Pranksters: Making Mischief With Media


Purchase on Powell’s or Amazon.

From Benjamin Franklin’s newspaper hoax that faked the death of his rival to Abbie Hoffman’s attempt to levitate the Pentagon, pranksters, hoaxers, and con artists have caused confusion, disorder, and laughter in Western society for centuries. Profiling the most notorious mischief makers from the 1600s to the present day, Pranksters explores how “pranks” are part of a long tradition of speaking truth to power and social critique.

Invoking such historical and contemporary figures as P.T. Barnum, Jonathan Swift, WITCH, The Yes Men, and Stephen Colbert, Kembrew McLeod shows how staged spectacles that balance the serious and humorous can spark important public conversations. In some instances, tricksters have incited social change (and unfortunate prank blowback) by manipulating various forms of media, from newspapers to YouTube. For example, in the 1960s, self-proclaimed “professional hoaxer” Alan Abel lampooned America’s hypocritical sexual mores by using conservative rhetoric to fool the news media into covering a satirical organization that advocated clothing naked animals. In the 1990s, Sub Pop Records then-receptionist Megan Jasper satirized the commodification of alternative music culture by pranking the New York Times into reporting on her fake lexicon of “grunge speak.” Throughout this book, McLeod shows how pranks interrupt the daily flow of approved information and news, using humor to underscore larger, pointed truths.

Written in an accessible, story-driven style, Pranksters reveals how mischief makers have left their shocking, entertaining, and educational mark on modern political and social life.


“It’s fantastic! Finally, a book that rescues the critically important art of the prank. Thanks to Pranksters, we finally understand what we’ve been trying to do all these years. No joke! Read it, and get out there and apply it!” -The Yes Men,

“The story of how mischief-makers hope to change the world one prank at a time…McLeod’s renditions of his own pranks bring sparkle and humor to the serious message of his book.” –Kirkus

“Satire, irony, and performative politics–from The Daily Show to the Yes Men–are being enacted, thought about, and discussed a great deal these days, but the subject is only starting to be written about. Kembrew McLeod, an engaging writer as well as a practicing prankster, does a brilliant job in analyzing the ways in which pranks underscore a larger, often pointed truth.” -Stephen Duncombe, editor of the Cultural Resistance Reader

“In locating mischief at the center of media history, Pranksters transforms what, up until now, has been a series of odd footnotes into a rich and hilarious story about the making of the modern world. In doing so McLeod challenges overly-rationalist accounts by compelling us to laugh out loud about hoaxes, hoodwinks, cons, and more. But this isn’t laughter simply for its own sake. He has a deeply ethical purpose in mind, showing us how to use media spectacularly, and, indeed, responsibly, to promote meaningful social transformation Pranksters is smart, lucid, and funny—but it’s no joke.” -Ted Striphas, Indiana University