Friday, September 9, 2016

MC Lyte – "Absolutely Positively . . . Practical Jokes" (1991)

I play practical jokes, just to get a laugh
I put roaches in my neighbor's bubblebath

If Horace de Vere Cole were alive today, he’d probably be doing a cable TV practical-joker show – something like “Crank Yankers,” or “Punk’d,” or “Jackass,” or “The Tom Green Show.” 

Cole died in 1936 – long before cable TV was invented.  But that didn’t stop him from achieving considerable notoriety as a practical joker.

Cole was an upper-crust one-percenter who was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge.  

The Great Court at Trinity College, Cambridge
While he was a Cambridge student, Cole read that the Sultan of Zanzibar was visiting London.  He sent a telegram to the mayor of Cambridge stating that the Sultan would be arriving in that fair city later that day on a particular train.  

When Cole arrived on that train along with his pal, Adrian Stephen (who was the younger brother of Virginia Woolf, a famous author of utterly unreadable novels), they were welcomed enthusiastically by the mayor and various other officials and taken on a tour of the university.

Virginia Woolf
The pranksters were almost exposed when an elderly ex-missionary spoke to them in Swahili, but Cole (who was pretending to be the Sultan’s English-speaking uncle) told her that the religious beliefs of the Sultan (who was played by Stephen) did not permit him to speak to a woman unless she was one of his wives or harem members.

Years later, Cole pulled off his most famous hoax – one that was modeled on his Cambridge prank.

From an April 1, 2006 New York Times article about Cole:

In 1906, the British Navy launched the Dreadnought, a fast, heavily armed behemoth that changed naval warfare.  Its awesome power was the focus of attention abroad, just as its shocking expense was a point of debate at home.  In 1910, Cole decided it was worth a look.

He recruited a crew of pranksters . . . including [Adrian] Stephen, the painter Duncan Grant, and Stephen's sister Virginia, later Virginia Woolf.  Posing as a member of the Foreign Office, Cole then wired the Admiralty to announce that the Emperor of Abyssinia would soon arrive to inspect the Home Fleet.

H.M.S. Dreadnought
Virginia, Grant and a few others were made up in beards and blackface, and the group boarded the train for Weymouth, where the fleet was docked. . . .

Once again Cole's party was met by an official entourage, this time in full military regalia.  The emperor was invited on board the Dreadnought and shown the ship's innovations.

According to a newspaper account of the prank, Cole and his posse shouted “Bunga, bunga!” to demonstrate their enthusiasm for everything the Dreadnought’s captain pointed out to them during their tour of the battleship.  

“Bunga, bunga!” soon appeared in the lyrics of music hall songs, and London street urchins taunted naval officers by chanting “Bunga, bunga!” as they passed them on the streets.

Here’s a photo of the Dreadnought pranksters.  Virginia Woolf (then Virginia Stephen) is at the extreme left.  Horace Cole is the guy in the top hat:

As you know if you’ve read the previous 2 or 3 lines, that term has a very different meaning in Italy, where it refers to an orgiastic game or ritual whose key elements were a swimming pool, 20 or so naked young women, and former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and a few of his nearest and dearest friends. 

The “Dreadnought Hoax” is what Cole is mostly remembered for today.  But he was the mastermind behind many other fabulous practical jokes.

For example, he once bought a number of theater tickets and gave them away to completely bald men he encountered.  The seats had been chosen so that the bald heads spelled out an expletive that was quite legible to those sitting in the balcony.

A Horace Cole biography
Cole once gave a party and invited only guests whose names included the word “bottom” — Bottoms, Bottomley, Winterbottom, etc.  (Wouldn’t you have just loved to have been there when the guests figured that out?)

Another one of Cole’s jokes would be just as shocking today as it was a hundred years ago.  From the Daily Mail:

A regular prank was to wander the streets with a cow's udder poking through his flies.  At the moment of optimum outrage, he would then produce a pair of scissors and snip off the offending protrusion.

Cole’s second wife played quite a prank on him – she got herself knocked up by Augustus John, the leading British portraitist of the era.  Some believe that the very randy Mr. John fathered something on the order of 100 children. 

Augustus John's portrait of
Lawrence of Arabia
Cole’s sister was the wife of Neville Chamberlain, who was the British Prime Minister in the days leading up to the outbreak of World War II.  It’s too bad Cole wasn’t still alive when Chamberlain went to Munich to meet with Hitler in 1938 – no doubt he would have figured out a way to prank der Führer.

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MC Lyte (who was born Lana Michelle Moorer in 1970) was the first female solo rapper ever nominated for a Grammy.  

“Absolutely Positively . . . Practical Jokes” was released in 1991 on her third album, Act Like You Know.

Here’s “Absolutely Positively . . . Practical Jokes”:

Click below to order the song from Amazon:

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