No laughing matter: the TV prank shows that went too far

By Stuart Heritage

There are prank shows, and then there is Tannab Raslan, an Iraqi prank show so extreme that it has just been yanked off the air. It has an unbelievably cruel premise: Iraqi celebrities are invited to a charity event, which is then ambushed by actors playing militants. In a recent episode, actor Nessma Tanneb gets blindfolded by terrorists and screams in mortal panic until she passes out.

Prank shows exist on a spectrum. There are the “just for laughs” kind that offend nobody, and exist mainly to kill time on planes. On the other is the show I watched on holiday in Malta 15 years ago, which I definitely didn’t imagine, where a succession of terrified people witness a mock drive-by shooting.

Here are some of the most terrifying, morally questionable, offerings.

Hadde Albak, Lebanon

Hadde Albak.

Hadde Albak means Hold Your Heart, which seems apt, given that, like Tannab Raslan, it exists mainly to trick actors into thinking that they’ve been kidnapped by terrorists who want to kill them. In one episode, the actor Wajih Sakr was carjacked by masked gunmen who held a pistol to his head and then took him to a warehouse for seven hours, where, fearing for his life, he broke down in tears. Sakr was so traumatised that he didn’t let the show air for two years.

Urgent Landing, Lebanon

Another one for the “being a celebrity in Lebanon sounds like the worst thing on earth” file. Urgent Landing is a show where a number of celebrities are ferried to Beirut airport and taken on to a chartered plane, only to be told shortly after takeoff that there has been a catastrophic engine failure, and that they’re all likely to die in an orgy of fire and twisted metal. It’s hard to see the entertainment value in this, but then again I do live in a country where Mr Blobby qualifies as the vanguard of edgy prank show humour. Grim.

Caméra Cachée, Algeria

When we do a prank show in the UK, it’s just Jeremy Beadle dressed up as a traffic warden. For the rest of the world, literal abduction seems to be the norm. In one episode of the Algerian prank show Caméra Cachée, the footballer Madjid Bougherra was abducted by supposed terrorists in public and driven to the desert where he was forced to kneel and await his own murder. Wait for the end of the clip, where Bougherra realises that his corpse isn’t going to be eaten by vultures. There is polite laughter and applause. What a trouper.

Killing My Own Kid, US

Killing My Own Kid.

In fairness, this is a YouTube clip and not a TV show. Nevertheless, here’s a guy with the world’s worst haircut tricking his wife into thinking that he’s just thrown his toddler over a bannister and down a flight of stairs.

Prank Encounters, US

Prank Encounters.

Hosted by the annoying one from Stranger Things, Prank Encounters is ostensibly the tamest of all the shows here. It seemed to be just a show where people were put through hell at a new job. But here’s the hilarious thing: these people had been unemployed! During a time of great financial uncertainty! They had worked really hard to find work, and this was going to mean a lot to them! After the inevitable outrage, Netflix backtracked, clarifying that the subjects knew they were only being employed for a day and that they were still paid for their shift. But still! Haha! Prank! Fun!