The whoopee cushion, also known as a “poopoo cushion” or “Razzberry Cushion,” is a well-known prank device, symbolising practical jokes and trickery worldwide. Its unmistakable flatulence-like sound has been echoing in classrooms, offices, and homes, triggering peals of laughter, blushes, or disgruntled looks for nearly a century. Let’s delve into the history of this cheeky device and its enduring appeal.
Although the exact origins of the whoopee cushion remain uncertain, many sources suggest that it emerged from ancient Rome. Renowned Roman philosopher and jokester Petronius was said to have used an animal bladder to create a noise-making device reminiscent of the modern whoopee cushion. However, the gag item as we know it today wasn’t popularised until the early 20th century.
JEM Rubber Co. in Toronto, Canada, first developed the whoopie cushion in 1920. The company used sheets of rubber glued together to form an air pocket with a small opening. When someone unsuspectingly sat on it, the air forced out through the hole would make a noise similar to human flatulence.
Despite its comedic potential, the product was initially met with resistance. Early retailers considered it indecent, and it was a struggle to introduce it to the market. However, its popularity skyrocketed in the 1930s when the Johnson Smith Company, a U.S.-based novelty catalog company, began selling the product, and the whoopee cushion soon became a staple in their range of novelty items.
Popularity in the 90s
The 1990s were a renaissance period for novelty items and practical jokes, and the whoopee cushion was no exception. This era marked a resurgence in its popularity, fuelled in part by a growing nostalgia for vintage items and a return to simpler forms of entertainment. It wasn’t just kids playing pranks on each other; adults, too, were enjoying the silly, uncomplicated fun that the whoopee cushion provided.
Pop culture and media played a significant role in boosting the whoopie cushion’s appeal during the 90s. Television shows and movies often featured the iconic red cushion as the butt of jokes (pun intended). For example, in the popular American sitcom “Friends,” one of the show’s characters, Joey Tribbiani, was a whoopie cushion enthusiast, showcasing its use in a popular and positive light.
Marketing strategies in the 1990s also contributed to the whoopee cushion’s rise in popularity. Manufacturers and retailers began to sell them in a variety of sizes and colours, introducing self-inflating models that increased their appeal. This was a time before the internet became a dominant force in our lives, and physical, tangible humour like the whoopee cushion could still capture the public’s imagination in a big way.
Design and Function
The classic whoopee cushion is a round balloon-like object made from two sheets of rubber (often red) that are glued together at the edges. There is a small nozzle protruding from one side that acts as the air intake when the cushion is inflated. When an unsuspecting person sits on the inflated cushion, the air is forced out through the nozzle, causing the rubber to vibrate and create the characteristic sound.
Enduring Appeal and Modern Variations
The whoopee cushion’s enduring appeal lies in its simplicity and universal humour. Despite cultural differences, the joke is virtually universally understood. The whoopee cushion taps into the inherent human tendency to laugh at bodily functions, making it a timeless source of amusement.
Modern technological advancements have introduced variations of the traditional whoopee cushion. Some models now feature a built-in sponge so that they self-inflate after use. Others are equipped with electronic sound devices that can replicate a variety of sounds. There are also remote-controlled versions and smartphone apps that mimic the classic whoopee cushion’s functionality and sound.
The whoopee cushion, with its distinctive raspberry sound, is a testament to the universal and timeless appeal of simple, physical humour. Although it started as a crude novelty item, its popularity has grown and evolved over the years. In a world that often takes itself too seriously, the whoopee cushion serves as a humble reminder that a little silliness and a good laugh can go a long way.