Higher Culture: Hilarious TV Pranks From Unlikely Places

Mark Duncan

Pranks do not have to be limited to April Fools’ Day—which I’m sure at least one person has reminded you about, today being April 1st. If not, consider this your yearly reminder of the goofiest of holidays.

Now, pranks come in all shapes and sizes. Some are innocent, like the kind between long-time, close friends. Some can be downright mean and dangerous. I won’t be talking about the latter here because cruel pranks, in which someone could get hurt (or worse), aren’t hilarious to me.

What we’ll be wading into are gentle, sometimes corny surprises that can be pulled on strangers. And they’re entertaining to watch because, like with most modern humor, we in the audience are in on the joke—something I mentioned in a previous piece while passing along some wisdom the late genius, actor and stand-up comedian Norm Macdonald once shared about his comedic philosophy.

I’ll admit I’m someone who missed the huge trend online and on TV shows (and in at least one movie) in the last decade of people playing pranks. Now, I do remember fondly the “Crank Yankers” audio-only phone call pranks, though those were earlier incarnations of the trend. But on TV in particular, its popularity shot into high gear, it appeared.

Now, when most people think of “TV” and “pranks,” the first thought is of the classic show that started it all, “Candid Camera”:

Although someone I talked to about shows with pranksters brought up an X-rated documentary done by the “Candid Camera” people, called “What Do you Say to a Naked Lady?”(1970). It was something I’d never heard of. The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) describes it as:

From Candid Cameraman Allen Funt comes a hysterical feature films that tells and shows all. Witness America’s response to one of the most titillating stunts of all time in this hilarious expose of sex and society.

Recently, I’ve become addicted to two newer, pranking TV shows. One of them is hosted by the late comedy icon Betty White (may she rest in peace); the other is a bit more…adult, and stars comedian/actor Kevin Hart.


Donald Mac, Lyft Legend

I’m going to start with Hart’s show, which contains—unsurprisingly—a good amount of salty language and “adult situations.” (Although I tried to find a “clean” version of a clip to share, there wasn’t one. So, use your best judgment.) It’s absolutely not something I’d suggest parents let their teens watch. But the best way to describe it is: it’s sort of a marriage between the old “Cash Cab” game show and “Candid Camera.”

If you’re not familiar with “Cash Cab,” here’s what that looked like:

Except on this show, the riders don’t know (right away) that they’re on camera. And they certainly don’t know that their grumpy, senior citizen car-hire driver is really a celebrity in disguise.

“Donald Mac, Lyft Legend,” which was sponsored by Lyft and ran two seasons, shows Hart tooling around Los Angeles in a minivan, while talking his way into uncomfortable or unusual conversations with his unsuspecting riders. Sometimes, he has a fellow celebrity as an accomplice, sitting next to the mark as another rider. Usually, though, it’s just the driver and the passenger chatting.

At some point during the drive, Hart stop the ride then reveals that they’re being taped and who he really is.

Since all clips of the show contain coarse language, I decided not to post one in this piece. If readers want to watch it, that can be found here.

Also, if you find the show concept interesting, Lyft sponsored other celebrity episodes (just a casual glance at YouTube shows Alicia Keyes, Odell Beckam Jr, and Rob Gronkowski, among others), before and after Hart’s program aired. But it appears that this version was the only one that had legs.

Where to Watch It

There are couple options here, other than YouTube. It’s currently airing on free streaming platform PlutoTV’s Pranks channel (with commercials).

There’s also Peacock streaming service (NBC’s subscription platform), which has the show in its comedy offerings.


“Betty White’s Off Their Rockers”

The show originally aired from 2012 to 2017, according to the IMDb. And it proves that family friendly TV programming doesn’t have to equal “boring.” The set-up is that a group of senior citizens (who are actors) play pranks on younger people out in the world, in man-on-the-street situations.

“Betty White’s Off Their Rockers” is a remake of a Dutch show, though a British version, going by simply “Off Their Rockers,” also aired on their ITV channel.

I know it’s been said before, but it would be an understatement to call the late actress and comedienne Betty White a national treasure. It hit many people hard when news filtered out that she had passed away at age 99 in 2021 on New Year’s Eve. She would have turned 100 on January 17.

So many Americans (myself included) grew up with her characters on seminal programs like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “The Golden Girls.” It was like we lost a family member, instead of just another celebrity.

The actress was known for being a bit mischeivous — Sandra Bullock once told  a story about them making a movie together. Because of that, she’s the perfect hostess for this silly, sometimes gently naughty comedy show. There is sometimes adult language, but it’s much milder and less frequent than on the other program.

Probably the hardest thing in comedy is the person who plays the straight man. Their task: not breaking character and letting everyone in on the gag. And the actors and actresses who play the pranksters on this show allow total strangers, who are often decades their junior, to play the straight man role — because they don’t know it’s a prank.

In most of the set-ups, they are sitting ducks, whether waiting in an airport, lounging on the beach, or just walking down a busy city sidewalk. Some of the situations last a couple seconds, while others are a few minutes. And some are as absurd as anything on “Monty Python.”

Betty White doesn’t play any of the pranks herself, but is shown in short, interstitial pieces between the pranks, supposedly while inside sitting inside her lush mansion. She’s also one of the show’s executive producers. Sometimes, White is joined by some or all of the prank cast members, or by celebrities like one of the Kardashians. I can’t remember which one.

Here’s the trailer:



I think Betty’s late husband, Allen Ludden, who hosted many game shows over the years, would be proud of her work here.

Where to Watch It

The few times that I’ve seen it have been by chance, flipping through channels. On one recent weekday, I watched a solid, two-hour block of the show. That tells you something.

Now that I’ve paid attention to where I landed, here’s the info: I watch the show on Circle (Grand Old Opry network), which broadcasts digitally over the air, but is also on some streaming systems or cable.f you don’t have “rabbit ears” like me,

You can also catch it streaming for free on the PlutoTV, Tubi, or Freevee apps. (Peacock Premium and Roku also offer it to their subscribers.)

In a recent VIP piece, my friend and colleague Kira Davis expounded on the importance of laughter:

Laughter is good. Laugher is a tie that binds, but it also so much more. “Laughter is the best medicine” is a cliche for a reason.

Laughter can heal broken bonds, lift the soul, break the ice…it can even lighten the atmosphere in a tense conversation or exchange.

That’s so true. One of the fundamental parts of being a healthy human being is the ability to laugh at what’s going on in the world around us—as well as at ourselves. If you can’t see the humor in what’s happening right now, it’s possible you need to step back and take a good look around. There’s also the fact that God wants us to have a wider perspective … and that requires getting out of our own way, more often than not.That’s not easy to do, I realize, and I’ll be the last person to claim to I have it figured out. Funny things are often a great way of clearing the runway for other things, though.

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