Creating IRL Fantasies with Improv Everywhere

Ransom Riggs

I've posted about Improv Everywhere before, but they were featured on last week's episode of This American Life (a rebroadcast from 2005) and I thought IE founder Charlie Todd had some really interesting things to say about what his group does and why they do it. For those of you who aren't familiar, Improv Everywhere is a comedic performance art group that stages "missions" (also known as pranks, depending on whom you ask) intended to cause "chaos and joy" in the most mundane of public spaces. (Random example: on an NYC subway car, someone gets on wearing a suit and coat without pants. A similarly-dressed person gets on at the next stop, and another at the next stop. Finally, a vendor boards the train selling pants.) In the interview, Todd explained the idea behind his group by saying something that really resonated with me -- that a lot of people enjoy fantasy and sci-fi stories, but that they're almost always relegated to movies and books. Improv Everywhere, on the other hand, tries to bring strange and improbable scenarios to real life. Here are some of my favorite "missions" from over the years, discreetly videotaped by various "agents" with hidden cameras.

Frozen Grand Central
Kind of a sci-fi concept: 207 people frozen in time, for five minutes, in Grand Central. Could be the cliffhanger for an episode of Flash Forward.

Subway Yearbook Photos
Would you let strangers on a train take your picture?

Best Game Ever
Agents pick a random little league game to root for, giving the kids the "best game ever." IE did a similar thing with "Best Gig Ever" and "Ted's Birthday," both with mixed results and hurt feelings. Let's hope everybody went home happy after this one.

Invisible Dogs
Hundreds of people walking invisible dogs in Brooklyn. Will observers think they're going insane? Or Brooklyn is going insane?

Where's Rob?