I’m not normally a big “prank” guy. Pranks, to me, are like Halloween: fun in theory, way too much work in practice. Every year, I spend months daydreaming about putting together the perfect Halloween costume, only to wake up on November first, check my calendar, and think “well, next Halloween is going to rule.”* With pranks, it’s more or less the same. I spend hours thinking about elaborate gags, doodling diagrams on napkins and price-checking glitter/super glue/glow-in-the-dark paint online, only to eventually conclude that there are easier and less expensive ways to stress out my roommates. The only notable exception to this rule, of course, is The Great Paul Blart: Mall Cop DVD Mailing Campaign of 2015.
To start with, I should tell you that I’ve never actually seen Paul Blart: Mall Cop. For all I know, it could be the Citizen Kane of movies premised around fat guys on Segways being high comedy. But somewhere during the spring of 2015, I found myself standing in an HMV, completely mesmerized by the cover of the Paul Blart DVD. It is bizarre: a moustachioed Kevin James, dressed in a crisp mall security uniform, is screaming as he barrels outwards toward the viewer on a Segway, almost as though even he’s trying to escape the smouldering car crash of a film inside the case. The title alone, plastered across the top of the image, sounds like a fake movie used as a background gag in a real movie—and yet it’s an actual Hollywood production, which cost a cool twenty-six million dollars to make. (Thank God we got Paul Blart for that money and not, say, homeless shelters.)
I wouldn’t call myself “bad with money,” but I’m not saying I always make the best choices. While staring at the movie, my first thought was: “it would be hilarious to just keep receiving copies of this movie in the mail.” My second thought was: “I wonder how many they have in the store right now?” I actually laughed out loud at the thought of someone opening package after package, week after week, and constantly being met with Kevin James’ screaming mug—and a stack of copies of a movie they wouldn’t even want to watch.
I was disappointed to learn that the HMV I was in only had three copies of PB: MC—for some reason they don’t keep dozens of them on hand at all times, as I learned from the skeptical sales clerk—but I was undeterred. I lived in Fredericton, New Brunswick at the time, and I scoured the shelves of all the DVD retailers I knew to round out my supply. It wasn’t easy. I had somehow expected there to be pyramids of Paul Blart: Mall Cop DVDs displayed at any self-respecting retailer. (Just so you know for future reference: that is not the case. Anywhere.)
It took me several hours, but I finally scrounged together six copies. (Remember when I said I wasn’t the best with money sometimes? This also applies to time management.) I headed home. I already knew who the lucky recipients were going to be. My friends Charmaine and Beard** are kind and trusting, plus I hadn’t seen them in a long enough time that I figured I’d be off their suspicion radar. Once I tracked down their address, I got to work.
I knew that if the packages were all the same size, or if they came from the same return address, they’d understand right away that it was a prank. I wanted it to be just unclear enough where they were from that they wouldn’t be sure what was going on. Over the course of about two months, I sent six packages. The first was sent in a normal envelope, with a return address that listed a non-existent downtown Toronto video store. Charmaine sent out a message to a few people, myself included, trying to figure out what was going on. She and Beard had received a strange package from a video rental place, but when they’d looked up the address, the place didn’t exist. I feigned ignorance, and agreed that it was weird. She seemed to buy it.
The second package was wrapped similarly, but from a different address. Beard posted on his facebook about it the day it arrived—“Seriously you guys who keeps sending us Paul Blart in the mail???” or something. The third I removed from its normal packaging and sent in a slim jewel case wrapped in a photo mailer, so that it looked like it couldn’t be a DVD. The fourth I put into the DVD case for The Raid 2, one of my favourite action movies. (Beard loved that one. He posted that he was excited to watch The Raid 2… until he opened it up and realized it was Paul Blart again.) Number five I put in an enormous cardboard box packed with nothing but bunched-up paper and the DVD, sent from an electronics store in the states. Number six was the real star of the show, though: for my final package, I hollowed out an old economics textbook I picked up from a second-hand bookshop, appropriately titled “A Time for Truth,” and sent the DVD nestled inside it like a velvet ring box filled with rabbit turds. I haven’t been that satisfied with my own handiwork since I graduated from University.
Eventually, once I was back in Toronto, I sat down for brunch with Charm, Beard, and a bunch of other friends—and they told me they’d figured out it was me. We had a good chuckle over it. I jokingly threatened to start sending them copies of Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. I don’t remember if they laughed at that.
All told, I spent probably close to ninety bucks on materials, and literally hours of time on it. Why? I don’t know. Everybody needs hobbies, I guess. While it was good to watch the online emotional journey for Charmaine and Beard from confused, to concerned, to annoyed—climaxing in a family photo of all six of the DVDs, asking if anyone wanted to come over and watch the movie—I probably could have been doing something at least a little productive instead. Next time I’m in the mood to prank someone, I think I’m going to stick to just replacing my roommates’ toothpaste with contact cement.
* From like 2011-2013, I wore a mechanic’s jumpsuit that I’d found at a thrift shop and a pair of cheap protective glasses to every Halloween party I was invited to. It was the best. I would still be doing that now, except I lost it. RIP jumpsuit. You made Halloween so easy 😦
** Beard’s real name is Ryan. It’s a long story.