Frequently Asked Questions answered by Improv Everywhere founder, Charlie Todd
How do I sign up to participate?
If you live outside of New York, sign up for our mailing list for information about our tour dates (we have traveled to stage projects in over 15 countries around the world) and simultaneous global events like The No Pants Subway Ride and Black Tie Beach.
If you live in the NYC area and want to participate in our events, sign up for our New York mailing list on our Mailing Lists page.
Our smaller missions are usually limited to those who have been with the group for long periods of time, but there are a couple of opportunities each year to get involved with our larger missions. No experience is required, just a desire to have fun and an ability to keep a straight face.
Do you do speaking engagements? Will you come visit my college or corporate conference?
We also occasionally stage custom events for corporate meetings, conferences, and private parties. If you work for an event planning agency and want to hire us, get in touch. You can see some examples of our work here: conference pranks and surprises
Would you come to my festival and speak and/or do a mission?
We enjoy traveling when our schedule permits and have been to several festivals in the US and abroad. If you have a budget to cover travel expenses and an artist’s fee for at least two of us, we would definitely consider it. Here are our upcoming tour dates.
I work for a brand / marketing firm / advertising agency, can we hire you?
Yes, but please note that we do not stage official Improv Everywhere missions that advertise a product. However, we have in the past worked with companies as creative consultants helping to develop campaigns and as video producers creating content for a brand. We have also staged stunts at internal meetings and conventions for corporate clients. We do this work independent of Improv Everywhere, and will not use this site or its resources to promote it.
We also take on sponsorship from time to time. If a company wants to hire us to simply do a mission we already want to do (with their brand having nothing to do with the content,) we would consider sponsorship. Our 2009 Mp3 Experiment had a sponsor, for example. We occasionally partner with other organizations to stage something collaborative, like our Mini-Golf Open project with ESPN.
For any corporate inquiries related to a brand, please contact us via our contact form.
I am visiting New York City. Is there a mission happening when I’m there?
If you’re planning to be in the NYC area, join the NYC mailing list in advance of your trip and, you’ll be notified if there is anything going on. Also keep an eye out on our site for our annual events (The No Pants Subway Ride, Black Tie Beach, Mp3 Experiment.) These tend to be announced on our site about a month in advance. The No Pants Subway Ride is always in January and the date is announced mid-December. Sign up for our mailing list to be the first to know the details.
I live somewhere other than New York; can I do something similar in my area?
There are no branches of Improv Everywhere, but we always enjoy seeing like-minded groups form in other cities. We request that groups do not use “Improv Everywhere” in their name. There are no “chapters” of Improv Everywhere so make sure it is clear that you are an independent group not officially affiliated. You also shouldn’t use the word “improv” in your name as it’s not a very accurate word to describe what we do; see below for more on that.
If you are interested in running a No Pants Subway Ride in your city next January, please note that information about this will be made available in mid-December. Sign up for our mailing list to be the first to know when this is announced.
Can I use your ideas?
We are OK with independent folks using our ideas for non-commercial, non-promotional purposes so long as you provide attribution. The Mp3 Experiment is the one exception to this. The Mp3 Experiment is a project that we often tour, and we therefore ask that you do not create your own versions. If you want to have us bring The Mp3 Experiment to your town, contact a local school, conference, or festival and tell them to hire us! We have staged it in dozens of cities around the world.
Is there an age-limit to participating?
Improv Everywhere missions are open to people of all ages. We suggest that anyone under the age of 18 have their parent’s permission to participate.
Why do you do this?
Improv Everywhere is, at its core, about having fun. We’re big believers in “organized fun”. Our missions are a fun source of entertainment for the participants, those who happen to see us live, and those watch our videos. We get satisfaction from coming up with an awesome idea and making it come to life. In the process we hopefully bring excitement to otherwise unexciting locales and give strangers a unique experience and a great story to tell. We’re out to prove that a prank doesn’t have to involve humiliation or embarrassment; it can simply be about making someone laugh, smile, or stop to notice the world around them.
This video sums it up:
How did it start?
In August of 2001, I went out to a West Village bar with my college buddies Brandon Arnold and Jon Karpinos. On a whim we decided to pull a prank where we would enter separately and they would approach and identify me as musician Ben Folds. It worked. I spent three hours in the bar as “Ben Folds,” signing autographs, posing for photos, and drinking on the house. At the end of the night, I left the bar without revealing it had been a hoax. I had always been a prankster, but this experience got me excited about the potential of staging creative pranks in public places. The best part was everyone had a good time. As a comedian and actor new to the city, I discovered I could create my own performances rather than waiting around for someone to give me an opportunity. Bored at my temp job the next Monday morning, I wrote the story down and put it on the web. Improv Everywhere was born.
How can you call it “improv”? Your missions are clearly pre-planned!
We are not claiming that what we are doing is improv. The majority of Improv Everywhere Agents met each other through the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York, the nation’s most awesome improv comedy theatre and school. While staging organized stunts in public places is obviously completely different from improv comedy in a theatre, the two activities do share similar techniques. We stay in character at all costs and usually have no script beyond the mission’s idea. We have no clue how people are going to react to us, and that is where the improvisation comes in. If I could go back in time and chose a different name, I would. After 12 years, I think I’m stuck with it.
Aren’t these flash mobs?
No. Improv Everywhere was created about 2 years before the first “flash mob.” While some of our missions may have certain similarities to a flash mob (large numbers of people engaging in a coordinated activity in a public place), we have never embraced that term. Some missions use just a few folks while others might use thousands, depending on what suits the idea. Also, our projects are rarely over in a flash. Many last for hours.
Over the years the term “flash mob” has been beaten to death by the media and co-opted by marketers. It’s become a lazy, catch-all term to describe things as varied as people dancing at a Black Eyed Peas concert to surprise Oprah Winfrey to teens meeting up to commit crimes in Chicago. I’m not sure what it even means anymore, and I don’t really care to use it to describe what we do.
Has any mission ever gone terribly wrong?
We’re not looking for legal trouble, but on occasion it has found us. See Even Better Than The Real Thing, No Pants 2k6, and Best Buy for examples of missions where the police got involved. We may break store policies or park regulations from time to time, but we do not break the law. It’s unfortunate whenever a cop has his time wasted responding to something we do.
How will I know when you update the site with a new mission?
Sign up for our Mailing List. We only send out emails when the site has been updated, and we will never share your email address with anyone else. You can also stay informed by subscribing to our RSS feed and subscribing to our YouTube Channel.
I have an idea for a mission for you guys. Do you want to hear it?
Yes! Many of our greatest missions have come from ideas from other people. Feel free to email us your ideas. Contact us here. Please remember that we have been doing this since 2001 and could have thought of your idea or had it sent to us already by someone else. That said, no harm in sending one in. It may wind up being the inspiration for our next great mission. I read every idea that is sent to me, though due to the volume of email I do not have time to respond to most.
Are there any ideas you get all the time?
Yes. Here are a few ideas that we have heard many, many times:
- Recreate that “banned xbox” commercial from YouTube where people use their fingers as guns, or recreate any commercial in real life (we have no interest in recreating commercials.)
- Get a bunch of people to stare up at the sky and pretend like they are looking at something amazing.
- Act like a stranger (or an agent) is someone important by putting secret service agents all around him.
- Act like a stranger (or an agent) is famous and have a fake paparazzi mob him.
- Do something involving zombies and/or the Thriller dance.
- Do something with Where’s Waldo.
- Have tons of people go into a store and buy the exact same thing. (Or request an item that doesn’t exist. Or everyone pay in pennies. Or order the same small item in a fast food chain.)
Is there a dream mission idea that you’ve thought about doing but haven’t yet pulled off?
Not really. When we get excited about an idea, we do it. We usually have a short-list of possible upcoming ideas, but if something is truly great, we pick a date and make it happen.
Can you help me come up with an idea for a prank? Can you tell me if you like my idea? Can you give me tips?
If you need inspiration, tips, or advice, why not buy and read our book? This website is also an exhaustive account of everything we’ve ever done, including behind-the-scenes information on how we put our projects together.
Can you do a prank that draws attention to my cause?
No. Even if it’s a noble cause we personally support, Improv Everywhere does not stage missions to draw attention to an issue. We are focused on creating comedy for comedy’s sake and staging events that purposefully have no explicit reason behind them, other than the goal of spreading chaos and joy throughout the world.
Can you play a prank on my friend / help me propose to my girlfriend?
Improv Everywhere does not do official missions that are “set ups.” We occasionally stage for-hire events, but the fees associated with coordinating a customized experience and hiring professional actors are usually cost prohibitive for an individual. If you are working with an event planner and/or have a significant budget for your event, you can get in touch with us to see what might be possible.
I’m a journalist. Can I come to your next mission and cover it?
We make it a policy not to have the media along for missions as it tends to complicate things and take away the element of surprise. We make some exceptions but they are very rare. I’m usually happy to do an interview if it fits my schedule, and we can usually provide footage or photos of past missions for your story.
Do you still perform at UCB?
Have you ever considered doing this for television?
We made a pilot for NBC in 2007. It was a blast to make, but it was not picked up. We may give it another shot one day if the right opportunity comes along, but frankly, we really enjoy producing and distributing Improv Everywhere ourselves on the web. If you are a producer and want to get in touch with us, please give us as much information about yourself as possible (credits, etc.) We get contacted by lots of producers.
What is your all-time favorite mission?
It’s very hard for me to pick a favorite. When asked, I usually respond with The Moebius, Look Up More, or Even Better Than The Real Thing, depending on my mood. As a participant, the most fun I’ve had was running around in The Mp3 Experiment Four and playing Ben Folds’ piano in Ben Folds Fake. More recent favorites include King Philip IV and The Mini-Golf Open.
Do you have any merch?
Yes! Support Improv Everywhere by buying our merch! We have a DVD, t-shirt, and book!
Can I get the music to one of your spontaneous musicals?
No. We made this available for our first musical and then ran into problems with people using it for commercial purposes. The music and lyrics of those songs belong to the songwriters. We are OK with people doing their own version for fun, non-commercial purposes, but you’ll have to manage without the original music.
I’m doing a paper/report/dissertation on Improv Everywhere for school, can I send you some questions?
Unfortunately I have to say no to interview requests for academic purposes. I get multiple requests a week, and I just don’t have time to deal with them all. There are links to many articles that have been written about us in the press section of the site, which you can quote for your paper. You can also quote my words anywhere on this website. This site is an exhaustive account of everything we’ve done, so there is plenty to research! And if you still need more information, buy our book our check it out of the library.
Are you hiring? Can I intern for you?
We occasionally need interns who have video production skills. If you are an aspiring editor or video shooter interested in interning on Improv Everywhere projects, send us an email with a description of your skills and experience.
Can I put your videos on my blog/website?
You can easily embed any of our YouTube videos on your site. We ask that you do not download our videos and reupload them to another site.
Can I use your photos in my blog/article/newspaper/report?
You are free to grab low resolution photos from our site for any non-commercial use, so long as you link back to our site. If you are looking for high resolution photos for a publication or other commercial use, you will have to ask permission from our photographers directly. At the end of every mission page there are links to Flickr sets from our photographers. There you can find high resolution photos as well as contact info for the photographer.
Is this really the last question?
Yup! If you’re interested in learning even more about Improv Everywhere, you might enjoy this three part Q&A series I did with the New York Times’ City Room*: 1, 2, 3 or you might enjoy a lengthy Q&A I did on Reddit.com.
*Note that there is a disclaimer on the New York Times blog post. They called me on April Fool’s of 2010 asking for more info about a fake mission I had posted. As it was still April Fool’s Day, I stuck to my story and kept the hoax going. If you call a prankster on April Fool’s Day you’re not going to get a straight answer. They fell for it. The blog post claims that since I “lied” to them about the hoax, they can’t vouch for anything I said in the interview (which took place a few months earlier.) So they got mad at me. Oh well. My interview answers are factual, as they are with every interview I do every day that is not April 1.