See It Live: Good Ol’ Humbuggery
Pranking is part of a bigger picture, says James Taylor, impresario at the Palace of Wonders on H Street NE. Its heritage harks back to showman P.T. Barnum and the rise of the sideshow circuit, on which entertainers peddled their tricks, illusions and reversals to a public willing to be hoodwinked.
The demand has dwindled for that kind of pay-tobe-tricked entertainment, Taylor says, though he and the Palace are keeping it alive. Head there Thursday night to see the Weirdo Show, a bevy of unusual acts (such as sword swallowing) presented in classic vaudevillian style.
“It’s like ‘ The Royal Nonesuch’ in ‘ Huckleberry Finn,’ ” Taylor says of the sideshow’s prankish appeal. “Everyone sees it and feels [ticked] off that they’ve been taken — but only for a nanosecond. Then they go out and say, ‘Boy, you’ve gotta see these guys!’ ”
Taylor’s advice for pranking? Aim to amuse the prankee as well.
“When it’s over, people should feel let in on the joke and feel the need to perpetuate the joke,” he says. “For example: a series of lies to convince a person one thing is something other than what it actually is, and turns out to be something everybody has a good time at. Like a surprise party.”
James Taylor presides over the Palace of Wonders’ sideshow acts.