There’s a show here in the US that really went over the line- it’s called Wonder Showzen, and they did segments taunting (mostly homeless) people with a hand puppet until they exploded. One poor dude was smiling at the beginning, saying he’d gone through anger management- they pushed him until he was screaming and throwing things. They obviously took pleasure in making the guy fall apart.

  35. I thought the first clip was funny, but not hilarious. I have no desire to see any more of that show anyway, I got the point (it probably works better as a once-off Youtube clip anyway).
    The second clip was fantastic, good harmless comedy where nobody gets hurt. If I was the “victim” I’d be shaking the hands of the people who organised it and congratulating them on a great job!

    My favorite group of pranksters are Improve Everywhere:

    They do harmless practical jokes in public, like simultaneously having every customer in the store walk in slow motion :)

    Who said comedy had to be offensive and rude to be funny!

  36. I watched half an episode of Balls Of Steel and turned it off.
    I appreciate a lot of people adore this type of stuff but personally I don’t like prank shows full stop. I detest practical jokers in real life so I’m never going to enjoy tv shows based on them. Maybe I’m just a pussy – I just can’t abide seeing somebody made to feel genuinely frightened in the name of entertainment.
    Even as a kid I didn’t like Beadle’s About – I used to look around the room at my family, wondering why they were laughing so hard at some poor sap on the point of tears because his house had just been blown up. I mean…why IS that funny? I know that all comedy is basically based on horrible things happening to people and that’s fine in fiction – but THIS is real. I do agree the second clip is more palatable than the first, but strip the jolly jig music and it’d take on an entirely more sinister feel.
    Real people + real fear = not funny. In my opinion.

  37. BTW, Andrew? I think that IT Crowd shortage should be sorted next week.

  38. Also, thanks JamesC! I actually did see that one.

  39. Can’t stand prank shows. Can’t stand pranks at all in fact. Not only are they just not funny, they’re bullying, i.e. preying on the weak, or taking unfair advantage of a person’s good nature. Anyone who says otherwise should come up with an explanation of why they never chooses the brick-shithouse with the hair-trigger temper to be the victim.

    TV bullies/pranksters lack occasionally make the mistake of not choosing a passive enough victim. I always laugh heartily when this happens, and the psychopath victim begins kicking the shit out of them. It’s revenge for all the other decent sorts who’ve suffered politely.

    As to Jackass, I watched the DVD at a mates house, and laughed into my beer for a while over the sheer inanity of it. Then I saw someone rub chilli into his eyes, and I remembered reading that this was being done in Abu Graib, and I kind of wanted to stop watching (yes I know the Jackasses are volunteers and not US army detainees, but the thought killed any mirth stone dead all the same)

  40. I thought Just for Laughs was a great show. Some really funny television. The lolli-pop lady with the endless supply of kids was quality. I got pranked twice by them in Belfast.

    Agreed with most on Balls of Steel. It’s uncomfortable viewing. And I enjoyed (blue)jam.

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