The prank telegram

(A posting for my half-birthday, 3/6. When you’re  a child, half-birthdays are good things, because a year is a long time to wait till people celebrate your life on earth again. When you’re old and infirm, they’re good things again, because a year is a long time to hope you’ll live till such a celebration comes again. I’ve gotten through another 6 months: a small but significant accomplishment, though frankly it seems mostly to be luck.)

Choosing more or less randomly from the fish in the sea of unblogged postings: this wry Wayno / Piraro Bizarro from 1/28:

(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 4 in this strip — see this Page.) Like an antique prank phone call

The prank turns on an ambiguity, in this case on fresh as a predicate adjective: ‘(of food) recently made or obtained; not canned, frozen, or otherwise preserved’ vs. ‘(of a person) presumptuous, impertinent’ (with the mutton, preposterously,  personified).

Prank calls. “Is your mutton fresh?” is a gag-pun prank call, a language-based type; the double-entendre prank call is another. Both treated in the Wikipedia entry (relevant excerpts below), which also treats other types, like calls that involve impersonation.

A prank call (also known as a crank call) is a telephone call intended by the caller as a practical joke played on the person answering.

… Recordings of prank phone calls became a staple of the obscure and amusing cassette tapes traded among musicians, sound engineers, and media traders in the United States from the late 1970s. Among the most famous and earliest recorded prank calls are the Tube Bar prank calls tapes, which centered on Louis “Red” Deutsch. Comedian Jerry Lewis was an incorrigible phone prankster, and recordings of his hijinks, dating from the 1960s and possibly earlier, still circulate to this day.

… Two early and famous prank phone calls are the “refrigerator” gag and the “Prince Albert” gag. The first involves calling a target to ask “is your refrigerator running?” When the responder says “yes,” the prankster replies “Well, you’d better go catch it!” The second requires calling a commercial establishment to ask if they have “Prince Albert in a can.” If the reply is yes, the prankster responses with “Then you’d better let the poor guy out!” The origin of both of these jokes is unknown, although it is theorized they may have been adapted from vaudeville routines rather than any single real-life incident. They have since been repeated in multiple outlets, though less for their comedic value than to convey the idea of a “prank phone call.”

Bart Simpson’s prank calls to Moe’s Tavern are a running joke in early seasons of The Simpsons, as Bart would call Moe asking for people whose names are actually double entendres. Examples include “Mike Rotch” (my crotch), “Bea O’Problem” (B.O. problem) and “Al Coholic” (alcoholic). Moe would then announce the call to the bar patrons in a way that would cause himself embarrassment (“I’m lookin’ for Amanda Hugginkiss [i.e. a man to hug and kiss]”). Occasionally Bart’s prank would backfire when a person with such an unusual name happened to be present, as in the episode “Flaming Moe’s” when Bart asks for “Hugh Jass” (huge ass), only for a man with the same name to answer. In another episode, “Donnie Fatso”, criminal ringleader Fat Tony calls to ask for his business partner, “Yuri Nator” (urinator). Believing this to be another prank call, Moe tells him off, resulting in Moe being targeted by Fat Tony’s thugs.

There’s no missing the aggressive intent in pranks in general and prank phone calls in particular.

But then the slow-motion nature of telegrams vs. phone calls rather takes the edge off.

“Then, sir, you should thrash it soundly”. Wayno and Dan no doubt thought that this wording — address term sir, the verb thrash, the adverb soundly — would merely give an old-fashioned, out-of-date flavor to the exchange, appropriate for the days before telephone messages overtook telegrams. It does that for me, but for me it also suggests BrE rather than AmE, or (since the cartoon’s readers are primarily North Americans), Canadian English. So I heard the young man reading the telegram out loud to be speaking in the accent of the earnest young Constable George Crabtree (played by Jonny Harris) from the tv show Murdoch Mysteries, set in Toronto around the beginning of the 20th century.

From Wikipedia:

(#2) The main cast: Detective William Murdoch (Yannick Bisson), in front, on the right; then Inspector Brackenreid (Thomas Craig), Doctor Julia Ogden (Hélène Joy), Constable George Crabtree (Jonny Harris)

Murdoch Mysteries is a Canadian television drama series that premiered on Citytv on January 20, 2008, and currently airs on CBC. The series is based on characters from the Detective Murdoch novels by Maureen Jennings and stars Yannick Bisson as the fictional William Murdoch, a police detective working in Toronto, Ontario in the late 19th and early 20th centuries [starting in 1895]

From my 8/20/16 posting “Give me some men who are square-jawed men” (like Bisson in Murdoch Mysteries), about the series:

The Murdoch stories often have wrenching plots, but mostly the series is a romp, with lots of comic touches. Visually, the show often plays as a storybook fantasy, of late-Victorian times: the costumes and scenery, even the actors’ makeup, tend to the hyperreal. You almost always know you’re in the midst of a period fantasy.

And that’s delightful.

3 Responses to “The prank telegram”

  1. JJM Says:

    “So I heard the young man reading the telegram out loud to be speaking in the accent of the earnest young Constable George Crabtree (played by Jonny Harris)…”

    By the way, Jonny Harris is a Newfoundlander.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      I wasn’t sure of his province of origin, having only heard him doing the Stage Canadian he uses professionally. His stage persona is exaggerated in pretty much every direction, which is entertaining, but gives you no idea what he’s like at home, or what he was like growing up (he’s 46 now!).

  2. JJM Says:

    He also hosts a very popular half-hour show on CBC called “Still Standing” and his Newfoundland voice comes right to the fore.

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