And Finally Artist News Beef Of The Week

CMU Beef Of The Week #274: Russia v Pranks

By | Published on Friday 18 September 2015

Elton John

It’s amazing how fast things can move in this modern world, isn’t it? One day you’re saying how much you’d like to have a chat with the Russian president and then, within a matter of days, you’ve been on the phone to the Russian president; been told by the Kremlin that you weren’t actually on the phone to the Russian president; been told by two Russian TV personalities that you were, in fact, on the phone to a fake Russian president; and had a recording of your conversation with the fake Russian president broadcast around the world. I’m sure it’s happened to all of us once or twice. This week it happened to Elton John.

Yeah, that’s right, Elton John got pranked. What a hoot! The singer revealed in an interview with the BBC that he wanted to discuss how Russia could improve its gay rights record by talking to the guy at the top – that Vladimir Putin bod – and then, when a call promptly came through from someone claiming to be the president himself, the musician lapped it up.

So much so, in fact, he not only agreed to a face-to-face meeting with the fake Putin, he went on Instagram to tell everyone about the progress he, at that point, thought he had made. But then, after the president’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that Putin had made any such call, the prank was revealed. Russian TV hosts Vladimir Krasnov and Aleksey Stolyarov – better known as Vovan and Lexus – came forward to announce that it had been them on the phone after all. Krasnov had pretended to be Putin, speaking only in Russian, while Stolyarov played the role of Peskov, acting as translator.

Now, we all know how prank calls work. You start off with something vaguely plausible and then, once you’ve got the person at the other end of the line convinced, you make the conversation increasingly bizarre, in the hope that the pranked caller will go from bemused to frustrated to angry – sweary angry if you get it right – before you unleash the big reveal. And then all involved get to have a nice big laugh about it.

Except that, having fooled John into taking the call, Vovan and Lexus’s pranking was primarily admin-based. Stolyarov tells John that Putin would be happy to meet with him, that November would work for the president, and that it could coincide with a Pride event in Moscow. That sounds like a good plan, says John, and both sides put it in their diaries.

I know senses of humour can differ between countries and cultures, but it’s quite hard to see where the actual joke kicked in here. Perhaps we’re meant to laugh at the idea that someone as important as Putin would be phoning up a mere popstar. But then, given his campaigning and charity work, and the fact politicians love schmoozing with popstars, it’s not entirely arrogant of John to believe Putin might give him a bell.

Oh but that muffled Russian voice was so clearly not Putin, said Stolyarov in an interview with Russia Today, seeming to suggest that that is why the prank call was so funny. Though the pranker himself concedes, “It is clear that Elton John has never talked to Vladimir Putin and that is why it was hard for him to establish who was really calling”. Well, erm, yes.

For his part, the man Stolyarov pretended to be, Peskov, was not especially impressed at being mimicked in the prank call. He told reporters: “I would recommend [Vovan and Lexus] offer to apologise to Elton John. He is a singer who’s respected and loved by the Russian audience. It was not good to hoax him like that”.

But what does John make of all this, now the prank has been revealed? Well, he said on Instagram yesterday: “Pranks are funny. Homophobia, however is never funny. I love Russia and my offer to talk to President Putin about LGBT rights still stands. I will always stand up for those that are being degraded and discriminated against”.

And then he added: “If this unfortunate incident has helped push this vital issue back into the spotlight, then I am happy to be pranked on this occasion”.

How’s that for taking it on the chin? And, it would seem, the issue has indeed been pushed back into the spotlight, because twice during this whole farce – first when denying the call, and then again after the prank was revealed – Peskov has said: “The Russian president is ready to meet John and clarify all questions he has”, adding that they’d have offered such a meeting earlier if they’d known the singer wanted a chat. Even though this isn’t the first time John has proposed such a meeting, suggesting you need to be pranked to truly get onto the Russian presidency’s radar.

So, a positive outcome. Except, Vovan and Lexus, in the name of cultural diplomacy, you really need to raise your game in the pranking domain. And to help, we’ve got together Great Britain’s top three pranksters to show you how it’s done.

1. Scott Mills annoys a takeaway owner
The prank: Scott Mills repeatedly calls up a Scottish takeaway pizza place and says things that annoy the guy who works there.
Why it is funny: Because the way they bleep the name of the takeaway makes it sound like it’s called Pizza Cunts.

2. Steve Penk shouts at people for not having a TV licence
The prank: Steve Penk calls people up and pretends to be from the TV licensing agency demanding to know why they don’t have a licence.
Why it is funny: Well, hmmm… because people are poor?

3. Noel Edmonds promotes a haggis shoot
The prank: An Australian man who has recently moved to Scotland is invited to a “haggis shoot”.
Why it is funny: Erm, mainly because Australians are ignorant of Scottish cuisine.

Now I come to think of it Vovan and Lexus, let’s just all agree prank phone calls are rarely funny and assume that this was all just a ruse to help Elton get a meeting with your old prez.