This just in, Merriam-Webster has added a new definition to the word “troll”: “to antagonize (others) online by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content.” That may be true, but really, trolling is nothing new. The only thing the Internet has changed is the ability to do it anonymously online. Respectable real-life trolling is antagonizing someone in a way that’s clever and amusing to outside observers. And this baker's dozen has mastered the art form.
John Mulaney is a true hero for the children. As a teenager Mulaney and a friend went into Chicago’s Salt and Pepper Diner and queued up 21 songs on the jukebox. Twenty of them were Tom Jones’s “What’s New Pussycat?” (The one other song was Jones’s “It’s Not Unusual” to lull everyone into a false sense of security.) Someone finally unplugged the jukebox after play number 11.
Imagine that you’re flying into Milwaukee. As if that weren’t bad enough, imagine that you look down and see “Welcome to Cleveland” painted in giant letters on the roof of a house. That’s just Milwaukee resident Mark Gubin’s way of welcoming you to Beer City, USA.
Andy Kaufman trolled the wrestling world by proclaiming himself the “Inter-Gender World Champion” of wrestling. He then only defended his belt against women, whom he almost always beat. Crowds went insane back in the days when wrestling was basically just one big, mostly successful, con.
Sure, they’re mostly known for taking nut shots. But what about all the times they smeared a $100 bill with poop and left it on the sidewalk?
Jack Parsons was the inventor of modern rocketry, a black wizard affiliated with Aleister Crowley and a decidedly dark prankster. He would walk around Jet Propulsion Labs (which he founded, something JPL prefers not to discuss today) setting off firecrackers for the fun of watching people’s faces. He later accidentally blew himself up in his backyard.
Before he was inventing personal computers, the Wonderful Wizard of Woz designed a device that disrupted TV signals. He would go into bars and make the picture turn to snow. When someone went up to fix the rabbit ears, he’d allow the signal to work again. When they walked away, he would disrupt it again. He would only stopwhen someone was standing next to the TV holding the rabbit ears.
Back when the world was a larger place, Barry Faulkner decided he wanted to start making television appearances as former Monkee (and incredible solo artist, by the way) Mike Nesmith. Guess they did have something of a resemblance.
We don’t know what magic really is, but we’re sure it’s not sitting in a box for 50 years. The joke is on us, though, because pretending to not breathe or whatever it is he does seems to be pretty lucrative work for those who can get it.
PT Barnum is maybe the world heavyweight champion of historical trolls. Not only did he exhibit a bunch of stuff that was fake mixed in with real oddities, he mocked the people who paid him to see it. His aphorism “there’s a sucker born every minute” is breathtaking in its simple truth.
Hall of fame baseball franchise owner and promoter Bill Veeck once brought a midget pinch hitter out for a single at-bat. Bearing the number ⅛, Eddie Gaedel popped out of a cake, got a four-pitch walk and had another player pinch-run for him. No one was really in on the joke except Veeck and a few trusted confidants. This same man also sign Larry Doby, thus integrating the American League.
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