RANKED! The Best (and Worst) Prank Shows in Light of ‘Prank Encounters’ Backlash
Cover Photo: Getty Images/Stringer
There are many ways to combat America’s unemployment rate, but creating a hidden camera show that hires unsuspecting civilians, then puts them through emotional turmoil on their first day, only to reveal it was a setup for a laugh is not the kindest way to go about it. But that’s exactly what Netflix did for Prank Encounters, hosted by Gaten Matarazzo of Stranger Things. It may end up being a funny, entertaining show, but it has received a ton of backlash before the first episode has even aired.
Prank shows have done a lot worse to people over the course of television history. Whether it was Allen Funt or Peter Funt telling people to smile because they were on Candid Camera, or Tom Green interviewing people with bits of poo attached to the microphone, prank shows have always pushed the boundaries of what’s considered entertainment. Because of that, we’re ranking the best and worst prank shows to have ever graced our television screens. Maybe after reading this list, people will lighten up a little bit and realize that America was founded on laughing at the expense of others.
8. 'WWE Swerved'
When WWE tries to think outside of its professional wrestling box (the box being professional wrestling), the results usually aren’t very good. WWE Swerved was their attempt at a prank show. The problem was, none of the pranks were funny because none of the writers writing the show are funny. You see the issue.
The brainchild of Ashton Kutcher started off strong and single-handedly made America actually like Justin Timberlake. MTV’s Punk’d was a prank show but, instead of pranking unsuspecting strangers, Kutcher and his team would punk celebrities, reminding them that they are still just one of us. The first few seasons of Punk’d were pretty good, until people started realizing that when weird things happened to them, they were probably being Punk’d. Oh well. It was fun while it lasted.
6. 'Candid Camera'
The granddaddy of prank shows first started airing in the ‘40s! It was originally a radio show until it grew into a television show in 1948. It has been hosted by a slew of gag-sters throughout its 38-season run, and it has never failed to produce funny results. After every prank, regardless of how extreme or emotionally abusive, the butts of the jokes would simply be told to "Smile, you’re on Candid Camera." And they did smile. By God, did they smile.
5. Any Andy Kaufman Appearance
Andy Kaufman was classified as a comedian, but he hated the term. He was a “song and dance man” or, at the very least, a performance artist. Best known for his role on the television sitcom Taxi, Kaufman would use his notoriety to play pranks on, well, just about everybody. His appearances on shows like Saturday Night Life and the short-lived Fridays, are the stuff of legend. He even convinced late-night host David Letterman that the beef between him and professional wrestler Jerry Lawler was real. Andy Kaufman fooled the country time and time again, so much so that when he actually died of cancer in the late ‘80s, people thought that was a gag, too. Some people still think it was a gag and that Andy Kaufman is alive and well, laughing at us all.
4. 'Da Ali G Show'
Sascha Baron Cohen is the king of pranks. The amount of people, including celebrities and high-ranking officials, that he has pranked is astronomical. Da Ali G Show first started airing in the U.K. before it was brought over to HBO. It lasted three seasons and featured Cohen portraying three very distinct, very hilarious journalists: the titular Ali G, the Austrian fashion guru Brüno Gehard and the lovable, goofy Borat Sagdiyev. You may recognize all of those names from the movies that each starred in, which were just extensions of the show itself. Da Ali G Show changed the face of prank shows forever, and its follow up series, Who is America, showed how our entire governmental structure is the biggest prank of all.
It’s hard to explain how big of a phenomenon Jackass was. It was a show created by MTV that starred Johnny Knoxville and a bunch of his friends doing immature, dangerous and hilarious stunts to each other and unsuspecting passersby. It was dumb, gross and absolutely mesmerizing. The show gave birth to three theatrical films and its legend has only grown in time. Whether they were tying baby carriages to the tops of their car and driving off while people looked on, or they were causing countless sleepless nights for the parents of Bam Margera, the Jackass crew proved that the secret to a great prank show is a simple one: just have fun.
2. 'The Tom Green Show'
Jackass wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the Tom Green Show. Tom Green was like the grosser, more immature version of Andy Kaufman. Everything was a bit to him and nothing, and nobody, was off limits. Tom Green would go around humping things before people realized that was sort of bad. He would torture his poor parents, as well as his best friends. Most importantly, he would capture genuine human emotion in stunning ways, with merely a piece of poo on his microphone. Tom Green was an innovator and Tom, wherever you are, we salute you.
1. 'Nathan For You'
Nathan Fielder is a writer and producer that also has a background in business. He combined his passions for business and entertainment in Nathan For You. In this show, which lasted four seasons on Comedy Central, Nathan sought out struggling businesses and helped them get better results through a variety of unconventional business plans. Whether it was turning a small coffee shop into "Dumb Starbucks," (because if it was a parody, the real Starbucks couldn’t sue) or rebranding a real estate agent as the only agent who could guarantee a house wasn’t haunted, Fielder presented an enormous amount of ideas, all of which yielded entertaining results.
There have been many prank shows throughout the decades, but Nathan Fielder’s show is the best of them all because, in addition to making audiences laugh, he also legitimately helped a lot of struggling businesses. Unlike Pranked Encounters, Nathan’s show wouldn’t kick a man when he was down. It would just laugh at him while it helped pick him up.