Prankster Jeff Pinsker Profits Profoundly from Improbable Practical Jokes

updated 06/15/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/15/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The debacle in the dining room of the MacArthur Park restaurant in Palo Alto, Calif., began routinely with a disgruntled customer. As his complaints grew louder, two love-struck diners began a public display that raised the room temperature. Then the new bus-boy got drunk, a half-naked bum was found shaving in the men's room, and an obnoxious waiter served a live lobster. Restaurant manager Dennis Tye hoped it was only a nightmare.

Not until everyone in the restaurant rose to sing For He's a Jolly Good Fellow did Tye realize he was the victim of a cunningly choreographed practical joke. The stunt was the work of the drunken busboy, actually professional prankster Jeff Pinsker. The 27-year-old Stanford graduate has made his living pulling such gags since 1981, when he and four friends started Amazing Events Unlimited, a company devoted to duping the unwary. "We thought, 'We've been pulling pranks all our lives,' " Pinsker says. " 'Let's see if we can get paid for it.' "

Amazingly the company—recently renamed Amazing Events, Inc.—made upward of $250,000 last year, most of it for staging unusual corporate banquets and Christmas parties. Pinsker's hire-a-prankster services cost anywhere from $175 for a fast, one-shot charade—sending a samurai swordsman to a formal cake-cutting ceremony, say, or mis-umpiring a softball game—up to $2,500 for a daylong mind-bender involving teams of gagsters and up to three months of meticulous research and planning. "We never do anything with a revenge motive, ex-husbands or ex-wives, that sort of thing," says Jeff. "To make it fly, the pranks have to be good-natured and not malicious. We don't want to offend. We make sure the person is never near the breaking point. Sometimes we slow things down until the person's composure is regained."

All of which leaves Pinsker plenty of gleeway. The overgrown imp has faked emergency plane landings, shoot-outs, IRS audits, and has bluffed victims into thinking they'd won the lottery or were suddenly irresistible to women. A day of Pinsker's gags left Los Angeles sales exec Ted Green convinced that, among other disasters, he'd built his home on sacred Indian burial grounds. Even after learning he'd fallen victim to a joke paid for by co-workers to "celebrate" his 50th birthday, says Green, "I still couldn't believe it. I was set to buy another house."

The son of a former Navy supply officer, Pinsker grew up in Maryland, where he began swallowing goldfish in high school. "I didn't have a sense of humor until I was 13," he says. "Maybe puberty had something to do with it." With maturity came real efforts, like the time at Stanford that he put a false wall in front of a coed's dorm room. "She kept walking back and forth in the hall," he says. "Finally she went outside to count the windows."

Not bad for an amateur. Now that Pinsker has turned pro, his work approaches fine art. Victim Green says Pinsker's crew "did the most marvelous job of putting something so believable together." But Green adds the pranks may have given him ideas of his own. "My partners," he says, "should be very, very careful."

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