Prank Call

"If I ever find out who this is, I'll staple a flag on your butt and mail you to Iran!"

This trope is where a character decides to prank another by calling them on the telephone. These pranks are mostly just jokes and puns. The most popular joke used when prank calling someone is "Is your refrigerator running? You'd better catch it!" Punny Names are also popular, especially when calling a person who then has to ask for the punny-named person, leading to awkwardness such as "I'm looking for Amanda Huggenkiss." This has been made largely extinct in Real Life because of caller ID.

In some countries, making what are termed "nuisance calls" is illegal and can lead to either criminal or civil prosecution.

Not to be confused with Phoney Call which is where a character pretends that they are talking on the phone when the phone is off.

Contrast Mistaken for Prank Call when the character receiving the call thinks that they're being pranked. Any subversions of this trope will go there.


Examples:

Anime and Manga

Comic Books
  • In a Disney Comics story with Donald Duck, Donald is making prank phone calls with his favorite victim being a Mister Upjohn ("It's almost 11 o'clock. Are you Upjohn?"). When Donald tries to get a job "making phone calls for a living", he discovers that his boss will be the aforementioned Mister Upjohn, who recognises Donald's voice. He still gives Donald a job - taking calls in the complaints department.

Film
  • In Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Jeannie calls 911 after she finds Dean Rooney snooping around her house. When the police arrive, Rooney is gone, so they assume Jeannie was prank calling and arrest her.
  • Early in Scream 2, Sidney gets a prank call from a guy posing as Ghostface, in a scene that illustrates why this is a Discredited Trope nowadays. It's implied that she's been getting several of them thanks to the release of Stab, a Ripped from the Headlines Slasher Movie that (in-universe) is based on the events of the first movie, to the point where she's no longer fazed by them.
    "Ghostface": "Hello, Sidney. What's your favorite scary movie?"
    Sidney: "Who is this?"
    "Ghostface": "You tell me."
    Sidney: <looks at caller ID> "Cory Gillis, 555-0176. Hot flash, Cory: prank calls are a criminal offense prosecuted under penal code 653-M."
    Cory: "Aw, shit. Shit!" <swiftly hangs up>

Fanfiction
  • There exists a Digimon Frontier fanfic on Fanfiction.net where Takuya and the others, celebrating their one-year anniversary of their victory over Lucemon, decide to pull some prank calls on hapless citizens.

Literature
  • The Babysitters Club:
    • In Poor Mallory, the club prank call both of the two girls who have been picking on Mallory over her father's redundancy. They each call one girl in turn, asking "Is Sissy there?" repeatedly, whilst Mary Anne calls the other girl enquiring about the pigs she ordered in a fake southern accent.
    • In the same series, Kristy's older brother Sam also loves to call the girls when their meetings are in session, especially in earlier books.

Live-Action TV
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show: Rob is the victim of a prank call made by a prankster at a party Buddy was hosting. The pranker got Rob to take his phone apart, put it in a paper bag, and throw it out the front door.
  • The Amanda Show had a short sketch of a girl prank calling someone called Mr Oldman.
  • Friends:
    • One episode reveals that Joey keeps calling his room mate Chandler to work, pretending that he's a female Stalker with a Crush. Ross is at first somewhat disturbed, but comes to enjoy the joke later. Poor Chandler is genuinely freaked out.
    • When Dr. Wiener decides that he wants to kick out Rachel for keeping calling him at night because of very minor problems her baby might have, she calls him back seconds later and starts repeating his surname in a funny voice ("Wiiieeener"). She thinks he wouldn't know it's her.
  • Prank-calling various members of the public is the entire premise of Fonejacker.
  • In an episode of Malcolm in the Middle, Stevie tries to do this, using the refrigerator pun. Because he has to take deep breaths between every couple of words, he's recognized before he can finish.
  • Roundhouse had a few sketches revolving around this trope.

Music
  • "Phony Calls" by "Weird Al" Yankovic, a parody of TLC's "Waterfalls".
  • The second verse of "What's My Age Again?" by Blink182:
    Later on, on the drive home,
    I called her mom from a pay phone.
    I said I was the cops and your husband's in jail.
    This state looks down on sodomy.

    And that's about the time that bitch hung up on me.
    Nobody likes you when you're twenty-three,
    and are still more amused by prank phone calls.
    What the hell is caller ID?

Puppet Shows
  • Les Guignols de l'info: After the 2012 French presidential election, Jacques Chirac makes regular pranks against Nicolas Sarkozy (since the latter lost), pretending to be some other head of state or personality, and asking something ludicrous out of Sarkozy.

Recorded and Stand-Up Comedy
  • This was the entire schtick of The Jerky Boys, who released recordings of their various prank calls, and even made a movie.
  • Australian musician and alternative comedian Gregg Turkington also recorded an album of prank calls entitled Great Phone Calls which included the first appearance of his hilariously unfunny stand-up comedian character Neil Hamburger.

Radio
  • Nephew Tommy on the Steve Harvey Morning Show makes prank calls for a living. A famous comedian, Thomas Miles' prank calls are one of the most popular segments in the show. He even sells collections of prank calls on CD.
  • Todd Pettingill of WPLJ's Scott & Todd does a "phone scam" segment where he prank calls people.
  • This was also the M.O. for "Roy D. Mercer", a character created by Brent Douglas and Phil Stone for their morning show on KMOD-FM in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Douglas would affect a stereotypical Southern voice and prank call various people for perceived wrongs, usually threatening that they compensate him or receive an "ass-whoopin'." Between 1997 and 2013, over a dozen Roy D. Mercer albums were released. The two ended their show in 2012, just a few months before Stone died.
  • Dead Ringers would have a segment where an incredibly accurate impressionist would ring up various services in character as the Fourth Doctor as played by Tom Baker. Notably this included calling random numbers to ask What Year Is This?, to explore how the trope would work in real life. He also called former Doctors Peter Davison (who played along politely but a bit sarcastically), Sylvester McCoy (who seemed convinced he was talking to the real Tom Baker despite his incredibly odd behaviour, asking him several times if he was drunk) and Tom Baker himself (who, after a bit of confusion, settled straight into character, completely upstaged the fake with improvised comebacks, and managed to get him Corpsing).

Theatre
  • In Allegro, Bigby Denby receives a call from some city official asking if he would do something to clean up "the worst slum in the city." When Dr. Denby says it's not his hospital's policy to be involved in such things, he is subjected to a barrage of insults to the caller, who moments later reveals himself as his nephew Charlie in the next room.

Video Games
  • In the Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People episode Homestar Ruiner, Strong Bad can use Homestar's cell phone to prank call several characters, including Homsar and himself.
  • In Maniac Mansion, the player can call villainess Nurse Edna in order to distract her when entering her room. She naturally mistakes this for a poor quality prank call, commenting that there's "no heavy breathing."
  • On The Sims sims would randomly receive these.

Web Original
  • 5 Second Films gives us an appropriately titled "Prank Call" and "The Last Prank Call Ever".
  • One vlogbrothers video has Hank "positively prank call" people. He calls them up and tells them an optimistic fact about the world such as a statistic about decreasing violent crime. After one call resulted in more of a conversation than a prank, in subsequent calls he hung up immediately after saying his fact.
  • In the "Marzipan's Answering Machine" segments of Homestar Runner, Strong Bad repeatedly leaves prank messages on Marzipan's answering machine, like telling her she's won a million punches in the face in a sweepstakes, or offering her membership in the Royal Society for Total Dorks.
  • Inverted by Tom Mabe who pranks telemarketers that call him.
  • Tales from the Pit has Nicol Bolas, Prank Caller, with such gems as "Is your refrigerator running? Of course not. I had it disabled." and "Can you please see if there is a Michael Rotch there? He goes by Mike. [pause] Well, I've reanimated his corpse and sent him to kill you, so be on the lookout. And yes, I have disabled your caller ID! Bwah ha ha ha ha!"
  • Jayuzumi first became known for these on the internet before moving into gaming videos, keeping the soundboard gimmick that he was known for. After what he viewed as a dry spell with Call of Duty: Ghosts (he thought that the franchise was by this point running out of ideas), he's moved back into them again, with gaming videos now few and far between.

Western Animation
  • The Powerpuff Girls episode "Telephonies" dealt with the girls being prank called by the Gangreen Gang into fighting against Mojo Jojo, Fuzzy Lumpkins, and Him, even when the three latter villains didn't commit any crimes at all.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Bart loves to call up Moe's and ask to speak to people with names like Al Coholic. Moe always asks his customers for that person, then realizes the pun when they start laughing. One time he used it to sic Moe on his babysitter's boyfriend. (He had a crush on the babysitter.)
    • Radio DJs Phil & Marty prank call a man by telling him his wife died in an accident.
    • Bart and Lisa mention in one episode that Homer occasionally calls to the radio to give fake accounts about car accidents.
  • The Simpsons/Family Guy crossover has Stewie watching Bart make a prank call to Moe. Afterwards, Stewie tries it and says, "Hello Moe? Your sister's being raped." Bart's reaction says it all.
  • In Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, Coco uses the "Is your refrigerator running?" call to distract Mr. Herriman. Herriman actually goes to catch the refrigerator, leaving the others free to throw a wild party. Turns out there was a refrigerator running - an imaginary friend that looked like a refrigerator.
    • In another episode a bunch of Bloos make a prank call asking for Prince Albert in a can. A Prince Albert imaginary friend in a can bounces around afterwards.
  • Regular Show has the Prank Master, whom Mordecai and Rigby try to prank call back, and when they do, he uses a prank call to send them back in time!
  • Referenced in Dexter's Laboratory, where Mom notices the family refrigerator being pushed around by a cyborg turtle. She calls out "Honey, our refrigerator is running!", to which Dad upstairs answers cheerfully "And we've got Prince Albert in the can!" (At which point a literal prince emerges from the toilet.)
  • The Angry Beavers, "Up All Night": This is one of the things that Norbert and Daggett try to do to pass the night. Not only does Daggett botch the joke completely, but it turns out Norbert baited his brother into calling their mother.
  • Ned's Newt: In the first episode Newton showcases his abilities by shapeshifting into a number of characters and performing various sketches. This includes him prank calling someone and using the "refrigerator" gag... only to learn that the refrigerator in question indeed wasn't running, at which point he shapeshifts into a refrigerator repairman.
  • In the third act of the Mr. Bogus episode "Bogus To The Rescue", Bogus receives a call from an unknown recipient that he needs a superhero right away. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to do a good deed, Bogus quickly rushes off to the rescue, only to run past Brattus, who was prank calling him from a nearby phone booth. Bogus backtracks before angrily confronting Brattus about it, even when Brattus tries to explain that he was just trying to cheer up Bogus.
  • Tiny Toon Adventures: In the "Pledge Week" episode, Elmyra gets calls asking for a "Bill Loney" (balogna), a "Pepe Roni" (pepperoni), and finally "Ima Yutz" (I'm a yutz).
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy has Billy and Irwin making prank call to Grim and Mandy, both of whom don't fall for it since they have Caller ID. Billy and Irwin later get a job working for Cthulu, making prank calls that get passed Caller ID, and also turn the receiver into monsters.
  • A Tuff Puppy episode has Dudley prank calling Snaptrap by asking for Anita Bath (I need a bath). When Snaptrap repeats the name, Dudley yells, "You sure do!"

Real Life
  • Prince Albert is a brand of tobacco sold in a metal can. It was named for the Real Life Prince Albert, who later became King Edward VII. A prankster would call a person or store and say "Do you have Prince Albert in a can?" If the victim said "Yes", the prankster would say "Then you'd better let him out!"
  • On the internet, the term "prank call" appears to mean people trolling 1-800 numbers on Skype. It's a given, since 1-800 numbers don't use up Skype credits.
  • Modern prank calls are often conducted using soundboards (pre-recorded lines and quotes from all manner of celebrities, fictional characters, and even other prank call victims). Thanks to the emergence of proxy internet protocols and innocuous, generic Skype numbers - which can be altered at will - it's become more difficult than ever to block and ignore harassing phone calls short of disconnecting the phone line or changing your own number. Many of these calls are uploaded by the pranksters to YouTube.
    • The soundboard prank calling fad became popular around 2008, with the discovery of some notable victims who would go on to endure years of frequent prank phone calls. These victims, most of whom argued, threatened, and cussed at the comical recordings they mistook for real people, would then be called with soundboards of other victims and even their own voices. Despite this behavior sometimes crossing the line from harmless fun to outright stalking and harassment, and several victims explicitly working with the police to crack down on it, little legal action was ever able to be taken, and even the most adamant victims eventually faded into obscurity and gave up trying to fight it. Thanks to the high amount of privacy available to prank callers on the internet, it is not uncommon for them to use their own voices as well.
    • Perhaps the most notable victim of soundboard prank calling was Frank Neal Garrett, the aged owner of a construction company in Stilwell, Oklahoma, whose foul-mouthed belligerent anger and creative insults directed towards his prank callers ensured he was targeted for years to come. Frank, who unlike many other long-lasting victims, never gave an inch and refused to change his number, was bombarded with prank calls until his death in 2011, and the large collection of calls to him are still popular on YouTube. Pranksters from all over the world began calling Frank, which inevitably inspired people to begin bothering other businesses in Stilwell with Frank's voice. Some of these victims, naturally unfamiliar with the nature of soundboard prank calling, blamed Frank himself for the calls. The cult-following surrounding Frank twice made national news, when another soundboard (of a victim discovered by Frank) harassed and issued death threats to an entire street of people while identifying himself as "Frank Garrett"; news reporters did their research, and followed the trail to the extensive online library of calls to Frank. Garrett is honored yearly in "Duncanfest," named for his company, in which his fans celebrate him by using his soundboard in a variety of original prank calls.