I’ve said this a few times before, but--prank calls are a lot like comedy routines. It’s (usually) about 35% pre-thought, funny premises and 65% improvisation and understanding the flow of the audience. (I say ‘usually’ because sometimes I do make calls with minimal/no pre-thought, but I’m a seasoned veteran when it comes to pranks, so it works out well sometimes haha).
When you get on a call, it’s great to have set lines and strategies in place. For instance, in Abdo’s Dog Food Prank, I knew I would call this company and complain that my dog food had gone bad. However, I didn’t know I would be bringing up the American Bassporrrt (passport) or getting into an argument about accents and language. It just happened organically, and I knew what to play off of in the call.
Prank calls have a lot of improvisation, so to create a good prank call, first, you need to master your improv skills. Below are 6 essential improv tips from Ownage Pranks!
1. Talk & Lead
You need to be in control of the situation. To make that happen, you are going to want to do the majority of the talking. There are two ways you can do this. The first is to always say something interesting or important. You’ll want to attract and keep their attention for as long as possible.
The second is by making sure you control when they get to talk. Think about all of the catch-phrases my characters have when the “target” tries to take control of the call: Rakesh has his DoOOoOon’t, and Buk Lau has his like a somebooOooodie. Juan will ramble quickly in Spanish, and Tyrone usually just gets kind of suave/aggressive. I’ve also put targets on “hold” before via hold music haha.
See? These are all tactics to regain control so I can better lead the call. It’s essential that the target gets a few words in so that I can play off of it, but too much talking means I lose control of leading the conversation into funnier places.
2. Think On Your Feet
There are definitely prank calls that work better for certain targets over others. However, just because it isn’t going the way I want doesn’t mean I hang up and call someone else. I think on my feet and figure out how I can make the call work. Even improv classes for the performing arts would tell you to do the same. After all, each one is an opportunity to practice and try new things.
Learn to work with your “scene partner” even if they aren’t giving you any helpful information. The goal is to keep them talking, so continue to ask questions, share anecdotes, and joke now and then to keep them engaged. You need a little back and forth to make the prank call work. Improv is all about using whatever they give you and creating the scene as you go along.
Now, what do you do if the person on the other end is completely quiet? And they aren’t giving you any support or information? You need to think on your feet and be able to work on it solo. The show must go on, right?
Pay attention to their responses and gauge their reactions. When you use their prompts well, you are sure to get a couple of good laughs in the end. In the worst-case scenario? It becomes additional practice. Over time you can better respond to uncooperative and even silent targets.
3. Look For Patterns
Patterns and themes are everywhere in calls and interactions. You need to be able to find them and turn them into an opportunity. Is there a topic the target keeps bringing up? Ever wonder why? Often what they choose to express and focus on is very telling about who they are.
When you have more information about your target, the better you can plan the rest of your prank call. In fact, that’s the reason why I need a bit of background information when I make prank calls for other people. Information is power. You can use their patterns and habits to create a funny and interesting call!
Identifying their patterns can also help you with difficult targets. Instead of forcing your script, improv tells you to move along. The deviation from The Plan might suck, but it might work in your favor.
For example, if they keep saying they don’t serve a certain meal or they can’t accommodate your request - how about bringing up that the manager isn’t there? Like in the Subway Prank with Rakesh or the Tow Truck Prank.
Looking for patterns has multiple uses in improv. When you recognize what they are trying to do, ask yourself, “what do I want to do with this?” Use it to set the scene? Deal with dead ends? Or learn to move from one topic to another? Over time, navigating through these patterns gets easier. Eventually, you learn to move from one topic to the next and end up even an even better prank call.
4. Take Your Time
There is a natural flow and rhythm to comedy and conversation. Be sure to feel things out. Take your time to respond if necessary. Just remember to stay in control of the call. Using fillers or asking questions is a good way to shift focus so you can think of where to take the call next. You can see this in a lot of my calls.
I don’t rush them or the punchline. I let the other person respond and act out. In fact, the more reactions you get out of them, the better. Let them stew and simmer until they can’t take it anymore, and when they explode - that makes for the best prank call, one worthy for our prank call Hall of Fame!
5. Every “Wrench” Is a New Topic
A lot of my calls take really weird turns. For instance, having demons cast out of me twice - once at McDonald’s and the other during a Valentine’s Day Fair Call. Or having the police pick up the phone. Instead of viewing this as a crazy obstacle, you have to look at it as a new addition to your storyline. That means you have new opportunities for comedy.
Treat them as a part of the scene and have fun with it. It might be scary at first, and you are bound to fumble on the phone, but as your improv skills develop, you can handle just about anything.
It’s like muscle memory. At one point, the rules of improv stop becoming theories and become habits. Learn to look forward to these monkey wrenches - without them, you are left with really dull, boring calls. Sometimes these wrenches are even better than your prank call ideas! Reality can be stranger than fiction.
6. Practice Makes Perfect
Not all of my calls go as planned. Some don’t even make it to YouTube. People tend to recognize my voice or just simply hang up too often for that to happen. But that doesn’t mean I don’t make the most out of each one.
I always try to have fun with it. Every target, block, or scene is an opportunity to hone my skills. At most, I just learn to steer the conversation and roll with the punches. Improv is all about practice.
There are several ways you can continue to challenge yourself. You can practice your improv skills by making more prank calls (like I did) or play improv games with your friends. You don’t need an advanced improv class to be able to prank like a pro. You just need to talk to different kinds of people with various scenes to get to where I am. As long as you can act, stay in character, and navigate the conversation, you are good to go!