The group carries out pranks, which they call "missions", in public places. The stated goal of these missions is to cause scenes of "chaos and joy." Some of the group's missions use hundreds of performers and are similar to flash mobs, while other missions utilize only a handful of performers. Improv Everywhere has stated that they do not identify their work with the term flash mob, in part because their site was created two years prior to the flash mob trend.
Improv Everywhere has been profiled by many national and international media outlets including The New York Times, The Today Show, and ABC's Nightline. Todd was interviewed on an episode of This American Life in 2005. While touching briefly on two missions ("No Pants" and "The Moebius"), the show focused on "Best Gig Ever" and "Ted's Birthday", and how they created unintended reactions. Improv Everywhere was also featured in the pilot episode for This American Life's television show on Showtime. In 2007, the group shot a television pilot for NBC.
After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Todd started the group in August 2001 after playing a prank in a Manhattan bar with some friends that involved him pretending to be musician Ben Folds. Later that year Todd started taking classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City where he first met most of the "Senior Agents" of Improv Everywhere. The owners of the theatre, The Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB), had a television series from 1998–2000 on Comedy Central. While primarily a sketch comedy show, the UCB often filmed their characters in public places with hidden cameras and showed the footage under the end credits. Both the UCB's show and their teachings on improv have been influential to Improv Everywhere. Todd currently teaches and performs at the UCB.
While long-time members of Improv Everywhere are usually the principal performers in missions, many are open to the public. IE has organized and carried out over 100 missions, from synchronized swimming in a park fountain to repeating a five-minute sequence of events in a Starbucks coffee shop over and over again for an hour, from flooding a Best Buy store with members dressed exactly like the staff to riding the New York City Subway without their pants. All the missions share a certain modus operandi: Members ("agents") play their roles entirely straight, not breaking character or betraying that they are acting. IE claims the missions are benevolent, aiming to give the observers a laugh and an experience.
IE have also performed several 'fake' missions which are staged and uploaded on April Fools Day as a real mission, causing outrage until the next day when the joke is revealed. Examples include the No Underwear Subway Ride, and the "Best Funeral Ever" prank.
Improv Everywhere's videos have been viewed over 293 million times on YouTube. They have over 1.3 million YouTube subscribers. IE's most popular YouTube video is "Frozen Grand Central", which has received over 33 million views. The two minute video depicts 200 IE Agents freezing in place simultaneously for five minutes in New York's Grand Central Terminal. The video was listed as number 49 in Urlesque's 100 Most Iconic Internet Videos. Martin Bashir declared on Nightline that the video was "one of the funniest moments ever captured on tape." The prank has been recreated by fans in over 100 cities around the world.
Some IE events have attracted police attention. The annual "No Pants" event involves a large number of people riding the subway, all claiming to have forgotten their pants by accident. During a No Pants mission on 22 January 2006, the New York City Police Department handcuffed eight members of the group while on the subway (according to the group, over 160 people had participated in the city-wide event). The eight handcuffed participants had been riding the 6 train and were taken into custody and issued summonses for disorderly conduct. After appearing in court, the charges were dismissed. Despite the setback, IE continues the tradition each January, and in more recent years, the police have arrived at the event's meeting point not to make arrests, but to serve as friendly escorts. On January 9, 2011, over 3,500 people participated in the No Pants ride in New York, and thousands more participated in 48 additional cities around the world. Todd has stated that No Pants has evolved from a small prank in 2002 into an "international celebration of silliness".
On 21 May 2005 IE staged a fake U2 street concert on a rooftop in New York hours before the real U2 were scheduled to perform at Madison Square Garden. A crowd formed, most of which thought that the people on the rooftop were actually U2. However, just like at the filming of the band's Where the Streets Have No Name video in 1987, the police eventually shut the performance down, but not before IE was able to exhaust their four-song repertoire and get most of the way through an encore repeat of "Vertigo". The crowd, even those who had realized that this was a prank, shouted "one more song!," and then "let them play!" when the police officers arrived. This mission was number 23 on the VH1 countdown of the "40 Greatest Pranks."
During the Best Buy Invasion mission, an 80-person IE team entered a Best Buy store dressed in blue shirts and khaki pants—the uniform colors of Best Buy employees—and answered questions for customers (though denying being an employee of Best Buy if asked). While many of the store's actual employees laughed and took photos of the pranksters, the store's management called the police. After assessing the situation the police informed the Best Buy staff that they could not do anything except ask the IE agents to leave the store as there was nothing illegal about wearing a blue polo shirt with khaki pants.
In May 2009, Harper Collins released a book about Improv Everywhere, Causing a Scene The book, written by founder Charlie Todd and "Senior Agent" Alex Scordelis, is a behind-the-scenes look at some of the group's stunts.
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- Hockamn, David (February 27, 2005). "When Chekhov Meets Whoopee Cushion". The New York Times (New York: New York Times Company). Retrieved 15 December 2009.
- Improv Everywhere's channel on YouTube
- Frozen Grand Central on YouTube
- Glazer, Eliot (August 24, 2009). "The 100 Most Iconic Internet Videos". urlesque. AOL, Inc. Retrieved 15 December 2009.
- "Improv Everywhere on Nightline". UBCComedy.com Videos. Retrieved 15 December 2009.
- Morgan, Spencer (June 29, 2009). "The Art of the Prank". Maxim.com. Alpha Media Groups Inc. Retrieved 15 December 2009.
- "No Pants 2K6". Improv Everywhere. January 22, 2006. Retrieved 15 December 2009.
- "The No Pants! Subway Ride". Improv Everywhere. Retrieved 27 March 2010.
- Robertson, Campbell (May 25, 2009). "Where the Streets Have No Shame". New York Times. Retrieved July 27, 2009.
- "Vh1's Greatest Pranks on Video". vimeo. Retrieved 15 December 2009.
- Today Show:How to become a prankster (Television production). New York City: NBC. June 10, 2009. Event occurs at 2:50. Retrieved 17 December 2009.
- "Causing scenes at amazon.com". Retrieved July 27, 2009.
- Main site of Improv Everywhere
- An NY Times profile on the group
- Audio Interview with creator Charlie Todd on The Sound of Young America: MP3 Link
- Charlie Todd on The Today Show (February 2008)
- Charlie Todd on The Today Show (June 2009)
- Charlie Todd on The Today Show (November 2009)
- This American Life radio episode
- Charlie Todd lectures at TED