Ah the first of April. A day when it's socially acceptable to let our inner prankster to run free and torment those around us. Some live for the day, while others live in fear of it. Where did this annual gag pulling tradition come from I wonder?
On April 1st 2009 I was working at a commercial photography and digital media studio here in Chicago. It was a pretty cool job as far as these things go. Funky atmosphere, laid back people (for the most part), an always changing environment. It was a glimpse into the world of print advertising, because this studio works with some pretty big ad agencies. Now if only Don Draper could have stopped in to have a look at the "artwork" my life would have been complete.
That first April day, which I would like to point out was much warmer than it is currently, I was having lunch with two of my coworkers (both named Eric...I like to hang out with people who have the same name, simplifies things) and the subject turned to....wait for it....April fools. Had any of us successfully pulled off an April fools joke? None of could lay claim to such a feat, which incidentally got our wheels turning. We should pull one over on the studio! Many ideas were tossed around and we finally settled on staging a fake client call. It would for a project that would need to be rushed and therefore would require an emergency phone conference. But who would make this call? Seeing as I was the only person out of the three who wouldn't be required to attend an emergency meeting, the torch was passed. The game had begun.
I need to be clear about something: I may be an actor but I am no great joker. I am no improviser. I laugh when something out of the ordinary happens onstage. My lips start to quiver when I attempt to trick someone. Basically I am hopeless. Therefore the thought of having to to pull of a studio wide prank, was daunting to say the least.
The studio does a lot of work for pharmaceutical companies and our thought was it would be easy to create a brand name for a drug that no one would be able to prove didn't exist. At the time I was taking a very strong pill called Accutane in an effort to combat by years of troubled skin (blast my parents for passing on their bad skin genes!) which happens to cause very severe birth defects should you become pregnant while taking the pill. They aren't kidding around about that either, on the inside of the packaging are erie drawings of babies with horribly deformed heads and no ears. It's a serious drug.
Well we might be the most brilliant, or demented people on the face of the planet because we chose to draw upon that horror and created hilarity! Yep, I was going to act as an account executive for a major ad agency that would be producing a big, glossy brochure outlining the abhorrent side effects of a new drug: Isoplex (derived from the generic name for Accutane, Isotretinoin).
However, it was not to be some frightful brochure, no we wanted the images to depict deformed babies in cheerful settings in an effort to juxtapose the happy with the horrific.
(As I type this I am realizing how terrible this sounds, but I assure you it was funny at the time).
Back at the studio I was prepped with the proper terminology so I would seem legit and we created my character. My name was "Emma" and I had to be of British origin in order for no one to know it was me on the phone. I called the studio from my cell phone, then proceeded to page Eric over the loudspeaker, and then I stole away to the prop room to begin the tom foolery.
Eric assembled almost the entire office: all of the partners, the producer, her assistant, quite the crew. These calls with clients are taken very seriously. Eric introduced me to everyone and I could hear that they were all using their "business voices" their "we need to impress this important ad exec" voice. I couldn't believe I had signed on for this...but I began the speech.
I started with the standard ad world lingo about the timeline, the type of campaign etc, but then i unleashed the absurd ...
It went something like this (do your best to imagine it in a very realistic British dialect):
"We want these images to be shocking, SHOCKING, but funny at the same time. The babies should look very happy and be placed in settings that are otherwise pleasant experiences. As one of the side effects is a cone shaped head and no ears perhaps that baby could be at a birthday party. Another side effect is the babies legs are born fused together to form one giant leg, otherwise known as Sirenomelia (this is not an actual side effect, but it is an actual genetic disease that is absolutely tragic and I am going to hell for sure), so perhaps that baby could be in a swimming pool or laying on a large rock. And the final side effect is an underdeveloped heart so we would need to see the baby looking cheerful but show an internal shot of the heart, oh and maybe this baby could be at a picnic?"
You would think the insanity of this request would be enough for them to sniff me out. On the contrary my friends, the bought every word of it. Hook, line and sinker. Then the real fun began...
Eric: "Emma, since the baby has a cone head anyway, in the birthday party shot instead on putting a cone shaped birthday party hat on it, how about we put just a big puff on top of the cone head as if it were a party hat?"
Me: "Brilliant! That's exactly what I am looking for. Maybe we can even make it look sort of like a graphic novel, maybe the images can have thought bubbles coming out of them saying things like 'I am so sad my baby doesn't have ears' or something like that. We really want to juxtapose the serious nature of these side effects with the pleasantness of the images. They need to be serious but shocking. SHOCKING!"
Producer: "What look are you going for in the casting of the mothers and babies?"
Me: "We this brochure is going to be distributed internationally so we would want them to be ethnic. But you know...not too ethnic." (people say stupid stupid stuff like that all the time apparently)
Eric (the other one): "Emma, you sound British are you from France?"
This comment was apparently met with a conference room full stares as if to say "France? What is wrong with you? How could you say that to a client?!?!?!"
This continued on for about fifteen minutes and miraculously I had answers to all of their questions, and they were oh so interested in everything I had to say. Imagine a chorus of yes!, absolutely!, and emphatic uh-huh's!
It was all too good and too much to handle, I knew I had to wrap it up quickly before my cover was blown and as they asked me for an email addressed I burst into the conference room and yelled a victorious "APRIL FOOLS" and proceeded to quickly sprint away for fear of the venom that might be dripping from their eyes.
Thankfully everyone had a good laugh about it, and I was surprised (dare I say, SHOCKED) to learn that this was not the most outrageous client call they ever had. Which if you think about it, is kind of frightening.