At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore (Ps. 16: 11)
As a mad man who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death, so is the man that deceiveth his neighbour, and saith, am not I in sport?Proverbs 26:18–19
The plain meaning of this proverb is that there is a clear boundary when it comes to practical jokes. It is one thing to “deceive your neighbor” in order to arrange for that surprise retirement party at the office, and which everyone appreciates as soon as the surprise is sprung. It is quite another to make him believe that his car was stolen, only to discover that it is mounted on cinder blocks in his front yard, and filled with packing peanuts. When the victim of the joke is brought abreast of the situation (and victim is the right word to use), the perpetrators cannot defend themselves by saying, “Can’t you take a joke?”
But there are other applications as well. There are many situations where people indulge in what might be called kidding/not kidding comments. They say something that appears to have a clear subtext, one with a bit of malice or resentment in it, and then when called on it, appeal to the joke value. Say that a husband says that tubby wives are the best, and when this gives offense, he says that he was “only joking, sheesh.” This is not quite as much on the nose as the proverb describes because the nature of “deceiving your neighbor” varies. In a practical joke, the deception is part of the set-up to the joke, and here the deception lies in maintaining that the punch line was the joke, when actually the punch line was a thin veneer covering over a mean comment.
However, the principle that the proverb points to is the same in both instances. Do not create some mayhem, and then try to clean up the damage with an appeal to humor.