Smile! You’re on Candid Camera!
Hosts Of Candid Camera Durward Kirby and Allen Funt host Candid Camera, June 10, 1965. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
It has often been said that laughter is the best medicine. That is exactly the theory that Allen Funt subscribed to his entire life. Funt was the ingenious creator and original host of the hilarious, hidden camera show, Candid Camera.
Allen Funt enjoyed laughing, even at himself and knew that others usually did too. He perfected the art of catching unsuspecting people off guard in the funniest situations. The cameras were always well hidden and never failed to catch people in the act of being themselves.
Funt got his start in radio. He was the creative mind behind gimmicks for radio programs. He had fulfilled his dream of laughing and making others laugh for a living. It was a dream come true. As he brainstormed about funny scenarios for radio, he got the idea for the television show he called, Candid Camera.
Candid Camera first aired in 1948 and because of the popularity and top television ratings, the show aired until 1967; after which it continued in syndication. It was one of the earliest, most popular and longest running shows of its kind. Allen Funt never failed to entertain viewers for all those years.
People could watch the same skits over and over and laugh just as hard every time. Even in syndication, Candid Camera was a breath of fresh air; almost like it was brand new.
The pranks weren’t necessarily elaborate. That was the beauty of it; that something simple could generate such laughter. Pranking people as they went about their everyday lives was the best approach because they were "there" voluntarily. What happened next… well, that was a different story. Any public place was fair game. Funt pranked people at banks, movie theatres, lunch counters and just about anywhere you could think of. It was funny enough just to catch people being themselves. It was amusing to watch people react to illogical and surreal circumstances; all the while trying to make sense of it.
In one prank, one of Funt’s staff asked a passerby to hold the end of a tape measure while he walked around the corner. When he got around the corner, he asked another person to hold the other end of the tape measure for a minute and then he just disappeared. The two unassuming people were each standing there just holding their end of the tape measure, not knowing about the other one, with no end in sight.
Preoccupation with catching people off guard and making them laugh at themselves was Allen Funt’s specialty. He employed hidden cameras and microphones as well as actors to help with the foolishness. Funt’s brilliant mind never stopped working and the scenarios he dreamt up were endless. Once President Harry Truman got caught on camera. Nothing and nobody was off limits, which was part of the show’s charm. Funt even got kids in on the fun!
One of the most famous pranks was actually an experiment in sociology. Candid Camera loved to prank people with the famous elevator experiment. If you ever get the chance you need to look it up and watch it. It is a riot! In the picture above, the young guy in the middle is the only one not in on the joke. Because of his desire to conform, he takes his lead from the group. They took their hats off, so he did too. The group all turned to the left, so he did too. Every time the elevator opened on a different floor, the entire group, even the “victim”, were all doing the same thing!
The pranks were definitely funny but just as funny was when people realized that they had been had! After being told they were on Candid Camera, first confusion set in, then curiosity (as to where the camera was) and then, finally, laughter! The best part of all is that it was all done in the spirit of fun!
Each episode ended with fair warning to all: Don’t be surprised if someone, somewhere walks up to you and says…, “Smile! You’re on Candid Camera!”.
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