The Anatomy of an Elaborate (April Fools') Joke

People believe what you make them believe. 

Let me take a few minutes to tell you about how my good friend Shelagh and I pulled off the best April Fools' Day prank of our lives... well, so far.

We are NOT(!) getting married. In fact, we're not even dating. Never were. You got punked. Hard. After more than a year of literally everyone telling us we should be dating each other — and asking why we weren't dating each other, why we hadn't asked each other out, etcetera, etc., ad infinitum — we decided to do something about it.

Before I start, though, I must take a minute to acknowledge the work and participation of my friend Lauren Valvasori — our "engagement" photographer — owner of Moments by Lauren. Most of the photos you see in this blog post were taken by Lauren on March 30 at Bayfront Park here in Hamilton. As you will find out, Lauren's participation was critical to the success of our joke. And if you like what you see, I strongly encourage you to give her a call if you're looking for a photographer.


Some Background

Before we move forward, I should remind you (or let you know) that I started studying and performing improv comedy in 1999 at The Second City training centre in Toronto. I went on to start my own improv company in 2001, the Impatient Theatre Co., which ran for 12 years until I shut it down in 2013 on its 12th anniversary. ITC ran one of the leading comedy schools in Canada for many years and produced the annual Toronto Improv Festival from 2001 through 2012.

Shortly before I shut my company down in 2013, I knew a few things: 1) it was coming, I could see the writing on the wall; 2) I had to make a living doing something else; 3) I had a decent DSLR camera (Canon 60D) and had been shooting since I was at least 12 years old. I loved photography. So, I spent the second half of 2013 building my portfolio and began the transition into my new life as a full-time photographer. I haven't looked back since.


I snapped this shot of Shelagh during a day trip we took to Port Dover when I got a weekend with a convertible Chevrolet Corvette as a Klout perk. Photo by Kevin Patrick Robbins.

Budding Friendships

During this portfolio building phase, I put out a casting notice on Model Mayhem and began shooting with local models. The first shoots were in my empty living room and were really designed to be a session of getting to know the person and getting comfortable with them to see if we could work together on a more detailed shoot at a later date. The second person I shot with was a young woman named Shelagh Moore.

Shelagh and I hit it off immediately and became fast friends. Through a local group on Facebook that I manage, we became friends with a number of local photographers, models, makeup artists, stylists, etc. We have monthly get togethers with a core group of regulars and always-welcome other new folks. This core group has become a solid group of friends over the last year and a half.

One thing Shelagh and I discovered was that people kept asking us if we were dating, or why we weren't dating, or telling us we should be dating each other. We had each experienced this for more than a year. At the end of 2014, I organized a year-end dinner with friends at Hamilton's Aberdeen Tavern. After the dinner, my friend Kevin Thom, a professional photographer, whom Shelagh had never met before, asked me "Why aren't you dating that gorgeous woman who was with us tonight?" When I told Shelagh this, she came back to me with a question.


Photo by Moments by Lauren

The Setup

"Do you ever do April Fools' Day pranks?" she asked,

"Not really. I'm not against them."

"I was think we should change our Facebook status to "In a Relationship."

"When?"

"On April Fools' Day."

"I don't think anyone would believe it. They would see right through it."

"Yeah, maybe."

With my extensive background in comedy, and a Facebook friends list of 3,500 people, 90% of whom are comedians, the simple status update would be incredibly transparent. No one would buy it. We started discussing how to make it work and I came up with something a little more elaborate.

"What if we convince people we've gotten engaged? What would that take?"

In order to pull it off, we would have to change our Facebook status to "In a Relationship" immediately and begin the process of convincing people we've been secretly dating for a long time. So, that's exactly what we did. This was Jan. 1.

Convincing people we were in a relationship was incredibly easy — like, ridiculously — after all, people had been bugging us with questions about why we weren't already dating for close to a year. Convincing people we had actually gotten engaged... well, that was going to take a little more work, and a lot of help from a colleague.


Selling The Engagement

They say people believe what they want to believe. I say people believe what you make them believe.

When we were discussing how we were going to sell the engagement — in a way that was more than just changing a Facebook status — I came up with the idea of having one of my colleagues shoot an engagement session for us. This idea later evolved into a staged hidden-camera-proposal-slash-surprise-engagement session.

Shortly after we changed our Facebook status in January, I sat down with my colleague Sara Collaton, a wedding photographer, to ask her to shoot a fake surprise proposal and engagement session for us. She agreed. Unfortunately, shortly before our scheduled shoot, Sara got called away on a family matter.

This is when Lauren stepped up.

Lauren Valvasori is a wedding, engagement and portrait photographer I met through the Professional Photographers of Canada. She's a member of my local branch and had assisted me on a few shoots last fall. When Sara wasn't able to make it, we asked Lauren if she would be willing to shoot the proposal and engagement session. She was game. The last-minute shoot was setup, executed, and finished within 72 hours.

The final piece of the puzzle was figuring out how to reveal the engagement. So, to really sell the prank, we knew a simple status update with some photos might not be enough. People who know me, might suspect that this is just the kind of thing I might try to do. Obviously, they'd be right. But I knew that. I was prepared for that.


It's a double-post on the blog today because I've been DYING to share this one!! You have to head over and check out...

Posted by Moments -by Lauren on Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Reveal

The last two things we needed to pull off this prank — a prank remember that which had been in the work for three months — were:

  1. To have our photographer write up a post on her blog, "leak" the engagement session photos on Facebook, and tag Shelagh and me in the photos on Facebook before we supposedly had a chance to officially announce it ourselves.
  2. Build a detailed announcement website complete with our story and engagement photos, the engagement party details, the wedding location, and an RSVP form that people could fill out and submit to us.

Lauren did exactly what we needed and asked for, and delivered perfectly. She was awesome. She leaked the engagement shoot a couple of hours before midnight on March 31. We figured it was April 1 somewhere in the world and most people wouldn't see it until the next day, anyway.

The Facebook post above is the actual embedded post from Lauren's Moments by Lauren Facebook page. At the time of writing this, it has more than 120 likes and more than 40 comments. We updated our relationship status to "Engaged", dated it March 30 — the day of the photo shoot — to reflect the info on the Moments by Lauren's blog, and captioned it "I guess the cat's out of the bag."


The Website

I loooooove Squarespace. I knew I could quickly and easily setup a beautiful wedding website using Squarespace. Using one of their temples, I put our whole wedding website together in less than an hour. You can view it at kevinandshelagh.squarespace.com.

I compiled a page that features a quick "how we met" story and the photos from the session. I outlined that our wedding would be held in October at Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC and included some photos I took during my stay at Biltmore in 2011. I also created a page noting that our engagement dinner would be held at The Aberdeen Tavern in Hamilton — the restaurant where the year-end dinner that started it all was held — and, finally, a page for people to RSVP to the wedding, if they had been invited.


The Love

We wanted to THANK EVERYONE who sent us their love and support today. We feel your love and it is abundant and awesome! We also want to congratulate those (very very few) of you who guessed that the engagement was an April Fools' Day prank. I bet you also didn't the guess the relationship wasn't real, though.

So, we still win.

Congratulations to those of you who figured it out or even suspected this might be a prank. We apologize to those of you who got caught in the wake and sincerely wished us well. To everyone else...

PLEASE STOP ASKING US WHY WE AREN'T DATING EACH OTHER!!!

With love,
Kevin and Shelagh


If the ring is a problem, the ring isn't the problem

Oh, the ring? Everyone loves the ring! Shelagh picked it up for $4 at the mall. It's just a piece of plastic.

I’m a con artist in that I’m an actor. I make people believe something is real when they know perfectly well it isn’t.
— John Lithgow
Congratulations! I’m speechless! And when were you going to tell me?
— Kevin's mom
I have underestimated your ability to commit. Whole new level.
— MaryBeth (who was in on the joke)
Also, running off to the US in October to get married worked really well for us too. I’m sure it’ll be just as amazing for you.
— Rebecca D
I am so happy for you two! congratulations and these photos are just perfect. Talk about a prompt engagement photo session. I love that you did the photos while proposing and after. You can really see how truly happy you two are.
— Brittany G
God bless you two. The worlds a better place with you two in it. Congrats for finding each other.
— Marc A
Congratulations Kevin and Shelagh. If this is an April Fools’ joke I’m going to be mad.
— Krystal B
I’m not falling for it.
— Steve H