10 Best Houston Hoaxes and Pranks

A coral snake
A coral snake
Photo by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Yesterday was April Fools' Day, otherwise known as the day it sucks very hard to be a journalist. Pranks and jokes and hoaxes abound and telling real news from fake news becomes impossible. Hopefully everyone has gotten it out of their systems by now, and to celebrate today we look back at some of the most notable of Houston pratical jokes and trickery.

10. The Houston Zoo's Rubber Snake In the '80s the Houston Zoo apparently had a problem keeping coral snakes alive in captivity... which is a little weird when you think about it considering coral snakes are indigenous to Texas. Their response was to put a rubber snake in the exhibit, a solution that worked until a frequent visitor to the zoo asked curator John Donaho why the snake hadn't seemed to move in nine months. ''We have had live snakes in the exhibit, but they don't do well - they tend to die,'' he said, as reported in the New York Times. ''Rather than kill snakes, we put out a rubber one for people to be able to see what they look like.'' These days the zoo promises the only fake animals on grounds are statures, but PR director Brian Hill told the Houston Chronicle that after the story originally broke a wise-guy from an East Coast zoo sent a box with a new rubber snake and breeding documentation filled out.

Speaking of snakes...

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9. The Snake in the Bullpen As you'll see later sports teams are notorious practical jokers. In 2012 Astros bullpen catcher Javier Bracamonte found that out the hard way when he discovered his teammates had slipped a rubber snake into the ball bucket he was using. Bracamonte was terrified, but I feel sorry for any live snakes that ever cross the man because he launched the prop across the field with an impressive drop kick.

8. The Arabian Heywood Jablome One of the oldest gags in journalism is having someone give you a fake name with a hilarious meaning. Heywood Jablome (Hey, would you blow me?) is the go to example, but when an Arabic-speaking University of Houston student was interviewed by KTRK following an armed robbery he claimed he witnessed he decided to take the joke global. He gave his name as Abu Sharmouta, which translates to English as "father of a whore". The student, real name Sayyed Jamal Hamideh, later revealed he hadn't witnessed the robbery and had pranked reporters during finals as a way to relax.

Screencap of the hoax video
Screencap of the hoax video

7. Joel Osteen Quits God Last year's big April Fools' Day prank was a massive social media effort to prove that Lakewood Church pastor Joel Osteen had renounced his faith and would be closing his influential megachurch. This wasn't just a few rumors either. The man crafted a fake website to resembled JoelOsteenMinistries.com (using a URL missing an "e" in "Osteen") as well as fake Twitter accounts and a video with doctored headlines from news agencies like CNN and Yahoo News. It was a very convincing hoax, though of course Osteen quickly squashed the joke. Speaking anonymously to NPR the jokester said he did it to "test viral markets".

6. Jack Onz Singer Fakes His Death The Jack Onz were legendary in Houston for their naked stage antics and the fact that their shows sometimes ended in riots. They also famously made trading cards where singer Forrest (Patrick Dillon) dressed as the Jack in the Box mascot and received oral sex from his girlfriend dressed as Wendy from the Wendy's franchise. He also rather shortsightedly decided to get some publicity by faking his own death. When it was revealed that it was all a joke most of the Houston music scene shunned him and he was nominated for a Most Hated Musician Award from us. Years later Forrest would try to make a go of the Jack Onz in Austin, but committed suicide several years ago.

This story continues on the next page. 

10 Best Houston Hoaxes and Pranks
Houston Public Library

5. The Allen Brothers Land Lie One of Houston's greatest lies was also essential to the foundation of the city itself. John Kirby and Augustus Chapman Allen bought the land that would become Houston in 1836 and promptly ran ads in the United States and Texas extolling the virtues of the town so that people would move there. Some of the things they claimed were true, such as an abundance of trees for building but others were, to put it kindly, ridiculously overstated. For instance they extolled how the city was cooled by nearby sea breezes and that you could sail from New Orleans easily to Houston up the bayou. Speaking of the bayou, that's where we got our drinking water, not the fresh springs the ad claimed, and it was infested with yellow fever-bearing mosquitoes that killed about 12 percent of the population in the first decade. Still, now we have like art cars and NASA and an avant garde puppet scene and other cool stuff so... point lying?

4. U of H Becomes UOH For the three years Tony Levine was the head coach of the Houston Cougars football team it was always wise to avoid his Twitter on April 1st. His most famous gag involved showing a new logo for U of H that introduced a prominent "O". The fact that it essentially made the logo a hybrid of UH and University of Oklahoma did not make many fans happy until it was revealed as a joke.

10 Best Houston Hoaxes and Pranks
"Bat Hair Day"

3. Jazzy Girls Beauty Boutique Infested With Bats Last year the reality show Call of the Wildman rode into Houston and declared a Montrose hair salon, Jazzy Girls Beauty Boutique, full of Mexican free-tailed bats, which they promptly offered to remove for them in an episode called "Bat Hair Day". They were indeed infested, but it was later revealed that the show had brought the bats themselves to make for more dramatic television. To make the whole thing even more of a lie, Animal Planet actually paid an exterminator to remove the bats a week later.

2. William Rice Gets a Turn Another famous prank that made worldwide news was a 1988 caper at Rice University, where 11 students managed to rotate the one-ton statue of William Marsh Rice 180 degrees to face the library. The gag took three years and $400 to plan and execute. Two decades later the students would donate more than $100,000 to establish the Willy Revolution Engineering Undergraduate Innovation and Excellence Fund at Rice as a tribute to their inventive accomplishment.

1. Clutch Scares the Hell Out of the Rockets Last but not least the Rockets mascot decided to have a little fun with the team after practice. Initially he posed as an inflatable, non-occupied version of himself that was meant just for decoration so that the team would see him beforehand and think nothing of him being there. After practice, one by one he would suddenly come to life, sending many of the players leaping impressively into the air. Simple, but effective, and I promise you one of the funniest things you'll see today.


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