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." For amateurs, at least, this has been made largely extinct in Real Life because of caller ID and call-blocking features that allow telephone users to block calls from "Private"/"Unavailable"/"Unknown"/"Restricted" phone numbers. Prank Calls are usually considered a form of Harassing Phone Call. Though the trope does live on for call-in talk shows and similar, where the caller doesn't care if their ID is known and often prank callers are seen as All Part of the Show.
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.
- In Episode 6 of the Little Lulu anime, after Lulu's attempts to find fires to fight only results in getting Tubby in trouble, Tubby decides to get back at Lulu by calling her on the telephone and tricking her into thinking that he's the fire chief by telling her to climb up a tree and meow like a cat so that the fire department will come and rescue her. It backfires spectactularly when some people in the park discover Lulu meowing in the tree, which prompts one person to call the fire department for real. After Lulu is rescued from the tree (while also at the same time accidentally discovering and actually saving a Cute Kitten that had by chance was also stuck up in the same tree as Lulu), the firemen decide to reward Lulu by letting her ride with them on the fire engine, while Tubby and the other boys can only watch, feeling that they've been outshined due to Tubby's jealousy and Pride.
- This was the entire schtick of The Jerky Boys, who released recordings of their various prank calls, and even a Big Damn 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. Also notable for including "Music Of The Night", a brief prank call made by Mike Patton in which he tries to get saxophone lessons after midnight.
- Brian Regan said he had lots of problems with these ones when his brothers forced him to make them.
- 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 recognizes Donald's voice. He still gives Donald a job — taking calls in the complaints department.
- 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.
- 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)
- The 1965 William Castle movie I Saw What You Did and its 1988 remake are about a couple of girls who make prank calls saying "I saw what you did and I know who you are." Unfortunately for them, they happen to call a guy who killed his wife, and thinks they actually did see him.
- In the Live-Action film version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas the title character uses the "Is your refrigerator running?" prank on an innocent Who.
- In The Last Jedi, Poe prank calls a Star Destroyer, throwing in a small helping of Your Mother to add insult to injury.
- 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.
- Fear Street did two books about how this can end badly, The Wrong Number and Wrong Number 2. Deena and Jade spend an evening doing prank calls, but then call the home of a woman who's being attacked by her husband, and overhear her grisly death. The two girls fear that the husband will find out who they are, but then feel compelled to bring him to justice when the wrong man is arrested. In the sequel, the girls start receiving threatening phone calls and fear the killer's trying to get them even though he's supposed to be in prison.
- In Death Masks, Molly gets Sanya (a huge black Russian guy) in on her prank calling. Bonus points because it is obvious he does not know what Molly roped him in.
"Excuse me sir. Do you happen to have Prince Albert in a can? Molly, they hung up again."
- Our Miss Brooks: The events of "Wild Goose" are set off when Walter Denton makes a prank call, disguising his voice as he does so. Denton tells Mr. Conklin he's won a television set from Sherry's Department Store. Hilarity Ensues.
- 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. The calls consist of her saying a bunch of random stuff to mess with his head, before asking him to do something ridiculous for an extended period (while still on the phone). The shorts usually end with Mr. Oldman complying with her orders, all while periodically screaming "YOU HAVE THE WRONG NUMBER!"
- 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.
- "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?
- Early Beastie Boys single "Cooky Puss" includes clips of the band prank calling a local Carvel restaurant.
- 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.
- On the rainy day episode of Pee-wee's Playhouse Randy does a prank phone call onto a female stranger. And shows it to Pee-Wee. But it reveals that the female stranger is married to a police officer, Who scolded to Pee-Wee that making prank phone calls is against the law and has threaten to put Pee-Wee in jail. Pee-Wee told the police he learned his lesson on the law and punishment. He will never do it again.
- Our Miss Brooks: The events of "Free TV From Sherry's" are set off when Walter Denton makes a prank call, disguising his voice as he does so. Denton tells Mr. Conklin he's won a television set from Sherry's Department Store. Hilarity Ensues.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- Ownage Pranks specializes in these.
- 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.
- The Most Popular Girls in School: Brittnay does one in "Judy & Red in the Morning" under the name of "Witney Matthews" along with a fake calm-sounding voice, until cussing them out shortly afterwards and abruptly hangs up.
- If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device: while he is in the Warp along with his fellows, Inquisitor Karamazov tries to do the "is your refrigerator running?" prank on the mayor of a demonic town. However, he is so wasted that it comes out as "is my refrigerator running?" and soon the conversation devolves into an argument between Karamazov and the demon - until Leman Russ blows the place up, the prank being a distraction.
- How To Hero discusses prank calling supervillains here
- Amusingly, they later play the classic "is your refrigerator running" joke straight with the superhero Bold Kold. As explained in the tags to post
- "LEGEND HAS IT THAT BOLD KOLD CAME INTO EXISTENCE WHEN A MAGIC WIELDING PRANKSTER BROUGHT SOME CHUMP'S REFRIGERATOR TO LIFE JUST SO COULD THEN CALL THEM AND SAY IS YOUR REFRIGERATOR RUNNING THEN YOU BETTER GO CATCH IT AND THEN THE REFRIGERATOR ACTUALLY RAN AWAY AND HAD TO LIVE AS A FUGITIVE FOR A BIT UNTIL HE TOOK CONTROL OF HIS OWN DESTINY AND BECAME SUPERHERO! INSPIRATIONAL"
- Amusingly, they later play the classic "is your refrigerator running" joke straight with the superhero Bold Kold. As explained in the tags to post
- 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.) This backfired on him once when Bart called Moe looking for a Hugh Jass... only for a man actually named Hugh Jass to pick up on the other end. Hugh takes it in stride. The first time viewers saw Bart meet up with Moe had him recognizing the voice... of Homer's sweet ragamuffin kid Bart.
- 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.
- An episode of Tales From The Cryptkeeper features the main character making prank calls. One of them ends up reaching an elderly woman who begins stalking him so she can have a companion.
- 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!"
- In the The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron episode "The Trouble With Clones" Jimmy's evil clone contacts the United Nations and asks to speak to Ambassador Ivana Shakemybooty.
- In the Arthur episode "Francine Goes to War", Muffy and Francine try to prank call Francine's new elderly neighbor with the "Is your refrigerator running?" gag, but Francine screws it up by asking if her refrigerator is on followed by Muffy giving away her name on the phone.
- An episode of The Crumpets has the young disobedient twins Bother and Blister prank calling the new counseling phone line of Ms. McBrisk from behind the stairs in the room she's in. With the call apparently based on the metaphoric words in McBrisk's TV commercial, Bother calls her that he is in a boat with no sails and oars amidst a storm and lost his belongings, and he and Blister imitate a stormy sound. Bother ends it as if he is frantically drowning, leaving McBrisk wordlessly repentant.
- As mentioned in the trope description, this wasn't uncommon prior to the Turn of the Millennium due to the invention of things like *69 and Caller ID. However, they have evolved, see below.
- 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!"
- Another common one was the old "Is your appliance running? Better go catch it!" as well.
- 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. note 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.
- If you are on the receiving end of prank calls, or other harassing phone calls, especially if you are fielding large amounts of them note here's what you can do.
- In 2007, an organized campaign by trolls on 4chan resulted in numerous calls to Gamestop asking if they have Battletoads (released in 1991) available for pre-order. At least one such prank call also went to the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop.
- Originally a Russian IRC meme, How does one patch KDE2 under FreeBSD? briefly mutated into something of a notorious repeated prank call in the Russian-speaking parts of the world.
- Many people on YouTube like to post videos of making prank calls to Indian scams that inquire about items like tech support, debt collection, or free vacations, as a way of harassing them and, for a short time, stopping them from getting another victim.