Improv Everywhere

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Improv Everywhere
Founded New York, 2001
Founder Charlie Todd
Type Organization
Focus Comedic performance art group
Area served
US and worldwide
Method Various missions and events organized locally and globally
Slogan "We Cause Scenes"

Improv Everywhere (often abbreviated IE) is a comedic performance art group based in New York City, formed in 2001 by Charlie Todd. Its slogan is "We Cause Scenes".

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 or even thousands 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 the group was created two years prior to the flash mob trend, and the group has an apolitical nature.[1]

While Improv Everywhere was created years before YouTube, the group has grown in notoriety since joining the site in April 2006. To date, Improv Everywhere's videos have been viewed over 375 million times on YouTube.[2] They have over 1.7 million YouTube subscribers.[2] In 2007, the group shot a television pilot for NBC.[3] In May 2009, Harper Collins released a book about Improv Everywhere, Causing a Scene[4] 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. In 2013, a feature-length documentary about Improv Everywhere premiered at the South By Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. The film, titled We Cause Scenes, was released digitally on iTunes, Netflix and other platforms in 2014.[5]


Charlie Todd

After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,[6] 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.[7] 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.[1] Todd currently performs on a house team at the UCBT in New York, where he also taught for many years.[8]

Missions / Events[edit]

While long-time members of Improv Everywhere are usually the principal performers in missions, many are open to the public.[1] 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, to having an actor pose as playwright Anton Chekhov and give an unauthorized staged reading at a Barnes & Noble one hundred years after his death. 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 a positive experience.[9]

Improv Everywhere has been profiled by many national and international media outlets including The New York Times, The Today Show, and ABC's Nightline.[10][11] Todd was interviewed on an episode of This American Life in 2005, and Improv Everywhere was also featured in the pilot episode for This American Life's television show on Showtime.[12]

Mp3 Experiment[edit]

Improv Everywhere also hosts an annual 'MP3 Experiment', in which participants go to a specified location, simultaneously play a previously downloaded MP3 file, and are given a series of instructions by the narrator, who identifies himself as 'Your Omniscient Voice from Above'. The instructions vary from year to year, and can be anything from a squirt-gun fight in Central Park to randomly giving high-fives to non-participants. Some are combinations of previous events, such as high-fiving a non-participants wearing the same color shirt as a participant, then all participants congregating to inflate balloons then pop them. Participants are ordered to clean up any litter created in order not to leave traces of the event (and be considerate to the area).

Mp3 Experiment Tour- Washington D.C., 2014

Frozen Grand Central[edit]

Improv Everywhere's most popular YouTube video is "Frozen Grand Central", which has received over 33 million views.[13] 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.[14] Martin Bashir declared on Nightline that the video was "one of the funniest moments ever captured on tape."[15] According to Charlie Todd, the prank has been recreated by fans in 100 cities around the world.[16]

The No Pants Subway Ride[edit]

Participants at the No Pants Subway Ride mission in January 2010

The annual "No Pants Subway Ride" event involves a large number of people riding the subway, all claiming to have forgotten their pants by accident and not to know each other. Although the date varies, it is always announced to fall on a Sunday in January. The event started in 2002 with only Todd and six other participants in New York, but has grown to involve thousands in 60 American cities and 25 countries. 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.[17] Despite the setback, IE continued 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. Participants often carry a purse or backpack to store pants or a skirt. Although silly underwear or bathing suits are encouraged, participants are discouraged from anything overly revealing as it is an improv event, not a public nudity display. Participants are generally instructed to steer clear of confrontation with subway employees or police and if ordered to put on their pants, immediately cooperate with authorities. On January 15, 2015, over 4,000 people participated in the No Pants Subway Ride in New York, and thousands more participated in "NPSRs" (as they are known in shorthand) in cities that have subways. Todd has stated that the No Pants Subway Ride has evolved from a small prank into an "international celebration of silliness".[18] Although the prank has no mission aside from humor, people in recent years have dared others to participate in the No Pants Subway Ride or support a charity, a la the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Fake U2 Concert[edit]

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.[19] 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."[20]

Black Tie Beach[edit]

On a day in August participants go to beaches wearing tuxedos or ballgowns. The participants do normal beach activities, such as going into the water, playing volleyball or making sandcastles, and if asked simply act as if formalwear is normal for the beach. People are discouraged from wearing expensive attire, either finding cheap attire or formalwear that has outlived its usefulness. Due to the summer months and being overdressed for the beach, this has been considered the antithesis of the No Pants Subway Ride in January.

Best Buy Uniform Prank[edit]

During the Best Buy Uniform prank 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.[21]

Further reading[edit]

  • Charlie Todd and Alex Scordelis, Causing a Scene, Harper Collins, 2009


  1. ^ a b c "FAQ". Improv Everywhere. Retrieved 2008-10-05. 
  2. ^ a b Improv Everywhere's channel on YouTube
  3. ^ "NBC Pickups". Variety (New York: Reed Elseiver). 29 January 2007. Retrieved 15 December 2009. 
  4. ^ "Causing scenes at". Retrieved July 27, 2009. 
  5. ^ "We Cause Scenes". 
  6. ^ "Charlie Todd". Improv Everywhere. 
  7. ^ Gallagher, Brian Thomas (June 12, 2008). "Prank You Kindly". New York Magazine (New York: New York Media, LLC). Retrieved 15 December 2009. 
  8. ^ "Charlie Todd". Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. Retrieved 15 December 2009. 
  9. ^ Hockamn, David (February 27, 2005). "When Chekhov Meets Whoopee Cushion". The New York Times (New York: New York Times Company). Retrieved 15 December 2009. 
  10. ^ "Press". ImprovEverywhere. Retrieved 15 December 2009. 
  11. ^ "German TV Coverage". Improv Everywhere. 
  12. ^ "IE on This American Life TV". Improv Everywhere. Retrieved 15 December 2009. 
  13. ^ Frozen Grand Central on YouTube
  14. ^ Glazer, Eliot (August 24, 2009). "The 100 Most Iconic Internet Videos". urlesque. AOL, Inc. Retrieved 15 December 2009. 
  15. ^ "Improv Everywhere on Nightline". Videos. Retrieved 15 December 2009. 
  16. ^ Morgan, Spencer (June 29, 2009). "The Art of the Prank". Alpha Media Groups Inc. Retrieved 15 December 2009. 
  17. ^ "No Pants 2K6". Improv Everywhere. January 22, 2006. Retrieved 15 December 2009. 
  18. ^ "The No Pants! Subway Ride". Improv Everywhere. Retrieved 27 March 2010. 
  19. ^ Robertson, Campbell (May 25, 2009). "Where the Streets Have No Shame". New York Times. Retrieved July 27, 2009. 
  20. ^ "Vh1's Greatest Pranks on Video". vimeo. Retrieved 15 December 2009. 
  21. ^ 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. 


External links[edit]