Allen Funt's 'Candid Camera' Created Hidden Camera Prank TV
Allen Funt, host of Candid Camera, seated at television set. Image dated May 20, 1960. Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
Hidden camera or prank TV shows seem commonplace today, but Ashton Kutcher of Punk'd fame didn't invent them. Host Allen Funt's Candid Camera did -- over 70 years ago. Funt's hidden-camera practical joking goes back so far that it began as The Candid Microphone, in 1947. That sounds like a joke, but it's not -- Candid Camera created by Allen Funt, who died in 1999, essentially predated TV and televised entertainment.
As Allen Funt became to old to host the show, duties were passed down to his son, Peter Funt, who was born around the time that The Candid Microphone debuted on radio, and is now in his early '70s.
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.
A TV Institution
Funt got his start in radio as the creative mind behind gimmicks for radio programs, and hit upon a winner with The Candid Microphone, which aired on the radio for just over a year before Funt made the jump to TV.
Candid Camera has come and gone many times since beginning in 1948. It's been a network prime-time show, a syndicated show, and a segment of network talk shows. The longest uninterrupted run that Candid Camera had was in a Sunday evening spot on CBS from 1960-67. During periods when Candid Camera wasn't an ongoing series, it did pop up as one-off specials. Allen Funt never failed to entertain viewers for all those years. Candid Camera last aired in 2014, on the TVLand network, hosted by Mayim Bialik -- but given its history, it's a fair bet to assume it will be back.
People could watch the same skits over and over and laugh just as hard every time. Even in reruns, Candid Camera was a breath of fresh air; almost like it was brand new.
Absurdity Can Happen Anywhere
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.
Everybody Was Fair Game
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 elevator prank was such a concise lesson in human tendencies, that Prudential excerpted it intact as a lesson on how not to invest your money:
All's Well That Ends Well
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!”
Tags: Allen Funt | Candid Camera | Pranks | Reality TV
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