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The Greek masks of Comedy and Tragedy are a familiar image, but they carry a deeper significance than just the imagery associated with the art of theatre. That image is what Carl Jung would have called an archetype — so familiar, telling us something about the deepest aspect of our own psyche.

Many of the funniest people sometimes lead tragic lives and suffer from depression. Doesn’t every family have an uncle with a tragic life story who keeps everyone in stitches around the holiday table?

In fact, many forms of humor feed on tragedy, such as slapstick. If you’ve ever watched America’s Funniest Home Videos, you know what I’m talking about. Why do we laugh when someone falls off a ladder? That hurts! Still, it’s funny. The fact that we laugh at such things helps us heal from them. Self-deprecating jokes work because in some sense we’re gaining the healing power of laughter by telling them.

This is not about jokes, though. A good joke can make us laugh, and it is therapeutic. But jokes are not as powerful as pranks. A joke is a story. A prank is a real-life action. You fool someone into a small tragedy, and after it’s all said and done, you both have a good laugh over it. It’s a controlled form of inflicting minor tragedy that can aid in fighting depression. A prank can even help alleviate anger if it is directed at someone who has made us angry. There is no greater sense of satisfaction than that achieved by carrying out a good prank.

The elements of a good prank are these:

Someone is deceived

  • They go through a moment of panic or discomfort
  • The panic or discomfort unwinds and leaves both the prankster and the pranked relieved, kind of like awakening from a bad dream

If you can pull off a good prank, you’re doing yourself and the person you’ve tricked a favor. A good prank is controlled tragedy becoming comedy.  Try it!

Oh, and one important aspect of a good prank:  Nobody gets hurt.