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Birjees Hussain: Of prank calls and Presidents
July 13, 2018
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Back in the early 70s kids often passed their time by using their home landlines to make prank calls to people they didn’t know. It was usually to numbers found at random in telephone directories and usually when their parents weren’t around. As a parent, if you ever wondered why your phone bill was more than you expected then perhaps this could have been the reason. I think most children have moved on from this phase in their lives, usually because it turns out that almost every adult in the house has their own mobile so homes tend not to have landlines. Plus kids have computers to play with.

But prank calls have gone to a whole new level and this time it involves prominent personalities pranking other prominent personalities. The most recent example of this was when Donald Trump received a call from Democratic Senator Bob Menendez. Or at least that’s who Trump thought he was speaking to on Air Force One. It turned that, without properly vetting the caller, his staff patched through to Trump a call from American comedian John Melendez. In fact, Melendez’ call was so convincing that he managed to have a full-fledged conversation with Trump about the immigration situation and his pending SCOTUS pick, urging him to choose someone less conservative. When The White House discovered that the call was a prank, they began scrambling to determine how just anyone could get through to POTUS so easily.

Melendez later tweeted that the FBI were knocking at his door. As a joke I tweeted back to him telling him to answer the door and ask the FBI to wait because he was on the line to the President about important national matters!

Another recent incident involved former British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, who recently resigned. He was tricked by Russian comedians, Lexus and Novan, into having a lengthy call pretending to be the recently appointed Armenian Prime MinisterNikolPashinyan. During the conversation they asked Johnson how the Armenians should tackle Vladimir Putin and Johnson offered some advice but using some very choice words. Suffice it to say that when Theresa May found out she was not happy and initiated an inquiry into how this could have happened. In fact these same comedians then pretended to be Vladimir Putin and pranked Elton John. Elton was so taken in that he later publicly thanked Putin for his support of minorities and hoped for a face-to-face meeting one day. John later realised he had been pranked when the Kremlin denied that such a conversation ever took place.

But, like Trump, other famous politicians and celebrities have also remained in the dark and have only learned about their prank caller after the fact.

Take Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin. She is considered not to be the sharpest knife in the drawer and the way she was duped became fodder for late night television comedy. Canadian comedians, known as ‘The Masked Avengers’, prank called Palin pretending to be the then French President, Nicholas Sarkozy. The call went on for ages during which she talked about her campaign as VP for John McCain and even inviting him to go hunting with her to which ‘Sarkozy’ replied, only if Dick Cheney didn’t tag along given the accidental shooting incident on his last hunting trip!

Even the South Americans have been fooled. A couple of comedians rang Hugo Chavez pretending to be Cuban leader, Fidel Castro. They then decided to call Fidel Castro pretending to be Hugo Chavez. Neither was amused and one of them used expletives at the comedians for fooling him.

Even Royalty is not immune. Queen Elizabeth was once pranked by a comedian pretending to be Canadian Prime, Minister Justin Trudeau, during which conversation he asked her to revise her speech for the 1995 Quebec referendum. All very amusing, for sure. But sometimes being comedic can take a dangerous turn.

When Kate Middleton gave birth to her first son, her nurse was found mysteriously dead after she took a call from a couple of Australian pranksters pretending to be the Queen and Prince Charles asking about the health of the mother and baby. The circumstances surrounding her death are still a mystery.

I don’t know if Trump or all the others were amused or not, Chavez and Castro aside, or that they even realised it was a prank, but they should take heart in that they are not alone. Many have been duped all for a laugh.

However, there are politicians who have managed to realise, during the call, that the caller is not who they claim to be. For example, a year into his premiership, Tony Blair received a call from a radio DJ claiming to be Tory leader William Hague. But a few sentences into that conversation Blair realised that it was not Hague to whom he was speaking. He took it very lightly and later joked about it at a press conference saying Hague never called him Tony.

I only have two questions about these prank calls. How do these comedians manage to get the hold of the telephone numbers of these high profile people? After all they can’t just call directory enquiries. And how on earth do they get past the screening process!?

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