A Practical Joke where people are wound-up on hidden camera for entertainment purposes. Can be done with celebrities or members of the public. There's usually the inevitable reveal. Swearing may occur at this point.
In fact, given the number of pranks that involve a total waste of time on the part of the prankees - for example, the time Candid Camera managed to turn around people at the border to one state, saying the state was "full" - there might be a question as to how much this whole pranking costs people. (At the very least, it's likely to make a few people late for important appointments.)
This stuff isn't just confined to television since radio has done its fair share; in fact, Candid Camera was originally a show called Candid Microphone. Radio has the advantage in that everyone in the world is already set up with an audio device at home; i.e., the telephone.
- Subverted as a part of an ad: it begins as the normal "guy hiding in a mailbox and throwing peoples' letters out" gag, complete with canned laughter and several successfully fooled people, but after the expected results, a huge bald guy gets his letter spat out at him. He tries again a few times, but instead of just standing there with a baffled expression, he pulls out a gun and fires several times through the mail slot.
- This ad for Pine-Sol, where the Pine-Sol Cleaning Lady bursts out of a poster to Jump Scare a few men sampling the products. Some of their reactions are... priceless.
- The show is referenced in Bill Cosby's '60s standup sketch "Noah's Ark", where an incredulous Noah, receiving construction instructions from a voice in the air claiming to be God, eventually asks "Am I on Candid Camera?"
- On Joe Piscopo's comedy album New Jersey one track is called "Candid Radio" where Piscopo as Alan Funt plays some "classic" pranks from the radio version of Candid Camera, including removing the "No Smoking" signs from the restrooms on The Hindenburg and pranking Julius and Ethel Rosenberg into participating in espionage.
- Funt also made two theatrical films of this type, What Do You Say to a Naked Lady? and Money Talks.
- In Cannonball Run II, state troopers Don Knotts and Tim Conway pull over a speeding limousine; finding that it's being "driven" by a chimpanzee, they're convinced Allen Funt is hiding in the back somewhere and filming them for Candid Camera.
- Parodied in Stay Tuned, with a show called "Sadistic Hidden Camera".
- In the first High School Musical film, after Sharpay and Ryan discover that Troy and Gabriella have made the final audition stages (Sharpay didn't think they'd even auditioned), Ryan remarks, "Maybe we're being Punk'd! Maybe we'll get to meet Ashtonnote !"
- Inverted in The Gumball Rally. The Dodge police cruiser team gets an Arizona state trooper to believe that they are filming a movie from a camera hidden on a far-away peak, and ask him to hold still for a face shot, as they make their getaway.
- Allen Funt's Candid Camera is pretty much the definer and Trope Namer of the genre. It did both ordinary people and celebs. Its Catchphrase, "Smile, you're on Candid Camera," is well known around the world.
- Candid Candid Camera was the same show, with the same host, only Direct to Video and with nudity. Allen Funt became so well known for this that when he once got on a plane that was hijacked and flown to Cuba, he was the only passenger who didn't spend the entire flight laughing hysterically, thinking that this was a Candid Camera gag.
- The Brady Bunch: Twice during the show's second season:
- "Coming Out Party": Where Carol, who has been ordered on bedrest and to not talk to anyone, has already been tested by Mike. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice ... well, that's when Mr. Phillips calls, trying to reach Mike, who isn't home yet, to finalize details about an outing on his boat. Carol outsmarts herself when she thinks it's Mike, insults Mr. Phillips, and jeopardizes the whole thing when she realizes Mike had just walked in the door.
- "The Liberation Of Marcia Brady," Peter agrees (begrudgingly, at Greg's behest) to join the Sunflower Girls (a Girl Scout-type group) and is asked to sell cookies door-to-door. One of the neighbors an embarrassed Peter attempts to sell to is really amused and comments that he surely is being pranked by "one of those hidden-camera shows" ... before agreeing to buy a box of cookies. Not because he eats cookies, but because of the sheer ridiculousness of the whole thing.
- Noels House Party with its "Gotcha" (originally "Gotcha Oscars" until the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences threatened legal action) feature on celebrities. Memorable ones include a football manager ending up doing the Christine Keeler pose and something involving "Custer's Last Hat Stand". This one is especially notable because it spawned that monstrosity that is Mr. Blobby.
- Punk'd, Like Noel's House Party mentioned above, is a take of this that only targets celebrities.
- Jackass while not an entire series built on this, did feature gags that relied on the reactions of unsuspecting people passing buy. One example had Johnny Knoxville dress up as an old man and shoplift which ended up serving as the basis for Bad Grandpa years later.
- Other examples include dressing up a car like it had been involved in a pedestrian Hit and Run and taking it to a car wash and a similar one involving a floor cleaning service coming in to clean up what appeared to be a murder scene. One of the castmembers even carried a visible fake severed hand.
- There was also a failed one, where he would enter a yoga class and start farting aloud and continuously. The yogi and the other students just keep going as if nothing was happening, so after a while Knoxville just gets up and leaves.
- Beadle's About involved ordinary people. As the series progressed, nobody seemed to realise that all sorts of improbable things that involved their cars being destroyed could possibly be prank. Hilariously, someone wised up and, when the parking lot she was in was somehow replaced with a showroom of cars identical to hers said, without missing a beat, "Is this Beadle's About?"
- Some of the things they did out of the studio with people in What Would You Do?
- The Chaser's War on Everything also does both ordinary people and celebrities. The celebrity targets are often politicians, and the pranks are more satirical than most other shows - most famously, getting into the security zone around the APEC conference thinly disguised as a Canadian motorcadenote .
- Dick Clark and Ed McMahon played pranks on celebrities as part of TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes.
- Totally Hidden Videos was a show airing on Fox ca. 1990, featuring elaborate pranks.
- The Adam and Joe Show included these as a regular feature of the show.
- An interesting British example is called Swag, where people who actually did something wrong were targeted instead of helpless, random members of the public (which, for some people, is considered quite cruel). Prop goods are left around and are filmed until someone attempts to steal them, at which point the thief is punished in an embarrassing fashion. One of their more popular skits is when they leave boxes of snacks at the back of a truck; someone tries their luck and hops inside to grab them, only for the door to slam behind them and the sides of the truck to fall off to reveal a cage. They are then driven around the street.
- Trigger Happy TV is a British show that sticks more to the traditional Candid Camera formula, but with much more offbeat and surreal pranks, as well as never showing the pranks being revealed to their victims afterward.
- Scare Tactics. Like Candid Camera, but innocent people are tricked into extremely frightening situations. There's been at least one lawsuit by a victim, but the show continues.
- Subverted in a Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch. A job interviewer puts an applicant through a bizarre series of tests, with other people watching. After the applicant gets angry he's told that all the positions had been filled weeks earlier.
- The Carbonaro Effect takes this trope up a notch by having unsuspecting people being tricked by the host who happens to be a magician.
- On the Discovery Kids channel, there's a version of Punk'd (with kids and animals) called Skunk'd TV.
- Animal Planet once ran a similar special called People Traps, produced and hosted by Trace Beaulieu of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame.
- Videomatch/Showmatch was this before focusing entirely on "Bailando por un Sueño", and now it's back to doing this.
- Scrubs used this in an Imagine Spot on one occasion - after guiding a couple through a difficult and important medical decision, JD wishes that life were more like his favourite TV shows - cue the unconscious wife sitting up and saying 'you're on candid camera' and JD and Cox pointing cameras out, including one guy with a big shoulder-mounted camera hiding under the bed...
- The Daily Show parodied these shows (and Punk'd specifically) at the end of a "This Week in God" segment, with a fake advertisement for a show called Baptiz'd. Instead of an elaborate prank, the action involved Stephen Colbert throwing a paper cup of water into a coworker's face, then cracking up, showing him the "hidden cameras" (which can't be that hidden since they're just standing in the hallway by a water cooler), and informing him that he "just got Baptiz'd!" (Next week: Circumcis'd!)
- Just for Laughs: Gags is a Canadian version of these. Because there's pretty much no dialogue at all (overdubbing with music), it's often shown during flights. Its specialty is immense use of public service uniforms and vehicles (and pranks involving nuns that would not work anywhere else except in Quebec). Interestingly though, they also license some content from Australian hidden camera show Just Kidding.
- The same writers also had a show Surprise Sur Prise, which focused on elaborate pranks on celebrities.
- Just Kidding is the Australian equivalent of Candid Camera. More interestingly, they license some of their content to Just for Laugh Gags as well. However, they tend to leave the dialog of their pranks in, and thus is worth turning to if you have caught the edited version of the pranks on Just For Laugh Gags and want to hear the dialog this time around.
- Done in several Disney shows including Sonny with a Chance and Hannah Montana, both with a Punk'd-esque show called 'Gotcha'
- A Saturday Night Live sketch with Christopher Walken had such a show, Pranksters. It starts with a guy pranking his rat-hating sister... and goes into a man who pranks a workmate who kept using his parking space by killing him with a tire iron.
- What Would You Do? is a variation of this, in that it's a hidden camera show not done for comedy purposes; instead, it's more along the lines of a sociological/morality experiment.
- Several of the competions between the hosts of Dick & Dom in da Bungalow were this; for example, Om Pom Stick where they would have to try and stick pictures of themselves to members of the public without being noticed, or Bogies! where they would shout "Bogies" (US English= "Boogers") louder and louder in a public place. The producer would do a funny sports-style commentary over the footage.
- Impractical Jokers does this, with the twist of the pranksters often being as much the butt of the joke as the unsuspecting public.
- Not the Nine O'Clock News parodied Game for a Laugh by having the "prank" consist of the victim's wife (who was the one who submitted his name to the show) being brutally murdered and left for him to find when he gets home. When he finds out it's all for the show, he bursts out laughing in relief.
- Double subverted on A Bit of Fry and Laurie in the sketch where Fry plays a rich bastard senselessly abusing Laurie's beggar character. Laurie eventually claims to be the star of a Beadle's About-type show, and Fry changes his tune and starts looking around for the cameras, asking if Laurie is really a TV star, and Laurie replies, "No. But I might have been."
- The Dick Van Dyke Show had an ep where pranks were played on the cast while they stayed at a cabin. The segment was to be called 'Sneaky Camera' or something like that, and they then proceeded to lampshade the fact that it would be a ripoff of another show (Candid Camera, but not mentioned by name.)
- A Mr. Show sketch had this as The Reveal: a priest at a party is acting as a slave for a Jerkass party guest who claims he "won" a bet against the guests and forces him to do such things as dance around with a banana stuck out his rear while saying "I was born out of Satan's ass." It turns out the priest actually on camera by said guest and the the other three who were sympathetic towards him were also in on the prank. Only in-universe, it's not on a TV show, they keep the footage on tapes.
- Many of Derren Brown's Channel 4 specials and shows are practically extremely elaborate versions of this trope, usually with the mark volunteering through Twitter or the Classifieds in UK newspapers and then not being told themselves that they have been picked (although the mark's family and friends are usually told in advance). To wit, Apocalypse was one of the largest and most expensive ever, continuing as it did for two days, during which time the unfortunate subject believed himself to have survived a Zombie Apocalypse. Then there's Hero at 30,000 feet, where a burnt out everyman was put on a flight simulator and tricked into thinking he's the only one who can save the plane which will crash if he doesn't intervene. And of course, there's Pushed Off The Edge, where the mark is being pressured into pushing someone off the edge of a building.
- Originally, Overhaulin' combined this trope with the premise of Pimp My Ride. Upon the request of someone connected to the mark, they would "steal" or "confiscate" the guy's ride (often a car, but trucks are also featured in later episodes) and string him along for a week. At the end of the week, they'd reveal the prank and return the mark's ride...customized.
- Parodied in The Saturday Night Armistice when Armando Iannucci introduces a segment where he's "played some hilarious practical jokes on celebrities", and shows a clip of one of his favourites, where he gives Bob Monkhouse "the fright of his life". The clip shows Iannucci running up behind Bob and tapping him on the left shoulder while disappearing off to the right. Cut back to the studio, where Iannucci is helpless with laughter and claims it took four weeks to set up.
- In a sketch on The Benny Hill Show Benny approaches a woman sitting in a park, singing to her and kissing her. She is upset until he points out a van parked across the way, saying she's on Candid Camera. She laughs and kisses him. After she goes away Benny admits to another man sitting there that it's not a Candid Camera Prank, he was just trolling her to get her to kiss him.
- The Channel 4 series Bad Robots is one that centers around technology, it has an excuse plot about a robot named Tez One that has gained sentience and decided to teach humanity a lesson after seeing humans mistreating their electronic appliances.
- CBS's I Get That a Lot features celebrities working in real life jobs such as waitress, librarian, etc. As the title indicates, if someone recognizes them, they just pretend to not to be the celebrity, saying stuff like "I get that a lot" or "If I were really him, do you think I would be working here?" Then, when they're ready, the camera-people come out and the celebrity reveals that they are, in fact, actually that celebrity.
- Oblivious (stylized as Obliviou$) was a "hidden-camera game show" aired on Spike TV. The host would come up to people and start asking questions of them, working them into a conversation, but with them being entirely unaware that they were on a game show. Each episode ended with a bonus round in which one of the people to which this was done would then have the opportunity to take their turn as the host, asking questions of another unwitting contestant.
You might think I'm actin' funny / Might not take me serious / You won't know you're winning money / 'Cause you are oblivious!
- Channel 4's Space Cadets is basically this combined with Reality TV, and bears resemblance to many of Derren Brown's (whose show is also unsurprisingly on Channel 4) pranks. The victims are convinced that they have been flown to Russia for training to be sent into space. They're put through training which are basically pranks on their own accord, and the final episode itself is a prank of epic proportions, before the entire reveal.
- Mamamoo's "Mr. Ambiguous" music video leaves in a scene of Baek Ji Young and the rest of the crew pulling one of these off quite successfully on the girls. The camera crew secretly film them practising for the MV in front of Ji Young who pretends to harshly criticise them. The girls go into Heroic BSoD when they find out they've been fooled.
- In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Spirit of Justice, the producer of Take-2 TV who was broadcasting Trucy's magic show planned to prank her live on the air by making her believe she had accidentally killed her co-performer, only for him to "come back to life". It doesn't exactly go according to the script, since the co-worker winds up dead for real. Although it's subverted in that this actually the producer's plan all along, as a way to frame Trucy for murder.
- Referenced in Freefall, as Florence seeks a robot whose brain was manufactured on Jean, and comes up with a test involving asking a target robot "What does your name smell like?"
- In Grrl Power, the engineer Omar makes a habit of occasionally dropping remarks that will draw screams of outrage from Maxima, and then snapping a picture of the rage-face with his smartphone.
Omar: [grinning] One of these days you'll stop falling for that, Max. Until then, the Anger Album continues to grow.
- Creature Comforts (both versions) was a weird sort of Candid Camera Prank in that the victims knew it was happening - they were told at the time that they were being recorded for a TV show. Where the prank comes in was that neither character designers nor animators ever met the people being recorded. They wanted them to base appearance and performance on voice alone, so they were isolated from the process of recording so they wouldn't get any preconceived notions before setting to work. So there was an even chance you'd either be surprised to find out just how owlish you were, or offended that someone equated you with a gorilla. Thank God for anonymity, eh fellas?
- It's doubtful that they weren't told that they would be rendered in Claymation, but it might be a surprise to find out exactly how.
- On The Flintstones, Fred and Barney weasel out of a commitment to attend a bachelor party for a friend (which to have them describe it makes it sound like this friend was about to die), and find themselves on film for the TV show "Peek-A-Boo Camera." They're excited at first but then face the realization that the wives will see it as well. They successfully manage to prevent the wives from seeing it, but the next week, the host says the segment was so well-received that they are repeating it. Cue Wilma and Betty about to thrash the boys.
- Improv Everywhere does it just for the amusement of the participants, bystanders and readers of their website.
- Steve Allen was a pioneer in the use of this gag, on his '60s variety show.
- One of the most famous practitioners in the United Kingdom is impressionist Jon Culshaw, mostly but not exclusively on Dead Ringers, He once rang up then Prime Minister Tony Blair live on air and pretended to be William Hague, who was then leader of the opposition. The prime minister spotted it pretty quickly. Culshaw is also famous for his scarily accurate impression of the Fourth Doctor from Doctor Who. He's used this several times, including in prank calls to Sylvester McCoy (the Seventh Doctor), Colin Baker (the Sixth Doctor), Peter Davison (the Fifth Doctor) and... Tom Baker, who actually played the Fourth Doctor:
John Culshaw: Hello, this is the Doctor.
Tom Baker: That's odd... Oh no, no there must be a mistake, I am The Doctor.
- Crank Yankers was an example of phone scams on television. The performers would do the crank calls, and then a set of puppeteers wielding Hensonesque caricatures of both parties would act out the scene with extra visual gags. One of the best was rapper Ludacris calling up his manager, claiming he wanted to change his name to "Mr. Peanut". On Luda's end, his puppet was trying on monocles and top hats, while his manager's puppet was calmly shredding Ludacris' contract, and pressing the Big Red Button marked "In Case of Insane Rapper".
- The Fonejacker's entire schtick.
- The Dick Van Dyke Show:
- Rob gets a call from one of Buddy's friends at a party, claiming to be from the phone company, who convinces Rob to do more and more ridiculous things to his phone, culminating in putting in in a paper bag and throwing it out the front door.
- Rob calls home pretending to be a suave Frenchman, in order to see if Laura would hang up on him or flirt. Laura, knowing right away that it's Rob, flirts right back at him.
- The Mary Tyler Moore Show: Lou claims to know then-First Lady Betty Ford, but Mary doesn't believe him. At the end of the episode Mary gets a call from Mrs. Ford but hangs up on her, believing that it's a prank.
- The Brady Bunch: Mrs. Brady is home recovering from throat sugrery and is not supposed to talk to anyone. Mike calls home pretendind to be a friend of Carol's passing on some gossip, and Carol can't resist talking to "her." Mike reveals himself, reminding her that she's not supposed to talk. A little while later Mike's boss calls her at home (while Mike is still at work) and to ask about her health in anticipation of an upcoming trip on his boat. Thinking that it's another test from Mike, she insults him and hangs up the phone.
Mr. Phillips: Ahoy Mrs. Brady, it's Mr. Phillips. How are you feeling?
Carol: Not well enough to go on that broken-down barnacle barge of yours.
- Most Morning Zoo radio shows will do this at some point.
- The radio station PLJ in New York City actually calls it "Phone Scams".
- 93.3 FLZ's MJ Morning show really likes REALLY annoying crank calls.
- This Morning Zoo prank call went very very wrong https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRmAyyvAcZY
- Snopes relays the tale of a woman who called into a radio show on Valentine's Day to have the DJs prank call her boyfriend. The DJ called the man and offered him free flowers, and he chose to send them... to his wife. Oops.
- In Quebec, the most well-known phone pranksters were the Justiciers Masqués, a team of radio hosts. They usually prank normal people from around Quebec, but they also successfully pranked many Canadian politicians, and even Nicolas Sarkozy, president of France, by passing as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. They also fooled Britney Spears into thinking she was speaking to Céline Dion... Despite them being an all men team and having French as their first language.
- They were also the ones behind the Sarah Palin prank call mentioned above.
- Radio host Gary Burbank would call people, claiming to be from the "U.S. Senseless Survey". People who didn't pay careful enough attention would think they were talking to the U.S. Census bureau and take the surveys that were, indeed, senseless.**
- Karlson & Mc Kenzie continue this tradition on 100.7 WZLX.
- Russell Brand sometimes does this in his stand-up set, usually finding a slightly silly advertisement in the local newspaper of the town where he's doing the show and calling the business up with outrageous requests. He also did this on his radio show, which led to the infamous Sachsgate Scandal, which (long story short) a message on comedian Andrew Sach's answer phone caused outrage due to comments about his grand daughter, leading to The BBC getting fined by the regulators, Jonathon Ross (who was also present) being suspended and Brand's eventual resignation from the BBC. Proof that this kind of joke isn't always appreciated.
- Brent Douglas and the late Phil Stone of KMOD-FM in Tulsa, OK created "Roy D. Mercer," a country bumpkin who calls up businesses, citizens and even celebrities, asking for outlandish recompense for some wrong or another, and threatening an "ass-whoopin'" if he doesn't get it. Some believe that "Roy" is based on "Leroy Mercer," the brainchild of Tennessee native John Bean, who died in 1984 and whose work was disseminated through bootleg tapes in the early '80s. Stone and Douglas claimed their character was original, despite the fact that "Roy's" and "Leroy's" calls share many similarities.
- In Malaysia, it's the Hitz.FM Morning Crew's segment Gotcha!, where every morning the three shock jockeys will prank call a person nominated by a friend or relative via the radio station's website the day before.
- El vacilón de la mañana was famous in the Hispanic world for creating the infamous "Manolo Cabeza de Huevo" (Egghead Manolo) prank. It all begins with the DJ calling a concierge who hates being called "egghead". He promptly calls him and tells him "egghead". Then the DJ calls him and, with a high screeching voice, claims to be his bunhole. The final result: Manolo ends up yelling "Fuck you, fuck your mother, fuck you all, and fuck all your motherfucking genealogic tree!". Said radio show also managed to successfully trick Hugo Chávez into thinking he was being called by Fidel Castro, and viceversa.
- Brian Bell has his "Brian Bell Buster," part of the Loren and Wally show on WROR 105.7. He gets a bit of inside information from the person who requests the call, and then sets up their target — usually a co-worker or family member.
- The Simpsons:
- In its early years, had the Running Gag of Bart prank-calling Moe's Tavern with Double Entendre names, similar to the Red Tube Bar Prank Calls.
- In "Krusty Gets Kancelled", Krusty's TV replacement, Gabbo, gets ready to perform a "patented Gabbo Crank Call" (on Krusty himself). When Bart complains that "he stole that bit from Krusty", Lisa counters that Krusty stole it from Steve Allen.
- In "Homer Alone", one of the things that stresses out Marge at the beginning is hearing KBBL's Bill and Marty prank-calling a man and telling him that his wife died.
- Apparently the fear of this has become so ubiquitous that a US senator hung up on US President-Elect Barack Obama because she thought he was a prankster. The fact that VP candidate Sarah Palin fell victim to a just such a prank several weeks earlier (this one from a group pretending to be the French president and his aide) probably contributed. Barack Obama was said to have been amused.
- Older Than They Think: Legend has it that during the Second World War, a junior aide at Buckingham Palace rather rudely hung up on the then-Queen of the Netherlands, who'd just been evacuated -much against her will!- along with a Government in Exile ahead of the invading German Panzers. She was less than pleased at being forcibly separated from her country In Its Hour of Need and had apparently been forced to sneak off to a public callbox to dial the only number she could find for the royal residence, and finally got connected at around the time the pubs were closing, so his suspicion is somewhat understandable.
- And then sometimes it happens the other way around. The famous British political cartoonist Karl Giles famously sketched several allegedly rather unflattering cartoons of the Royals, which was quite the courageous act back in the Fifties, and was rather surprised to receive a call from someone calling from Buckingham Palace. He responded with a hearty "Fuck off!" and slammed the receiver down, think it a colleague at the paper playing a prank on him. It really was Buckingham Palace, calling on behalf of Her Majesty to request the original to have it framed. Giles went on to receive a knighthood and his own biographer described him as an unofficial Court Jester to the British throne. And people accuse HRH the Queen of excessive British Stuffiness...
- The most prolific American practitioners of the Phone Prank are The Jerky Boys, who've sold over 8,000,000 albums showcasing their work.
- Inverted by comedian Tom Mabe, who plays pranks on people who call him - namely, telemarketers.
- James Florentine has dabbled in this as well. Crank Yankers has also featured incoming call pranks to people who thought they were calling a package delivery service strongly hinted to be UPS.
- Steve Wozniak once owned a telephone number that was a frequent misdial for an airline. He would test his callers to see what kind of imaginary flights he could book, lowering the price by adding a ridiculous number of connections, and so forth. But these calls were never recorded or published.
- Minneapolis radio personality T.D. Mischke hosted a podcast when he was between jobs. The phone number his sponsors gave him turned out to have been previously owned by a few different people with credit problems. When the collection agencies would call in, he would have a lot of fun with them. Here's a sample!