For our latest mission, 20 Improv Everywhere agents personally welcomed home total strangers at JFK airport. Grabbing first and last names from car driver signs, we greeted strangers with personalized posters, flowers, balloons, and a 10-foot wide banner reading, “Welcome Back.”
Digital Video: Agents Adams, Shafer
Digital Photography: Agents Nicholson, Sokoler
The plan was simple, our team of 20 agents would head out to JFK airport together with balloons, flowers, poster boards, and markers. I would approach a driver waiting at baggage claim with a sign, confirm the first and last name of the person he was waiting for, and then let him know that we too were waiting for that person. We’d then quickly write the person’s name on our poster boards and prepare to give them a warm welcome home.
Going over the plan at the Air Train station near JFK
Agent Good looks at arrivals
Agent Nicholson and I had scouted all of the terminals the day before to figure out which ones had the most drivers waiting. The huge international terminals seemed to be the best bet. We were a little nervous that we would get someone visiting from a foreign country that didn’t speak English. I scanned the drivers looking for American sounding names. I also wanted to find a driver who looked friendly who we could immediately get on our side.
I settled on Kevin. He was waiting for Lori. I told him we were as well, and right away he was excited to be a part of our welcoming party.
Kevin came right over to stand with us. “This is going to be fun,” he smiled. After hanging out with us for about ten minutes, he decided it would be a better plan for him to go up front and catch Lori’s eye as soon as she entered and then lead her over to us. We agreed. This way she would find her driver and then be led directly to our party. Of course, he had no idea that the 20 of us knew Lori about as well as he did.
Agents write Lori’s name on signs
It was exciting standing there wondering when Lori would arrive. We had no idea what she looked like, so any woman who walked by could have been her. We had to stay alert. Agent Nicholson came up with the great idea to Google Lori’s full name on his iPhone, and he quickly found this photo:
So we had a photo to go on, but we couldn’t be sure it was actually the same Lori and not someone else with the same name. Tensions mounted as the wait for Lori stretched over the one hour mark. Kevin had told us that her flight from Rome had long since arrived. There must have been a long line at customs. We knew she wouldn’t leave without her driver, so we just had to patiently wait.
Lori arrives and meets Kevin
Finally she arrived. As planned she saw Kevin right away and he led her over to us.
The Improv Everywhere team greeting Lori
The look on Lori’s face was priceless. We had a few signs with both her first and last name on them so there was no doubt we were there to see her. Agent Reeves approached with a smile and gave her a bouquet of flowers. Everyone was cheering and screaming her name. “I don’t think I know these people,” Lori kept telling Kevin. Kevin, not in on the mission, kept saying, “They’re here for you!”
After a minute or two, I approached Lori to let her know that we didn’t know her either, but that we just wanted to welcome her back from her trip.
Knowing that we didn’t know her either seemed to put her at ease. Although she was still a little dumbfounded as to why we had chosen her, she couldn’t stop laughing and thanking us.
Lori and Kevin posed for some photos with the group, holding signs. We interviewed them both on video for a bit, asking them about the experience. Lori told us, “That was very strange. I wasn’t expecting anyone, just my driver. I saw my first and last name. I kept thinking this is really me, but this can’t be me.” Kevin was just as shocked as Lori. At first he couldn’t figure out why Lori was reacting strangely to a large group of what he thought were her close friends. “That was a beautiful thing,” he told us, and then said we could welcome him back at the airport anytime.
We told Lori and Kevin goodbye and they walked off towards his car. Lori took with her one of the signs, her flowers, and a single blue balloon. We had so much fun welcoming Lori back that we decided to try it a few more times. I found another driver with a new name and we started the process all over again. Our new person was Drew G. Everyone quickly started making new signs as I kept repeating his name. “It’s Drew G,” I shouted. Out of nowhere a man replied, “I’m Drew G!” We turned around and there he was standing right next to us!
Agents laugh as they realize Drew is right next to them
He had been wandering around trying to find his driver and happened to be passing right by us as I was saying his name. We all busted out laughing and then hastily started yelling welcome back holding up our just finished signs.
Agent Lindquist handed him a box of New York chocolates and Agent Wimpy gave him flowers. “Thank you. Do I need to kiss you, or anything?” he asked. Agent Wimpy smiled and went in for a European style double kiss.
“This is cool. I’m still trying to figure out what is going on here.”
Agent Lathan had the best sign
Drew’s welcoming was short and sweet, especially compared to the hour wait we had for Lori. No one else in the terminal seemed to notice that the same 20-person group welcomed home two completely different people in a matter of minutes. We talked to Drew for a bit and he posed for a few photos. He left with a sign, flowers, and chocolates, smiling ear to ear.
After Drew left we decided to hop over to another terminal to welcome a couple of more people home. Surely people would eventually catch on to us if we stayed in the same place. At the new terminal, I found a very nice driver with a sign for a named John. He happily agreed to stand right in front of us.
Agent Lindquist bought an “I Love NY” bear in the gift shop to give to John.
The IE team waiting for John
After about ten minutes of waiting John arrived.
At first he was completely confused. He insisted that it was another John the crowd was waiting for. “It’s not me,” he kept telling his driver. “It’s you! It’s you!” the driver kept insisting, not understanding the confusion. I guess having a common name like John made it seem more likely that we were waiting for another person with his full name.
“It’s not me.”
Agent Reeves gave him flowers and Agent Lindquist gave him the bear.
“Who are you people!?!?”
John smiles as he tried to figure it all out
Once again, Agent Lathan had the best sign: “You Rock Our World John K.”
I approached John and explained that we didn’t know him either, and he started laughing. “Well, that was really nice,” he told us.
John posed for a few photos with his fist held triumphantly in the air.
John told us goodbye and headed home to get some rest after his long flight. We were about to head home ourselves when a man approached me and asked if we could welcome home his daughter and her new husband from their honeymoon. He had seen us welcoming back John and had figured out what was going on. “Sure,” I told him, “Just tell us their names.”
We agreed that he and his wife would hide behind our group and wait a few minutes before revealing themselves. A few minutes later Jeannine and Dennis arrived.
“Who are these people?”
Agent Reeves and Wimpy gave them both a bouquet of flowers as they stood shocked.
Moments later the parents came out from hiding.
It took a little bit of explaining for them to understand what had happened. At first they thought their parents had hired a crew to come greet them. Actually, I guess that’s pretty much what happened.
It was our last welcoming back of the day, so we gave Jeannine and Dennis our big bunch of balloons to take home with them.
It was a long day for all of us. Normally no one would want to spend 4 hours at baggage claim, but we had a blast together and managed to meet five new friends. Everyone on both sides of the welcome back banner had a great time.
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