Best April Fool’s Day Joke Ever

In 1998, William Boyd wrote the biography of American artist Nat Tate (Nat Tate: An American Artist 1928-1960). He wrote the biography to highlight an overlooked artist who suffered depression, burned most of his paintings, then killed himself at 31.

On April 1,1998, Boyd’s friend, David Bowie, held a launch party for the book. New York’s famous elites and big names in the art world showed up. They heard excerpts from the book and John Richardson, Picasso’s biographer, spoke about Tate’s friendship with Picasso.

As the crowd mingled and discussed the work of Nat Tate, no one claimed to know him well, but everyone said they were familiar with his work.

Just one problem…

                                    William Boyd made the whole story up.

David Bowie and John Richardson joined in to add credibility. Political commentator Gore Vidal even added his endorsement on the book jacket with this ironic quip: “A moving account of an artist too well understood by his time.”

The whole book was fiction and the party an elaborate April Fool’s joke. They just wanted to see how people would respond.   

Karen Wright, a co-director at Boyd’s publisher, said, “We were very amused that people kept saying ‘Yes, I’ve heard of him.’ There is a willingness not to appear foolish. Critics are too proud for that.”

A well-played April fool’s joke like that reminds us that we are all capable of claiming to know things we do not know. Next time we are tempted to say we know when we do not, we should check ourselves. It is okay to not know as long as we are willing to learn. Better to say we don’t know and gain knowledge than to say we know and later look like a fool. Yes, if we say we do not know we might look ignorant for a moment. But that slight embarrassment will pass and we just might learn something. If we say we know when we don’t, we often end up looking even more foolish.


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