Sometime in the 90s, when there was an apparent lull in creativity in the entertainment industry, it became fashionable to dredge old material to make "new" Entertainment Product, as part of a systematic destruction of everything about our childhood we hold dear. It continues to this day with live-motion versions of The Cat in the Hat and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, for example, but the first soul-crushing instance that I can recall was when Warner Brothers started making Bugs Bunny cartoons again.
Nearly everyone I knew pretty much quickly identified the new cartoons as crap. Typically, the complaint is that the original cartoons were multi-layered comedy, written intelligently for adults as well as kids, but the new ones were just dumbed-down versions where BONK THUD is the acme of humor. (See what I did there? Acme? Multi-layered? Hah? Haah?)
I had my own gripe, though. It's been a while since I've seen new Bugs Bunny cartoons, so I don't have a ready example, but I remember complaining about this at the time: Bugs always wins. In the old ones, sometimes Bugs takes a shotgun blast to the face, or the dog sneaks in the house and leaves him out in the cold. In the new ones, what's the point? I mean, yeah, with the classics you still know he's going to win in the end, but you don't know how much pain it's going to take him to get there. One makes you think, if only I were smart enough, I could be that rabbit. The other one's just a cartoon.
It's this difference that helped make the book more enjoyable for me: not all of Hargrave's pranks work. He could've only put in the ones that went well, but then where would there be any tension? If the hero can't lose, then you might as well just skip to the end where he's getting his medal and assume everything in between. But even with the failed pranks, they're based on original, quirky ideas, and the path through his attempts are fun to follow.
For example, trying to get himself knighted by the Queen of England didn't work, but along the way, he paid for a celebrity endorsement for his knight application from Lou Ferrigno, and asked a woman at Buckingham Palace Press Office whether being knighted gets one 2-for-1 deals at Arby's. Neither of these things I could possibly imagine doing (or maybe I could, if only I were ballsy enough).
The whole range is here, from astonishing success, to abject, soul-crushing failure. And it's all a great read. Throughout, you're a co-conspirator: you see the confident, suit-and-tie front he's putting on for his victims, but as he's operating, he pulls you aside and tells you how he's considering, briefly, whether he should be wetting his pants at this point. Or, vomiting, at least, which is something he did to prepare for his Michael Jackson impersonation stunt. The pants-wetting-consideration would come later, when he had to walk his entourage (made of actors he paid) past the suit-wearing bodyguards at a Gladys Knight concert he crashed, who were presumably employed specifically to keep nuts like him out of the VIP lounge, but there he was anyway.
His other major media success revovled around Ashton Kutcher, who used to be the host of a show on MTV called Punk'd, where he'd pull pranks on unsuspecting celebrities. But this particularily irritated Hargrave because it dumbed down the entire pranking experience:
Me, I was irritated by Punk'd because Kutcher is the new Bugs Bunny to Hargrave's classic Bugs Bunny. He always wins. And for dumb reasons. In one episode, his camera crew tries to pull something on him, but by the end he's turned it around on them. Then he yells, "You cannot punk me! You cannot punk the master!" Really, how dumb do you have to be to throw down that kind of challenge on national television?
Oh, right. Ashton Kutcher.
This made Kutcher an excellent target, so much more gratifying for the taking. And after gathering the tools at his disposal--a phone sex line, an apathetic judge approving a name change, fark.com, a fake reservation at an upscale hotel, and one astonishing good stroke of luck--he was tooken but good.
And, ugh, on the other side of the scale: the prank that goes very, very wrong. I know this phrase tends to be overused, but I felt his pain. I don't want to spoil it too much, but when you think it'll be great to stage your own violent murder in the last semester of college, dropping a prepared package of bloody chicken parts outside a full classroom window, leaving a wet, fake blood handsmear on the window as you stagger away, well...may I respectfully suggest that your brain is missing something.