The Funniest Pranks On The Ellen DeGeneres Show

Millions of Americans tune in to watch comedian and beloved celebrity Ellen DeGeneres on The Ellen DeGeneres Show every day. Heck, it's such a familiar, happy, friendly place that most people just call the host and show "Ellen." It's always a charming broadcast, as well as a variety show in the truest sense — who but DeGeneres could bring together viral video stars, talented kids, and project-plugging celebrity guests and then dance through the audience whenever there's a second to spare?

Ellen also has a number of well-known recurring bits, perhaps none more popular than its pranks. These Letterman-esque, good-natured stunts have found DeGeneres doing things like speaking through an earpiece to confuse and bewilder, scaring the heck out of celebrities, and enlisting the help of stars to play elaborate jokes on regular people. Here are some of the most memorable and funniest pranks that DeGeneres ever pulled on unsuspecting guests, fans, and strangers.

Steve Harvey gives bizarre advice

It's daytime talk show inception! In this memorable entry in DeGeneres' series of hidden earpiece-based pranks, in which the host secretly and technologically feeds bizarre lines to a co-conspirator who dutifully repeats them, DeGeneres worked with Steve Harvey on the Chicago set of his talk show. In a segment of "Ask Steve," in which studio audience members ask the mustached suit enthusiast for advice, DeGeneres provided the answers and wound up pranking Harvey more than she did the audience. 

To a woman troubled by how her boyfriend still lives with his parents, DeGeneres suggested — and Harvey repeated — the "High Kick of Life." It sounds inspirational, but it's really just a way to get Harvey (and the woman) kicking so much they're dancing, and dancing like fools. To another guest interested in getting her cat to use the toilet instead of the litter box, Harvey nearly broke down laughing when DeGeneres forced him to reminiscence about his (fictional) childhood pet, an iguana named Robin "that could brush its own teeth."

Sofia Vergara goes method

In this episode of DeGeneres piping her voice into the ear of a celebrity, Sofía Vergara of Modern Family was dispatched to a store on the Warner Bros. lot, near where The Ellen DeGeneres Show tapes, called The Mill. Vergara was instructed to just walk in the store and start immediately emotionally unloading on the clerk, a poor sap named Chris. DeGeneres told Vergara (who amusingly introduced herself as "Sofia Vergara from Modern Family," as if Chris didn't know) to be "very somber." The reason, the audience learned, was that she was filming a sad Western called When Dogs are Running and Horses are Silent. She's sad because the movie requires her to "be sad all the time." DeGeneres then ordered Vergara to descend into hysterics, sobbing and screaming and falling down, a little because she's supposed to be sad but also to demonstrate what she's supposed to do in the movie.

The small crowd of (mostly male) customers that gathered digested Vergara's behavior because they were utterly transfixed by the gorgeous celebrity, barely reacting to her emotional roller coaster with little more than a head nod and a couple of words. They didn't seem to mind when she cried, galloped around like a horse, laughed hysterically (because the movie has a happy ending), and cried again.

Dennis Quaid needs a nurse

You know who really needs to get taken down a peg and knocked off of their high horses? Nurses! That's the conceit behind this Ellen prank, wherein the host and actor Dennis Quaid conspired to pull a fast one on one of those highly trained, hard-working, underpaid medical professionals who was willing to make a call to a celebrity's dressing room where they'd be one-on-one behind closed doors. 

The show had done this gag a few times, and you'd think that every nurse in the Los Angeles area would be wise to getting called down to the Warner lot, but apparently not. Spring, the nurse that was trying to treat Quaid, patiently and tactfully responded to his every weird thought and action, which included his fear that he's getting shorter, his needless removal of his shoes, and his scream-belching. If anything, this prank reminded us that Dennis Quaid is a really good actor. He fully committed, moving around the room with a frenetic, loopy energy usually reserved for Randy Quaid.

Alison Sweeney falls for it

Sometimes a simple prank is the best prank. And sometimes a simple prank is so simple, it's not really a prank at all, just a well executed bit of comedy and sabotage. Guest Alison Sweeney (The Biggest Loser, Days of Our Lives) told DeGeneres that she and her family were really into Jenga — so much so that they'd take smartphone videos of themselves playing to forever capture the fun of when the tower inevitably fell. DeGeneres then presented Sweeney with a six-foot-tall Jenga tower. A spirited game of Jenga ensued, if only because DeGeneres was playing the long con. 

Honestly, Sweeney should have guessed that Ellen was going to do play some kind of prank on her — after all, she'd shared her Jenga story and some videos with the show, and also, watching people play Jenga doesn't make for very interesting television. Well, it is when, just when the tower is getting extra precarious, Ellen artlessly and amusingly gives Sweeney a gentle shove while she's trying to move a brick, sending the whole thing — and Sweeney — toppling to the ground.

DeGeneres seriously confuses some tourists

For someone who usually does her pranks from a distance, hidden behind secret earpieces and microphones, it's refreshing — and gutsy — for DeGeneres to do a prank out in the open. It's also a high-wire act to keep it going for as long as possible before those getting pranked wise up. Somehow, nobody on a tour of Hollywood seemed to recognize DeGeneres's famous deadpan voice as she served as a guide from the bus/truck's concealed cockpit. The tourists only got quickly, visibly, thoroughly, and understandably bored to tears, because DeGeneres took on the character of a failed singer-songwriter who, instead of pointing out actual landmarks, drew attention to an apartment building where "no one famous" had lived, some hedges that fruit red berries in the winter, a building for lease, and, best of all, a dog that looked like the dog from Marley and Me that could maybe have been the dog from Marley and Me.

David Beckham is the world's worst massage client

David Beckham is a professional soccer player, and is yet still a celebrity in America, probably because he's super handsome and married to one of the Spice Girls. But because life is unfair, Beckham was also blessed with a charming British accent and some decent comedy chops, which enabled him to believably sell the lines DeGeneres fed him when he submitted to a relaxing massage.

The idea of pranking a masseuse sounds more than a little creepy, but DeGeneres and Beckham pull it off by being as silly as possible. Beckham opened the massage by insisting the masseuse call him "Ricky," and then, as a way to "join energy," they placed hands on each other's shoulders. That led Beckham to do some breathing exercises, which sounded like an opera singer doing their vocal warm-ups. Over the course of the prank, Beckham (and DeGeneres) commandeered the massage session, preemptively demanding no oils or lotions, a steadfast "no thumbs" rule, and a request to "hum near the muscle you're touching."

A teacher has a confusing group hug

No one is safe from DeGeneres' pranks — not those snooty nurses, not those aloof masseuses, and certainly not those overrated and selfish school teachers! We're joking, of course, but it must have been a hard sell in the Ellen writers room when somebody suggested, "Hey, let's prank one of the most selfless and dedicated teachers in the country." But it could be done, and the show's staff found a fun and funny angle.

In 2017, Ellen welcomed Royal Oak, Mich. teacher Joe Dombrowski, a guy who made learning fun with hilarious spelling lessons. ("If they're laughing," Dombrowski said, "they're gonna remember it.") Then, on behalf of Shutterfly's philanthropy wing, DeGeneres presented him with a check for $10,000, which he used to buy interactive projectors for every classroom in his underfunded Title I school. A few months later, Ellen brought Dombrowski back. After a brief interview, DeGeneres announced she had another surprise: She flew out 20 of his students to celebrate him. To the strains of U2's uplifting "Beautiful Day," a slew of kids flooded the stage and descended on Dombrowski for a group hug. The prank: All of the kids were hired actors, and not one of them was one of the teacher's actual students. He almost fell out of his chair from laughing so hard. 

Then DeGeneres had the audacity to "prank" Dombrowski once more: She gave him a prize package that included a big-screen TV, a scooter, and thousands of dollars in gift cards. Gotcha, Teach!

DeGeneres cons coffee lovers

DeGeneres likes to take her prank games off of the studio lot and into the real world on occasion, daring even to infiltrate America's living room/favorite caffeine addiction enabler, Starbucks. The Ellen show placed some hidden cameras around a Los Angeles-area Starbucks and gave an earpiece and microphone to a cashier named Vivian. 

DeGeneres' words, delivered by Vivian, pranked Vivian more than the customers because the lines made her seem quite loony. She asked customers questions like, "Am I pretty?" and "Do you have a tattoo?" and provided out-of-nowhere, Ralph Wiggum-esque statements like, "The cow goes moo" and "My favorite food is cantaloupe. No, sorry, honeydew." She also shared that she had a tattoo on her rear-end of a "Venti latte and half a bagel."

While the usual Ellen hidden-mic stuff went down — DeGeneres says something silly, person repeats, stranger is mildly bewildered — there was an extra level of confusion (and comedy) at play here. That's because Vivian couldn't quite hear all of the lines DeGeneres fed her, likely because all those espresso machines and milk frothers behind the counter are very loud. And that led to this exchange:

DeGeneres: One time I ate 15 plums in one sitting.

Vivian: One time I ate 15 crumbs in one sitting.

DeGeneres: No, not crumbs, plums.

Vivian: No, not crumbs, crumbs.

Of course, most of the Starbucks customers were in too much of a hurry and/or jonesing for their caffeine fix to notice all this tomfoolery.

Justin Bieber hides in plain sight

What do Ellen DeGeneres and Justin Bieber have in common? Not only are they both specialty impressions of Saturday Night Live's Kate McKinnon, but they're also mischievous little pranksters. When Bieber sat down for an interview on a 2015 episode, DeGeneres let spill that, earlier in the day, the studio audience had already interacted with the Canadian pop idol — and they hadn't even realized it. Yes, that weird, extra-careful, super-chatty security guard with the Southern accent who had met them at the front door metal detector was, in fact, the Biebs. (Members of the studio audience literally gasped at this revelation.)

What's great about this prank was that it was so obviously a prank, and apparently nobody figured it out. Bieber's security guard costume was not convincing — the little bit of padding to provide a pooch didn't look like a pot belly, nor did a fake beard and sunglasses effectively hide Bieber's million-dollar baby face. Nobody in the video recap of the prank called out the Bieber-resembling security guard for any of his weird behaviors, such as issuing field sobriety tests, offering to be one lady's boyfriend, not recognizing an iPhone, examining a woman's mouth for dental fillings, and confiscating a home-packed baggie of GORP.

DeGeneres makes trouble for Taylor Swift

The most famous type of prank that The Ellen DeGeneres Show pulls are scary pranks. There's just something fun about knowing that DeGeneres is about to have a fake monster or fake ghost jump out and scare her guests right there on camera, regardless of whether or not it's Halloween season. (Which is to say nothing of the many times that DeGeneres has sent producer Andy Lassner with celebrity guests to spooky haunted houses.) Ellen loves a good jump scare and will go all out to get it, but, once in a while, less is more.

DeGeneres fear-pranked the otherwise impeccably composed Taylor Swift when the pop superstar appeared on an episode of Ellen in 2009. The show set up a "fake dressing room" full of hidden cameras in which Swift could prepare for her appearance. As the footage shows, Swift settled in, and then headed to the bathroom where she was supposed to check something out. That's when DeGeneres just jumped up and screamed, surprising Swift. Yep — all she had to do was go "Blah!" and jump out. That was all it took to make Swift fall to the floor below, bursting with laughter before she even hit the ground.