Featuring: Appel, Arnheiter, Borden, Fountain, Keech, Kula, Todd, Winckler, Harms, Hot Chocolate, MCJohnson, Parker, Spencer, Reagan, Silver, Thomas
DV Cam: Agent Winckler
edited by Andy van Baal
Each Improv Everywhere mission is performed for an entirely unique audience consisting of whoever happens to be in the public space where our scene is caused. It is always our goal to have our work seen by the greatest number of people possible, but most of our venues are limited. A performance on the subway, for example, will only be seen by those who happen to be riding the targeted car. Sure, a large audience of Internet surfers can see documentation of our work in the form of written accounts, photos, and videos, but it’s not the same as actually witnessing an Improv Everywhere event without knowing exactly what is going on.
Fox 5 News in New York gave us an opportunity to change that. We received an email from the local news program requesting coverage, and set up a mission for them to attend. Rather than having Fox 5 simply observe our work and then broadcast the results over the airwaves, we figured we would turn them unknowingly into our audience, and by doing so make every individual who sees the broadcast an audience member as well.
We briefed the Fox 5 folk with the following email:
Here is the plan for Sunday. We’re meeting on the North West corner of 6th Avenue and Waverly, in front of the diner at 1 PM. There will be about 20 of us. For this mission we are going to pretend to be a fake organization called the “Hug Patrol”. We’re going to say that the Hug Patrol is a group that has been commissioned by Mayor Bloomberg to knock on peoples doors on Sunday afternoons and give them hugs. It will work like the Prize Patrol of Publisher’s Clearinghouse. We’ll knock on someone’s door and announce that they have won 100 hugs and then try to give them the hugs right there at their doorstep. Our group never reveals who we are or that we are doing anything deceptive. We will insist that we’re the Hug Patrol no matter what and just try to make people happy. If someone doesn’t want to participate, we’ll just go on to the next door. We’re going to be doing this on Waverly west of 6th Ave. I’ve staked it out, and it looks like a really pretty block to shoot on. The Fox 5 cameras should be out in the open. The Fox people can just say that they are here covering the Hug Patrol. It’s perfect– the cameras will give legitimacy to what we’re doing and people will be more inclined to believe it and participate.
This is going to be lots of fun! I’m excited!
What we didn’t tell Fox 5 is that the third doorbell we planned to ring belonged to Agent Fountain.
Agent Todd greets the Fox 5 News reporter and camera man
Unfortunately, the Fox 5 crew was running behind on the day of the mission. They gave us a two-hour delay, so our team enjoyed a nice brunch in the interim. We returned at 3 PM and met The Reporter and The Cameraman as planned on the corner of Waverly and 6th Ave. Agent Todd gave them a quick rundown of how the mission was supposed to work, and then took a moment to brief the entire group.
Agent Todd preps the group
The Hug Patrol was ready to roll. The group began walking west down Waverly looking for a doorbell to ring. We figured it would look suspicious if we rang Agent Fountain’s door first (his apartment was in the third or fourth building down the street) so we took a risk and rang two doors before Fountain’s. We had the Fox 5 camera to validate our group to any real stranger who may answer the door, and we figured the worst that could happen was someone simply declining our offer of hugs.
The first apartment. No one home.
The second apartment. No one home.
We lucked out. No answer at the first two doors. The patrol moved onwards and reached our target door. Agent Todd rang the buzzer and after a tense pause, Agent Fountain was heard through the intercom, speaking as if he had just woken up.
The Reporter at the third apartment
Agen Todd rings the buzzer
Agent Todd spoke excitedly into the intercom announcing that the Hug Patrol, comissioned by Mayor Bloomberg had arrived to award 100 hugs. Agent Fountain revealed his name to be “Brian”, and though clearly confused, agreed to come to the door to accept his prize.
The Hug Patrol awaits the prize winner
“Brian” (Agent Fountain) answers the door, bewildered
Agent Todd informs Brian that he has won 100 hugs
The Hug Patrol errupted into cheers and applause as Brian opened the door. The Cameraman smiled as he filmed the patrol. The Reporter moved his way to the top of the stairs and began getting Brian’s reaction.
When it came time for the 100 hugs to be awarded, Brian asked the patrol if they would rather do it inside as he had a friend over (his real life roommate, Agent Laura Palmer). We agreed, and moments later The Reporter, The Cameraman, and 17 huggers entered Brian’s tiny living room.
Brian invites the Hug Patrol inside
The Patrol organized themselves in a circle and and marched forward taking turns giving hugs to Brian, counting them off loudly and cheering for each one. Brian hugged back as hard as he could.
The cheers of the patrol grew as number 100 drew near. Agent Borden started a new trend of throwing in a free kiss as well, which Brian seemed to like just fine. Agent Spencer gave out the climactic 100th hug, and the room filled with smiles, laughs, and cheers.
The Reporter got a post-hug interview with Brian, and the patrol said their goodbyes. Walking up the stairs and out of the apartment, The Reporter turned to Agent Todd and exclaimed, “Well, I don’t think that could have gone better if it was scripted.”
The Reporter and Agent Todd both agreed that weren’t going to top the beautiful moment they just created. No need to go to another apartment, the Hug Patrol had delivered and Fox 5 had their story.
7 weeks later, The Hug Patrol story was broadcast on Fox 5 as a 2 minute and 4 second segment on their Saturday evening 10:00 news program.
I sat patiently inside waiting for the hug patrol to arrive. When I finally heard the buzzer I went to the intercom and asked who was there.
Agent Todd was on the other end congratulating me on ‘winning 100 hundred hugs.’ I asked him to repeat himself and he did. I went out to investigate. When I went outside there were about 25 people outside on my stoop. The Fox Five reporter was there prominently in the foreground brandishing a microphone and a cameraman was right behind him. The other agents were surrounding them with warm glowing smiles and arms patiently cocked, ready to discharge their twenty hugs.
After a bit of small talk I inform them I have a guest inside and welcome the entire patrol inside. Everyone agrees and walks inside and downstairs to my tiny basement apartment. Once inside I explain to my roommate, Agent Laura Palmer, that I have received 100 hundred free hugs from the NY Hug Patrol.
Agent Todd wastes no time and begins the reward process and starts the dispensing of the embraces. As the various agents begin hugging me they all start counting off each tiny prize and organically form a ‘circle of hugs’ as I imagine they would call it in the hug industry. Each of the hugs were full on, love-filled hugs. There were no A-Frame hugs or friendly, yet distant embrazos. These were ‘I am overflowing with the milk of human kindness’ hugs. The mood at first was quaint even seemingly sterile but as the number of hugs grew so did the laughter and joy of all the participants. By the time we reached the 80′s, agents and news crew alike were cheering and smiling from ear to ear, as was I.
When we had finished the news crew did a short interview and asked me a few questions. Our smiles were infectious. The warmth of his questions sparked a flood of joy inside of me and I replied with an equally enrapturing answer. Which in turn boosted his spirits causing us to create some sort of love dynamo wherein our words and emotions spiraled wildly into a wildfire of passion.
The cameraman was bouncing about the whole time, getting the shot and emotionally sampling the room. I got the feeling that this sort of raw human emotion was a little foreign to him, but that he was intellectually curious none-the-less. But I understood, it is his job to be objective and detached. Though I can assure you in the wake of the tsunami that is the New York Hug Patrol no man has a chance. His emotional state was at such a heightened point that had an agent merely brushed him, he could have become so overtaken that he very well might have scooped the entire room up into a massive bear-hug.
When it was all over we could have turned the lights off and read love-poems in the light of our own afterglow.
After we finally got a response at the third door, I was nervous about what was going to happen next. I was near the middle of the pack when we were introduced to our hug winner. I just cheered as hard as I could and tried not to giggle. We were then led into “Brian’s (our winner) basement apartment. This was a perfect setting for the mission– it was a really small space and there were 15 or so of us plus a news crew. The hugs were coming at a snails pace for number’s 1-15. But then it clicked and numbers 15-40 were raucously dolled out. Screaming and hollering was accompanying every new hug “Number 29, 30 31!!!!!” Then the bar was most assuredly raised when kisses started being given out. I think Brian dug it from the girls, but not as much from the guys (read: Agent Keech). The weird thing was that after 80 hugs, you couldn’t help but be happier yourself. A great mission all in all.
The Hug Patrol mission treaded the line between heartfelt earnestness and overwhelming cheesiness. All of the agents displayed ridiculous amounts of enthusiasm throughout the course of the hugs. Yeah for hugs!!!
- Agent Borden upping the ante and adding kisses to the hug somewhere around the 50th hug
- Trapping the Fox News reporter in a group hug and giving him a noogie.
It was a beautiful day for hugging. Skies were clear and blue, temperature a crisp 68. Since the Fox people made us wait, everyone enjoyed a nice breakfast at the west 4th diner, so I think people were relaxed and in a very lovey mood.
The group met up and made our way down the street, cameramen in tow. The whole time there was a bearded/pony-tailed man following us and staring. I am not sure how many people noticed him; I was in the back of the group so I got a good look. He just smiled and stared as we marched into fountain’s house. Charming.
Agent Fountain was brilliant from the first moment I heard his confused, groggy voice over his intercom. When he opened the door in warm up pants and bare feet his eyes looked so glazed and confused. It was perfect. We marched on down and started the hugging. 100 hugs went faster than I thought. People kept the momentum going and everyone was cheering and counting. At like 92, someone pointed at me. They had counted it out and I was the 100th hug. I started to stress a little in line as to how to approach the big 1-0-0. In the end I just stepped up onto Agent Fountain’s couch and hugged from on high. I was worried I would get it dirty, but it was all for the mission.
As we left Fountain’s place, the Fox 5 guy said something like, “It couldn’t have gone better if it was scripted”. He was right, I think we executed the mission perfectly; complete with a group hug outside, with the Fox 5 guy awkwardly sandwiched in the middle.
I’d like to believe that The Reporter fought with his producers for a solid month and a half to get the Hug Patrol piece on the air, like they deemed it too controversial, that he was “too close” to the story, that they were tired of his vigilante journalism, that one more slip-up would cost him his press badge.
In the end, we gave Fox 5 exactly what they wanted: a great story. Both The Reporter and The Cameraman smiled their way through the entire experience. We accomplished our goal of spreading joy to the people at Fox 5 who worked on the story, and the New York public at large who saw the broadcast. Hooray for hugs.