April Fools jokes are of course nothing new, and web sites often welcomed the annual tradition in a variety of ways. Older online Al fans may even recall the April 1 prank in which Bermuda and Marty Lick swapped web sites for the day. If anyone was going to appreciate an April Fools gag, it would be a Weird Al fan.
In 1999 Al fans were waiting on pins and needles for Al's next album. It had been three years since Bad Hair Day, two years since production of The Weird Al Show ended, and not even a year since the very first ALCON convention (during which scheduled-guest Bermuda snuck Al in as a surprise). Al fans were pumped, they were charged, and they were ready for anything.
So as the "holiday" approached, a message was posted on the alt.music.weird-al newsgroup inviting fans to check out this site on April 1 for an exclusive press release that was accidentally leaked from BMG, which distributes the products of Al's label Volcano.
The press release promised a new Weird Al double-album compilation chronicling Al's entire career and a whole year-long marketing campaign celebrating Al's twentieth anniversary. We even added a new fake discography page for the compilation, including a track listing that featured a number of rare songs and a completely "brand new" song.
A number of visitors wrote in genuinely confused, while others were able to get the joke (which isn't surprising, since the article does get more and more elaborate as it continues). Whatever the individual reaction was, it was apparent that visitors got a kick out of it, so it was decided to make an April Fools joke an annual tradition here.
For such a joke to work in 2000, it couldn't be a big charade like the year before. A smaller "gotcha!" gag would hopefully fly under the radar of those who may had been expecting another phony press release or whatever. This was right around the time that Fox was cracking down on closing Simpsons fan sites, and Warner Bros. was making plans to start pushing around Harry Potter fan sites as well. As a satire of this corporate pressure, on April Fools Day a message greeted All Things Yankovic visitors stating that Al's manager Jay Levey ordered us to take down the web site, and that Imaginary Entertainment would continue to close down other Al fan sites in the future. Of course, none of that was true, as an automatic redirect took visitors to the normal home page exclaiming "NOT!"
In late-March 2001, All Things Yankovic visitors were welcomed by a very bizarre image, one that looked very much like a still from an episode of Scooby-Doo, Where are You!...but with a Hanna-Barbera-ish Al standing alongside Scooby and his pals! The caption below the image promised to reveal the nature of the picture on April 1. What a coincidence, eh?
On that day, an article was posted describing Al's appearance on Scooby-Doo as "the rarest Al TV appearance ever." This time, the devil was in the details: there was in fact a show that ran for two seasons called The New Scooby-Doo Movies in which the characters solved crimes with special animated guest stars; there is an animation writer named Michael Reaves who worked with Hanna-Barbera and other studios throughout the 1980s, and who actually had just written the new animated Batman movie Mystery of the Batwoman; there is a well-respected animation historian named Jerry Beck, although he usually doesn't deal with television animation; there was a Scooby series in 1984 called The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries that had an opening theme sequence modeled after the "Thriller" video; there was also a Scooby series in 1985 called The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo; and there is a Cartoon Network UK, and it does place its corner logo on the top half of the image. Every effort was made to fool even the most well-knowledged cartoon buffs out there.
Surprisingly, some time later Mr. Reaves actually did write in, understandably confused about his mention in connection with this facsimile production...but thankfully he was cool about it once it was explained that it was all a part of an April Fools joke.
As 2002 approached, visitors were actually sending in ideas for that year's April Fools gag! But a plan was already in the works.
On April 1, 2002, visitors were once again welcomed by a short, slightly moving statement explaining that a German media conglomerate had purchased All Things Yankovic and refashioned it into the web site All Things Tesh, focusing on, of course, John Tesh. If a visitor did in fact know German, then the name of the media conglomerate would have sorta revealed that it was a gag.
Once inside the main site, it was discovered that many of the key pages were given new John Tesh-themed imagery. Even if someone went as far deep as the discography page for Al's debut album, they would see that it had been retitled John Tesh!
After such a grand-scale prank, it was decided to make 2003's joke as small and subtle as possible. This was just around the time that MGM had acquired a temporary controlling interest in the cable station AMC, which had abruptly moved away from showing "classic" films and was starting to resort to such recent, more-mundane fare as The Money Pit, Smokey and the Bandit II, She-Devil, and the Halloween sequels.
In an effort to become a sort of contemporary-film database, AMC's web site started putting up info pages for a variety of movies, even those they had no plans to air at that time. Many of the films they maintained pages for were in MGM's current library. So sure enough, UHF now had its own info page on AMC's site, not more than a year after the network stopped acting as the definitive home to classic cinema (a distinction that Turner Classic Movies has now deservedly claimed).
Since AMC's format switch was not yet common knowledge, an announcement that the former "American Movie Classics" network was planning to air UHF seemed like the perfect gag. Once the AMC link was clicked, which took the visitor to AMC's actual UHF page in a new window, a small, simple note would appear back at All Things Yankovic..."not really." Those who may have been craving for a bigger prank would have had to check out our sister site The Bugs Bunny Video Guide, which had been transformed for the day into The Cool Cat Video Guide.
So on April 1 we asked everyone to Beta-test our new search engine. Unfortunately, the results were probably not exactly what the visitors had in mind. Only a couple of the examples will be available through the above link, as it really got to a ridiculous extreme after the fourth "test."
Again, after such a complex gag, we decided to challenge ourselves and make 2005's joke as simple as possible. Taking a cue from comedic magicians Penn and Teller, we were very upfront about that year's gag...sort of.
Visitors were welcomed with the phrase "HAPPY APRIL FOOLS DAY!" This greetings was followed by the challenge "Were YOU able to find this year's joke? It's well hidden!" Well, those who did start endlessly searching throughout All Things Yankovic for the Easter egg-like April Fools joke probably became a little more than frustrated when they couldn't find one...because there wasn't one anywhere on the site! Deception works best when you're blatant about it.
So after six years, what does all this mean? Do people enjoy being the butt of harmless jokes? Is there really anticipation to see how we can top ourselves every year? Or, is it possible that we may have just a bit too much time on our hands? Whatever it means, April Fools Day is a part of our culture, and as long as people still have a sense of humor, we'll continue the tradition.
Hmm...or will we?
Back to the Attic!