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RED BANK: BEHIND AN EPIC APRIL FOOLS PRANK

(The Self Serve University video) 

By BRIAN DONOHUE

On April 1, redbankgreen published a ridiculous April Fools Day news video we had produced about a local auto parts salesman who had created “Self Serve University” to teach New Jersey drivers to pump their own gas.

We recruited Red Bank actors and novices to play the professor and students. We threw in some over the top details – like students using virtual reality goggles to hone their skills and a long waiting list for enrollment.

Given that folks would have their guard up with a flood of preposterous hoaxes filling everyone’s social media feeds on April 1, we figured it was all just a smidge beyond the bounds of believability.

But many, it seems, were fooled.

Professor Plimpton at work.  (Photo by Brian Donohue. Click to enlarge.)

Tens of thousands watched on Tik Tok, Facebook and Youtube, many leaving comments like, “We are all doomed” lamenting the lost spirit of self-reliance in New Jersey and beyond. Several hosts on the state’s largest radio station unwittingly used the story as a peg for call in segments on the state’s unique self-service ban.

And yes, 17 people emailed us to sign up for Self Serve University.

What started out as playful lampooning of New Jersey’s gas pump law and the learned helplessness it creates also wound up underscoring some great things about Red Bank.

Namely the depth of creativity and community we have here. The fact that you can throw something like this together on short notice is a testament to the richness of both in our great little town.

And with that, it’s time to introduce and thank the cast.

“Professor” Ron Plimpton, founder of Self Serve University, was  played by Ralph Colombino, artistic director for the Actors Playground School of Theatre which holds classes at the Count Basie Center Performing Arts Academy in Red Bank and other locations.

The character is named after George Plimpton, the legendary sportswriter who fooled the sports world with a 1985 April Fools Day story about Sidd Finch, a New York Mets pitcher who played the French horn, pitched with one bare foot and learned to pitch 167 miles per hour throwing rocks in the desert. 

Terry Jones, the first student interviewed, is played by Red Bank resident Betsy Moore. (The real Terry Jones played a reporter for the BBC in a famous 2008 April Fools Day story about the discovery of flying penguins.)

We recruited Moore after she came forward in person to apologize to redbankgreen publisher Kenny Katzgrau for accidentally violating our comment policy barring anonymous comments.

Moore had mistakenly posted anonymous comments under her grandson’s initials that drew false accusations from other commenters  that she was actually redbankgreen reporter Brian Donohue –  yeah, me – using a fake account to comment anonymously on his own stories, a conspiracy theory furthered by additional commenters. (This is not an April Fools joke, unfortunately).

But it was all for good. Because as it turns out, Moore really is going to Nova Scotia this summer and is nervous about pumping gas on the trip, just as she says in the video. Perhaps because she was barely even acting, she nailed her shot In a single take.

The second student interviewed, TJ Cilley, is played by Red Bank resident and actor Atticus Bravo-Smith. (the character is named after Homer Cillley, a TV producer fired for a causing panic with an April Fools Day story about a volcano erupting in Massachusetts in 1980.

Bravo-Smith is a senior at Red Bank Regional High School with a growing list of acting credits. He is headed to Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts in the fall.

And finally, Mercedes Baskin is played by Red Bank resident Mercedes Archila The surname Baskin is a botched (by me) version of the name of Boston University professor Joseph Boskin, who concocted a fictional study about the origin of April Fool’s day some journalists did not realize was actually an April Fools prank in itself.

Archila is the mother-in-law of redbankgreen reporter Brian Donohue. She is 87, hasn’t driven a car in more than a half century and never acted in her life. She nailed the role and she, more than anyone, perhaps fooled ya’s.

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Remember: Nothing makes a Red Bank friend happier than to hear "I saw you on Red Bank Green!"
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