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Recession or Not, Pranksters Get Cheap Tricks for Cheap Laughs

April 1, 1992

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (AP) _ Take my cheap tricks - please. The cost of laughing index is down this year - and that’s no April Fool’s joke.

The novelty business is booming despite the recession. And that’s never more obvious than on the first day of April.

″We’ve got a 14-inch megapuke from England that’s selling like crazy,″ said Mark Burger, owner of San Francisco’s House of Magic. ″It looks like a fresh meal, and you can roll it up and put it in your pocket.″

Burger sold 40 $12.50 megapukes in his first 90 minutes of business Wednesday. He said he dropped prices for his most expensive novelties this year after the ″high end″ of the business fell 20 percent and the ″low end″ increased more than 30 percent.

The cost of a wiggly fake dead rat in a trap, for instance, dropped from $30 to $25 before people began buying them.

″The tighter money is, the more volume we push. Business is booming for low-end gags,″ Burger said.

Greg Richard, a 35-year-old customer, was thinking about buying a seat cushion that has a fake hand to pop up between victims’ legs when they sit. But he also liked the powder that turns liquids into gelatinous goo.

″I figure that if I don’t buy it now, the opportunity is gone,″ Richard said. ″And I love to see their faces when I pull a gag.″

At the House of Humor in suburban Mountain View, people were stocking up for the future.

″You always want to buy extra,″ said Joan Sloss, a professional clown who brought two packages of fake doggie-doo. ″You never know when you may need another packet to use as a practical joke on a friend.″

Malcolm Kushner, a Santa Cruz lawyer-turned-humor consultant, said hard times haven’t killed humor, partly because it comes a bit cheaper these days. His annual Cost of Laughing Index that measures 17 comedy indicators fell slightly this year - .03 percent - for the first time in six years.

The index includes prices for comedy club admissions, rubber chickens, Groucho glasses, arrow-through-the-head gags, humor magazines, singing telegrams (dancing chickens and pink gorillas), and fees for writing TV sitcoms.

Groucho glasses went up a bit, from $14.40 to $15 per dozen, but most other prices stayed steady or dropped slightly with the economic downturn, he said.

″It’s costing less to laugh,″ Kushner said. ″People are still buying gags, but I don’t know why in an election year. Why buy a rubber chicken when you can go to a campaign appearance and see comedy for free?″

Still, sales of rubber chickens and 3,000 other gag items are up 25 percent at Loftus Novelty & Magic Inc. in Salt Lake City, chairman Gene Rose said Wednesday.

″We started out in 1939 and I’ll tell you, we have occasional slowdowns, but during the dips we usually do as well if not better than ever,″ Rose said. ″Any comic worth his salt is going to use a rubber chicken sometime - Steve Martin, Johnny Carson. Even my sister-in-law, who is a very reserved lady, has one hanging in her kitchen.

″Rubber chickens, doggie poop, whoopee cushions, hand buzzers - they’re just like bread and butter is to a grocery store.″

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