The Art of the Prank**

Few things are more delightful than a well-executed prank.   A good prank is a noble creative endeavor – that’s what I tell myself about the ones I’ve engaged in.

The Nat Tate prank was devised by British novelist William Boyd with the help of David Bowie and a few other collaborators, including Gore Vidal. Boyd wanted to create a fictional artist whose underrated work he would introduce to the art world, via a book on the subject.

Bowie held a launch party for the book on April 1, 1998, and read extracts from the book to the collected celebrities  and art enthusiasts. One of the collaborators went around asking people if they were familiar with Tate’s work.   Poor Tate had burned 99% of his work before his tragic early death in 1960.

In the end, someone revealed the hoax. But William Boyd says that Nat Tate lives on: every so often, one of his paintings comes up for  auction.

The more I learn about this prank the more I fucking love it! It reminds me of my Phyllis Willis-Barbour prank with my friend Mark, and it makes me wish we had taken it further. We planned to have our fake poet appear at readings,  wearing   a mask to hide her face (deformed in a terrible fire.)

**UPDATE: Just found the link to PWB’s bio, one of the greatest things ever written. Ever.

But our best prank, the one that brought us the most joy, was the Ed and Paige Project.

Ed was a guy we had good reason to detest. Among his loathsome  activities was an unending search for hot chicks in the personal ads at, even though he was married to a woman who supported him. Since we knew his taste in women, we created one as bait. We set up her profile, and waited. It took a week, and we had almost given up when Ed contacted Paige, calling her a “long tall drink of water” and complementing her physique.

Here is Paige, who I found at

But wait: Paige isn’t just hot and skanky looking, she is a  commodities  broker and a graduate of the Wharton School of Business! Her favorite book is  Ulysses.

The resulting email love affair between Ed and Paige was a soap opera that all our friends enjoyed, but not with the delirious religious  ecstasy that Mark and I experienced. The email they exchanged was beyond belief. It was like Christmas morning all the time.

I am too tired and lazy to elaborate on the Ed and Paige Project, but I know that Nat Tate would have risen from the dead just to be a part of it.

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21 Responses to The Art of the Prank**

  1. Cricket9 says:

    I love a good prank! Creating an “unknown genius artist” has a long tradition. A Polish poet Konstanty Galczynski wrote his Masters thesis in English literature about an “unknown English bard”, with a fake body of work, analysis of the fake body of work, etc. They don’t prank like this anymore…

  2. Ann says:

    I am very much alone in my distaste of pranks. I think they’re mean-spirited and I wince when I see people take advantage of others’ gullibility and weakness, regardless of how deserving they may be of the mockery. And yes, this is absolutely because I have fallen prey to my share of them in my lifetime.

  3. Heidi says:

    I love that Bowie was involved in the Nat Tate prank! Yes, I am very amused by pranks as well, though in some cases – I agree with Ann that they can be mean-spirited and taken too far.

    And I’m suddenly reminded of that thing when Garth Brooks did that Chris Gaines thing. I REALLY wish he wouldn’t have told anyone who he was until after he’d amassed hoards of (Garth-hating) fans. There was so much potential for genius prankery there.

    I remember Ed! What ever happened to him?

  4. Aja says:

    The Ed and Paige project is brilliant! I know some friends who did a fake Facebook profile for a dude who didn’t actually exists but people began to think he did really exist. Finally the page was deleted by Facebook.

    I think my favorite all time prank is the Banksy, Paris Hilton cd prank. That was one of the most brilliantly executed pranks I have heard about. While still doing his usual social commentary schmeal. I might be sick of people talking about him but I fuckin’ love Banksy.

  5. dexter vandango says:

    My favorite prank was committed by a Danish writer in the 1930’s.

    He found out which factory made Copenhagen’s park benches, bought one, and then had a friend help him carry the bench into a park. They waited until a park guard wandered by and they hurriedly carried the bench out of the park. The guard ran after them, had them arrested for stealing, and when the writer appeared before the judge, he pulled out the bill of sale and said, “How can you be arrested for stealing your own bench?”

    I don’t remember whether he was fined for wasting the court’s time.

  6. Braindance says:

    I’m sure Bansky is pulling serious art leg with the documentary Exit through the gift shop.
    Like Aja, I think he is wicked, despite the coffee table books.

    The art of the prank is a lush antidote to the serious business of living, one of my personal favs is when I managed to persuade many people that my dad was Shadow from Gladiators. Good times
    Americans, he is worth a google, just for his bugged out eyes.

  7. Emily says:

    Nothing like a good prank. When they’re not aimed at you! Ed and paige seemed destined for one another.

    My friend and I managed to convince one of our flatmates that Viktor & Rolf are transgender lovers. She still believes us.

  8. Sonia Luna says:

    That’s a good one, I must get that book!
    My boyfriend and I told our friends that David Bowie is the inventor of post-it notes, I can’t believe most of them believed us and haven’t copped on yet!

  9. Andra says:

    I once started a rather delicious rumour that Princess Margaret and Harry Belefonte were getting secretly married.

    There was also a wonderful literary hoax in Australia in the 30’s about a poet called Ern Malley who was considered by some people to be the greatest literary figure in the country.

    It ran for years and fooled and humiliated many of the so-called literary giants in Australia.

    It was revealed to be a hoax perpetrated by 2 writers having a bit of fun at the expense of a young upstart called Max Harris who wrote scathing reviews of all and sundry and thought himself to be quite the Gore Vidal of his day.

    How is Ed doing nowadays?

  10. kate says:

    i was never entrenched in prank culture. even at summer camp the worst someone would pull was messing with someone’s laundry; like freezing it in a bucket of water or running (my) bra up the flagpole. it would have been fun to be in on some doozies but i think i’d be too paranoid of retribution.
    can we read one of the emails?

  11. I was just telling my husband about the Nat Tate hoax because we watched “Exit Through the Gift Shop” last night (which as both a victim of pranks and a huge prankster I believe is indeed a prank as well.) I love the Phyllis Williston-Barbour and Ed and Paige pranks, brilliant! One silly prank I pulled when I was a kid and “Surfing USA” came on the radio. My younger brother was innocently singing along & I got him to believe that it was “Skurfing USA” by saying he heard it wrong, and Skurfing was just surfing with a different board! The poor kid was singing it wrong up until he was about 15, when I finally broke down and told him the truth! Luckily he has as good a sense of humour as me and the two of us couldn’t stop laughing at the absurdity! My poor brother was often the subject of my pranks, it’s so sweet that he always trusted big sister even though I proved over and over that I was teasing him!

  12. niki says:

    ah, someone else bought up Ern Malley first – it’s a good one!!

  13. William Boyd is wonderful, his prank his tops but your pranks are genius too! Love them, I feel inspired x

  14. Cricket9 says:

    I forgot to add that the fake “unknown genius bard” from Galczynski’s English literature Masters thesis was named Morris Gordon Cheats.

  15. ali says:

    paige kind of looks like an american apparel hipster 20 years from now. and Phillis Willis B could totally get published right along side James Franco in esquire or perhaps in my college literary magazine. actually, we’ve had at least four submissions called “ember” in the past year…and the poetry community here is about 50 people. haha

  16. littlebadwolf says:

    next time some bright and earnest kid cashier at a supermarket asks you ‘did you find everything alright?’ just say, ‘oh, the lights are all out back there, and the people all have their clothes…..and…..and…..’

  17. Perucha says:

    I can only focus on that Ed loser. It just infuriates me to learn about a douchebag disrespecting his supportive wife. WHAT THE FUCK??? Why would she put up with that???
    I DETEST pranks, just like Ann said. However, that Ed person deserved whatever consequences this fake love affair brought.
    Yeah, I know, this is not the point of the post, I just HATE people like Ed.

  18. Jaimi says:

    So good! Oh I do love shitting all over the pretentions of the art world, especially after seeing the fuckery that is performance artist Mille Brown the other day. Hah, Andra, never knew the story of Ern Malley but heard a song about him by the Cannanes, an Australian band, now I know what it’s about and I love it even more!
    And Phyllis is genius. Smith College, but of course! Hah!

  19. james says:

    AMAZING! I am laughing and enjoying everything about this.. Phyllis Willis-Barbour = incredible! Ugh I love it! Genius. The Ed and Paige project sounds amazing too. Haha! I just love the provocation of human reactions. You obviously didn’t do these in a mean spirited way though! They are intelligent.

  20. Ah-Duh says:

    HILARIOUS! I think PWB may be my new idol. My favorite line from her biography– “I sent a few of my poems to the English department, told them my story, and they granted me another full scholarship. No one could believe it, least of all Dick, who was still freezing in Massachusetts.” I seriously cracked up when I got to this line. How many academic free rides can one woman get!

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