B.J. Novak’s Museum Prank at the Boston MFA

B.J. Novak can now add “museum prankster” to his list of accomplishments. The writer and actor, best known for his work on deadpan cringe comedy “the Office,” recently detailed his antics at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston while promoting his new book “One More Thing” on the “Late Show with David Letterman.” He has also posted the story on his blog One More Thing.

In 1996, a 17-year-old Novak and a friend took an audio-guided tour of an ancient Chinese art exhibit fantastically titled “Tales From the Land of Dragons” at the MFA where they had the idea to record an alternative tour to replace the museum’s official tape.

“We snuck a tape out of the exhibit and took it home, where we transcribed all the information on the tape,” Novak writes. “Then wrote our new tour – careful to make sure it corresponded to all the actual art in the exhibit. Then we made fifteen copies of the tapes, printed fifteen labels that looked exactly like the labels on the originals, and gathered a group of fifteen friends to take the audio tour together one Saturday – each of us slyly replacing the original tape with our new version while taking the tour, and then returning the audio players with the new tape inside, for the next round of museum-goers to receive.”

The results are hysterical, from the subtlety of the music selection to the absurdity of the caricature-like voice acting. Novak’s tour suggests that visitors “Quietly remove the glass and smell the rich aroma of the paint. … Then please replace the glass to its previous position.”

In the often highbrow museum world, Novak’s story is a good reminder to keep a sense of humor about creativity. “Personally I hate this painting,” Novak’s tour guide muses. “Every time I walk past this one I want to smash the glass with a sledgehammer and rip the scroll to shreds with my teeth, which by the way are extremely long and sharp as far as teeth go. They’re more like fangs than human teeth.”

— Christopher Kareska (@cwoodskares)

(Photo: John Mayer (Yes, that John Mayer))