- A pair of Instagram comedians who post videos of skits and pranks on the New York City subway sent passengers scrambling when they wore hazmat suits and spilled liquid from a clear container, telling passengers it was the coronavirus.
- The liquid, which was actually Kool-Aid, did not contain the virus that has so far killed more than 1,000 people.
- An MTA spokesperson said it had been unaware of the prank, which occurred on the "L" train in Brooklyn on January 31.
- The video has raised questions about whether jokes about the virus, which has spread to at least 25 countries, can take things too far.
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
A couple dozen New York City residents traveling on a subway train in Brooklyn at the end of January were in for an unexpected surprise when men dressed in hazmat suits spilled a bucket of liquid on the floor of the train, telling passengers that the liquid contained the coronavirus.
"That better be Kool-Aid," one passenger on the L train said to the two men in the hazmat suits, who ensured passengers there is no reason to panic.
"Oh, h— no," a woman can said when the men opened the clear container, labeled "WARNING" and filled with a red liquid, before they spilled it on the train's floor.
The liquid was actually Kool-Aid, 17-year-old David Flores and 19-year-old Morris Cordewell, both from Queens, told Insider. The teens said they were responsible for the prank and it didn't contain the deadly virus that has so far killed more than 1,000 people.
While some people in the video appear to catch on that it's a joke, looking amused or even laughing as Flores and Cordewell "accidentally" poured the liquid out the container, others screamed, ran from the liquid, and jumped up on the train's seats to avoid it as it travels along the floor.
Cordewell said Flores came up with the idea for the coronavirus subway prank, and he fleshed out some of the details, like the suits.
The duo can be heard at the end of the video telling passengers it was just a prank. Still, Cordewell told Insider that at least one person seemed angry about the prank, though he added he wasn't sure if the man was joking.
"The first half people were kinda scared," Cordewell said. "After we were like 'Yo it's a prank,' people were laughing."
"There was one lady with her kids sitting next to me just laughing the whole time. I don't know how she knew it was a joke, but she knew it was a joke the whole time," Cordewell continued.
"They kinda figured it out themselves, though," Flores added.
A spokesperson for the New York City MTA told Insider that the agency, which operates the city's 27 subway lines throughout the city, including the "L," wasn't aware of the video until Insider asked about it.
Coronavirus pranks, jokes, and memes have run rampant as it's spread
As the world grapples with the outbreak, which has infected more than 43,000 people globally with most cases occurring in China, teens in search of viral fame have posted memes and jokes about the virus. In addition to some concerns about the tastefulness of making jokes about the virus, there have also been concerns that some of the jokes about the virus have played into racist tropes against Asian people.
According to the BBC, Russian authorities have said a man in Moscow posted a video online February 2 that depicted him on a subway train, wearing a mask, and falling to the ground and convulsing in what appeared to be an elaborate way to prank passengers on the train into believing he was infected with the virus.
But the Russian man didn't actually have the virus, though there have been two confirmed cases in Russia. The act has now has landed the man a criminal hooliganism charge that could land him five years in prison, the BBC said.
There have been no confirmed cases of the virus in New York City, though the Centers for Disease Control has reported 13 cases across the US in six states: California, Illinois, Washington, Arizona, Massachusetts, and Wisconson.
While many on Instagram have commented that they thought the prank was funny, others were less than thrilled.
"What the f–k is wrong with people," David Mack, the deputy director of Breaking News at BuzzFeed, tweeted.
"I'm two sided," one person commented on the video on Flores' Instagram. "One, it's pretty serious right now and many people have died from the virus, but it's good that their[sic] lifting people's spirits and making people laugh."
"NOT funny," another wrote. "Please clean the mess on your way out."
But the teen comedians say while they understand the virus is serious, their video was just a prank.
"To be honest, to me, I feel them, but I know it was a joke. At the end of the day it was a joke," Flores said.
The January 31 prank isn't the only similar video posted to either of their Instagram accounts. Both of the pranksters' Instagram accounts primarily feature pranks and skits that take place on the subway, where performers both in stations and on the trains are commonplace.
"On the subway, the audience is forced to watch us, you know what I'm saying," Cordewell said. "I like the reactions that they give us on the train, and it's like real New York people, and I just love real New York people. Most of the time we get good reactions, people recording, people laughing, and people coming up to us at the end."
Making videos like these, Flores added, has been something he's wanted to do since childhood.
"I've wanted to do this since I was a little kid," the 17-year-old Queens native said. "Growing up, I've seen videos like this on WorldStar, on Funny Videos, and on YouTube, and now doing it – the reaction feels amazing."
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