Prince Albert out of the can

One would surmise that the phone prank was invented along with the telephone. Alexander Graham Bell’s words in his very first phone call were rife for a phone prank:

“Mr. Watson, come here. I want you.”

Hopefully, Mr. Bell didn’t say he wanted Watson “badly” or “right here.” Nonetheless, practical jokes were a natural for the telephone because the caller’s face is not shown. Thus, the classic practical telephone joke evolved along with popular culture, such as the joke with Prince Albert pipe tobacco.

“The brand gained widespread recognition, perhaps infamously, due to the classic prank call, where the caller asks if the store has ‘Prince Albert in a can’ and when the unexpecting clerk responds ‘yes’, the caller follows up with ‘you better let him out, because he is suffocating!” says this passage from Wikipedia. “Despite this negative publicity, Prince Albert is one of the more popular independent brands of tobacco in the US. More recently, it has also become available in the form of pipe-tobacco cigars.”

I don’t know how recent that information is. Since I have long since quit smoking and even longer since quit smoking pipes, I have no idea if Prince Albert tobacco is still being sold. I searched the Web for its parent company, John Middleton Inc., and all I can find is various lawsuit information. Wow, do you think Prince Albert finally suffocated?

Certainly not Prince Albert of Monaco. The son of the late Prince Rainier and American actress Grace Kelly just recently took the throne. I have no idea if anyone ever played that phone prank on him. I kind of doubt it.

The phone prank, as practiced by kids, has over time become more — involved. I hesitate to use the word “sophisticated.” Many morning radio shows employ phone tricks, some successfully, others quite hideously. Any number of entertainers have made their bones by phone tricks. The ones who come to mind are of the cracker-barrel type such as Roy D. Mercer and Willie P. Richardson. And then there was that show “Crank Yonkers” with the puppets on Comedy Central which I thought was pretty lame.

I don’t know. Not everyone can pull off a phone prank and some jokes are less funny than intimidating or even stupid. I think successfully executing such jokes have much more impact when you are 7 years old than when you’re 49. But then I never was much of a practical joker. Just an impractical one.

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