4 Practical Jokes You Won't Believe US Presidents Pulled
There are many insightful, serious articles about American presidents that ponder the nature of power and its effect on those who wield it.
This is not one of those articles. This one is about silly shit like this:
Well, slightly less staged-looking than this, but you get the point.
See, for all the amazing power and awesome perks the job entails, being a president can be a bit of a poop-fest. Sure, you have a neat crib and the strongest military on the planet at your disposal, but office hours tend to be long and difficult when your literal job description is "lead the free world while everyone screams about what a crap job you're doing." That's why many world leaders and their staff enjoy a laugh when they can -- their day-to-day jobs feature a lot less fun and a lot more uncomfortable talks with people who look like this:
"I could kill you with my spleen."
Of course, this doesn't take away the fact that they're still presidents. As such, they prefer to laugh at things that are not presidents. Maybe this is why so many seemingly serious leaders have a penchant for the occasional practical joke. Cases in point:
Franklin D. Roosevelt: Slapstick President
The esteemed Franklin D. Roosevelt had a knack for mischievous humor and real difficulty keeping his mouth shut when he came up with something that amused him. An example: According to a relative, FDR once managed to cause a mild diplomatic emergency over the correct way to cook goddamn Brussels sprouts. The so-called Sprout Incident happened in the latter stages of World War II, when Roosevelt started giving shit to Winston Churchill's wife over the fact that English people boil sprouts (justified), and then proceeded to punk her with a number of completely ass-pulled "better" recipes (slightly less justified). Eventually, FDR pulled John Winant, U.S. ambassador to Britain, into the mess, embarrassing him thoroughly.
The Churchills presumably fed Winant a lot of FDR's messed-up recipes after that, because the next time he saw the president, Winant promptly told him he was a diplomat and not a fucking foodster, and that he'd resign in a second if Roosevelt ever pulled a stunt like that again. This is probably the closest to a "Now listen here, you little shit ..." talk anyone has ever given a president -- or, for that matter, a Roosevelt.
John "Balls of Adamantium" Winant, ladies and gentlemen.
Apart from randomly insulting English cuisine, FDR was also fond of puns and dad jokes. He'd call his secretary of the treasury just to make him guess who he was in bed with, only to eventually reveal that the answer was "A sore throat." However, he was also a massive fan of simple, slapstick-style practical jokes. As a child, he'd freak out nurses by putting Alka-Seltzer in their chamber pots. As president, he'd summon reporters for a "massively important" press conference and have them meet a random farmer who proceeded to give the media a lengthy lecture about the importance of stud bulls. In physical therapy, he discovered that if he relaxed his legs at the exact right moment, his therapist would lose her balance and fall in the swimming pool, a revelation that caused him endless joy. Once, FDR even deliberately stranded a member of the Secret Service on the roof of a farm building by ordering him to scale said building, then bribing a dude to remove the ladder. He was that kind of guy.
"... and after he'd been there for three days, I gave him the atomic wedgie. Then I pelted him
with live ferrets until he cried and pooped."
As annoying as the whole slapstick shtick probably was, it may have been a blessing in disguise. When FDR dropped the pie-in-the-face act and started getting sneaky, things got pretty terrifying for his peers. He set up situations where he and his aides grimly informed the extremely human-rights-minded attorney general that, due to Pearl Harbor, he was to draft an act that forbade the freedom of discussion and information. They kept the ruse going for five full minutes, and as the panicked attorney general tried to argue against the idea, they all burst out laughing to his face. FDR also tried to trick the secretary of the treasury (yes, him again), who evidently took a Ron Burgundy approach to his speeches, to blurt out some very unstatesmanlike things during an address. (The man noticed the "unsavory things" in the script and abruptly ended it before he spoke them out loud.) In a particularly inspired move, Roosevelt even managed to prank call a number of well-known White House correspondents and recruit them as spokespeople for a famous laxative.
Consider that for a moment: The most famous voice in America prank called the very people whose job is to listen to him and convinced them to take up a new career as paid faces of a poop medicine. That is the kind of mind that gets to be president.
George H.W. Bush And The Ridiculously Elaborate Porn Prank
Bush the Elder's presidency is generally considered a stalwart, pragmatic, and reliable performance by a man who didn't bother with the unnecessary frills of the job, such as clear vision or public credibility. As such, he's not a guy you'd expect to indulge in practical jokes, unless you're the kind of person who counts the strange experiment he's been running on the world since 1946 as one.
Or so you'd think. There are those who say that Bush could be quite a joker when the situation called for it. Consider a recent story from his twilight years, when he -- at the ripe age of freaking 90 -- punked his family so hard that they disregarded their own internal "Don't tell anyone" policies because the story was just too damn good to be wasted. This story, which emerged in 41ON41, a "talking heads"-style documentary about Bush, provides interesting insight into what happens when the kind of mind that is able to govern a whole nation goes into full-on jest mode.
It all started when Bush's wife, Barbara, found a big fat stack of printed-out porn (the sources insist on the term "scantily-clad women," but come on) on her personal printer in Kennebunkport, the family's Maine compound. This in itself raises a number of interesting questions, but apparently someone else had printed them, because Mrs. Bush was extremely upset over the find. So upset that she couldn't stop talking about it to anyone who would listen, eventually badgering her husband to take action.
Action, that is, to prank his wife in a manner most ruthless.
Bush assumed a completely different identity -- that of one J. Smith, district attorney of Portland, Maine. Using "Office of the Attorney General" dummy stationery, he drafted a sternly-worded letter to Barbara Bush, former first lady and, according to J. Smith, current sexual deviant. It went a little something like this:
"Attached, you'll find copies of the offending prints and 1,000 pages of graphic reference material. Please study them carefully."
Yes -- for little more than shits and giggles, Bush impersonated a DA and summoned his own 89-year-old wife to court over pornography charges. He even had a lackey drive over to Portland so the letter would have the correct postmark. Once the letter arrived, he arranged it so that as much of the family as possible would be present as Barbara opened the letter and freaked out in a manner most royal.
The story ends here, but I like to think this is where the doorbell rang and Bush ushered in the Sex Police.
The only thing that the sources adamantly refuse to reveal is the identity of the person who printed out those dirty pictures in the first place. They all say that they have a fairly good idea of who the culprit is, but refuse to name any names on camera. It's almost as if they were afraid of the person in question ...
"Sorry, folks. Don't ask, don't tell."
Bill Clinton's Staff Prank-Rigged The White House For Bush
Moving a new president into the White House is never a simple "old guy out, new guy in" process. There are scores of staff to move around, tons of passwords to change, and desks to clear. It's a massive undertaking even when the people on their way out of the West Wing are on friendly terms with the new guy's staff. However, things at the heart of the nation can take a truly strange turn when the new president is somewhat ... unpopular with the old guard.
After his controversial election victory in 2000, George W. Bush and his staff found this out the hard way as they started to settle into the White House, only to find out their new offices had been thoroughly prank-attacked in a way that would make Jim from The Office proud. Desk drawers all over the West Wing were swimming in glue. The telephones' voice mails were filled with obscene messages. Bathrooms were defaced with anti-Bush graffiti (apparently, political aides are just two heartbeats away from reverting to gang members marking their turf). Doorknobs and other items you don't really notice until they're gone were missing. Phone cords were ripped from walls. A 12-inch presidential seal had disappeared from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, presumably to be later found in the Oval Office's desk drawer encased in Jell-O. As a coup de grace, the Clinton staff sabotaged the computers in the White House by removing or breaking the letter "W" from their keyboards.
"'E don't care for dubyas around these parts, do 'e no', guys?"
These shenanigans, referred to by investigators as "worse than college freshmen checking out of their dorm rooms," didn't come cheap: The Clinton staff pranks caused a year-long investigation that placed the damage at somewhere around $14,000, with the missing "W" letters alone costing $4,850 to replace.
On one hand, it's easy to attribute the practical jokes / flat-out vandalism to mischief-minded West Wing aides, with Clinton having no input or knowledge of the matter. On the other hand, this is Bill Clinton:
If this man has a facial expression that doesn't scream hijinks, no one has ever seen it.
Clinton's public image is 80 percent executive-level blowjobs and 20 percent saxophone. Apart from JFK (and Teddy Roosevelt, who wins all presidential listings by default, because no one dares to say that he didn't), he's the closest thing to a rock star we've had in the Oval Office in the era of modern presidents, and one with the most well-documented penchant for taking every opportunity to enjoy the shit out of life. While it's entirely possible he's truly innocent in all of this, and by no means am I going to explicitly state otherwise, do me a favor: Close your eyes and tell me you don't see him sitting in front of his presidential computer, grinning like a little boy and jimmying the "W" out of the keyboard with his pocket knife. Can't be done.
Lyndon B. Johnson Routinely Fake-Drowned Important People
Look, there's no such thing as a nice president of the United States of America. They may seem jovial enough and display a decent sense of humor, but underneath the surface, not a single man among them has been nice. The toughest job in the world is not a gig that goes well with "nice."
Still, I'd argue that most of them have at least been civilized enough to think twice before taking important people on a joyride, only to drive them screaming into the nearest lake. Lyndon Baines Johnson was not most presidents. Not only did he totally do that shit, but he did it repeatedly and as a practical joke.
LBJ was a proud owner of an Amphicar, a rare German vehicle that looked almost indistinguishable from a normal car, but could double as a serviceable boat. Roughly 0.02 seconds after acquiring it, Johnson developed a favorite pastime: He'd invite friends and acquaintances to his Texas ranch and take them on an Amphicar joyride. Only he'd deliberately neglect to mention the amphibious capabilities of his vehicle, opting instead to pretend that he'd lost control of the car and, faking utter terror, steer them at some speed into a nearby lake. Sources don't explicitly state that he rigged the car's PA system to blast rock anthems and the Wilhelm Scream as this happened, nor do they confirm that he ramped several flaming buses before driving his unsuspecting guests to their apparent deaths, but I think we can safely agree that these things are implied.
"Now, while I have you good and scared, let's talk a bit about those peace negotiations ..."
Imagine this from the victim's point of view: You have received the utmost honor of witnessing a U.S. president in its natural habitat. You expect your visit to be fruitful and full of important, future-defining discussion ... right after you get this stupid joyride out of the way. And then, the horrified LBJ suddenly loses control of the car and exclaims: "The brakes don't work! We're going in! We're going under!" Cue a rush of landscape, an approaching body of water, the sound of your panicked screaming, and a splash. Congratulations! You have now pooped your pants in the presence of the president, who is laughing his ass off and may or may not be waving his dick at you in celebration.
Ten out of ten politicians would consider this a more dignified finish to the story.
In LBJ's defense, what he did was pretty much what each and every one of us would do, given access to an amphibious vehicle. However, the fact that he did this repeatedly to everyone, from the members of his own cabinet to foreign dignitaries, while being the president in an extremely turbulent political time, puts his pranking head and shoulders above the rest, if only because literally everyone else would probably be arrested if they attempted a stunt like that.
Dude, I think they get it. You're the goddamn president.
Pauli Poisuo is a Cracked columnist and freelance editor. Here are his Facebook and Twitter.
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