Adult Swim’s April Fools’ Day History, Explained


Summary

  • Adult Swim’s April Fools’ Day pranks are a chaotic tradition that viewers can count on, but expect the unexpected.
  • From unannounced premieres to AI takeovers, the network keeps audiences guessing and entertained each year.
  • The unpredictability of the pranks, like puppet reenactments of shows, adds to the charm of Adult Swim’s annual celebration.



Who doesn’t love a good April Fools’ Day prank? The only holiday solely devoted to gags, jokes, and pranks can be a fun way to embrace our silly sides. Aside from the yearly showings of pranks that go way too far, April Fools’ as a whole is a fun, lighthearted celebration. Adult Swim agrees, and they’ve held an annual April Fools’ Day prank on air every Apr. 1 since 2004. Obviously, the exact nature of the joke is not revealed ahead of time, so audiences never quite know what they’re in for. We’ve seen surprise early releases of episodes, creative edits to existing shows, and fake announcements of nonexistent events. It’s a yearly staple that viewers have come to expect from Cartoon Network’s late-night surrealist comedy block.


Despite that pattern, there’s little predictability in the tradition, though viewers do speculate ahead of time. If new content is indeed announced in advance for the late night hours of Mar. 31, it’s almost certain it won’t actually run or will be heavily modified. Let’s look at Adult Swim’s April Fools’ gags and how they’ve shaped that iconic adult entertainment block.


The Origins of Adult Swim’s April Fools’ Prank

For its first few years, Adult Swim celebrated April Fools’ Day like any other day of the week. They started out small in 2004 by adding random mustaches to the characters in the regularly scheduled lineup. The same episodes were replayed the next night without the mustaches. While a far cry from the elaborate pranks of later years, this inaugural event showed Adult Swim was willing to take risks.


2005 saw the launch of what would later become a staple: unannounced premieres. That night, a rough edit of the Squidbillies pilot was aired instead of the regularly scheduled Robot Chicken episode. The fully rendered pilot would later run again, with the rest of the first season beginning in October 2005. The 2006 event kept things simple, with reruns of old ’80s cartoons and fart sound effects added to the regular lineup’s audio.

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Adult Swim dialed things up a notch in 2007 when they played a new episode of Perfect Hair Forever backward with the picture and audio edited to be purposefully poor. That same night, they also ran their promoted TV premiere of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie in a tiny picture-in-picture format shoved to the bottom corner of the regular lineup. 2008 saw the drop of several unfinished episodes of upcoming and returning shows, such as Delocated and Superjail!.

Adult Swim’s Experimental Years With April Fools’

In 2009, 2010, and 2011, Adult Swim ran Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 cult classic masterpiece The Room, with different accompanying events each year. They started to play it again in 2012 before switching to a preview of the then-upcoming Toonami reboot. 2013 kept things simple by editing cat faces into the bumpers and live-action shows, while 2014 gave us two new surprise Perfect Hair Forever episodes seven years after its last April Fools’ stunt.


In 2015, the network edited an online game from their FishCenter web series into Aqua Teen Hunger Force, where the characters would play along with the game. Adult Swim’s single greatest gag came in 2016 when they teased a prank but ultimately did not feature one, with the omission itself being the prank.

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2017 and 2018 saw two unannounced Rick and Morty premieres. The former (and most publicized recent April Fools’ gag) was the surprise drop of the third season premiere. The latter year debuted an animated parody of the series titled “Bushworld Adventures.” These two years also incorporated distorted audio mixes on all shows, with Toonami running its programs in their original Japanese over English subtitles. An anime parody ran continuously from midnight until 6 am in 2019 and 2020, featuring Post Malone interrupting several unannounced premieres, such as Primal, Robot Chicken, and 12 oz. Mouse.


Adult Swim’s Modern April Fools’ Day Pranks

After years of building on the absurd, Adult Swim took things in the opposite direction when they became Adult Swim Junior in 2021. Child actors dubbed over the voices of Rick and Morty and Aqua Teen Hunger Force with new lines tailored to a family-friendly audience in that one-off event. The following year, characters from the proof-of-concept short called Come and Learn with Pibby appeared throughout the 2022 celebration, periodically taking over bumpers and interrupting shows.


2023 went all out and embraced AI, reanimating a Smiling Friends episode with the software. After the net allegedly tried to stop the broadcast, the AI “took over” and fast-forwarded through previews of upcoming series and new seasons, including Royal Crackers. Later, they aired their Infomercials series mocking paid programming and advertised the streaming service Adult Swim Minus, which contained only commercials as a play on the many “+” services out there. The night was capped with 30 minutes of Slow TV featuring a train traveling through Europe as an “apology” for the AI antics.

This year, in 2024, Adult Swim actually advertised the Smiling Friends season two debut in advance. The show did air, but with puppet reenactments of the first season’s episodes rather than a new premiere. The second season did premiere later in the night, with all episodes then played backwards for good measure.


In an era of declining linear TV, Adult Swim’s April Fools’ Day is a rare tradition that audiences can count on. However, if you plan to tune in for a new episode or catch up on an older show, don’t get your hopes up. Poorly edited episodes and last-minute substitutions are a staple. While the chances of a series or season premiere are high, it’s almost impossible to predict what will run due to the complete lack of promotion. That’s tricky in a live-tweeting era.

Still, on the evening of Mar. 31, social media users always crawl out of the woodwork, trying in vain to decipher what they might see later that night. Viewers love Adult Swim’s April Fools simply due to its chaotic and unhinged nature, even if it causes them to miss that night’s unscheduled Rick and Morty premiere. The puppet version of Smiling Friends can be found on YouTube.




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