Featuring: Ace$Thugg, Borden, Dippold, Hines, Jesster, Keech, King, Kula, Todd, Roche, Harms, Foley, Parker, Hot Chocolate, Wengert, Taylor, Cohen, Woods
Digital Photography: Agent Dippold
On the cool, sunny afternoon of May 17, Improv Everywhere gave free tours of Manhattan by boat in the fountain at Union Square. Not to be confused with Circle Line Cruises, we offered a “Circle Line Tour” with a much closer view of the city.
Captain Keech and Captain Todd arrive at the fountain.
Agents Keech, King, Roche, and Todd quietly blew up two inflatable boats on the east side of the park, while other undercover agents casually planted themselves near the fountain on the southwest corner. Once the boats were ready to go, the men paraded through the park loudly announcing the free tours that were about to begin.
Captain Todd announces the tour.
Captains Keech and Todd placed their boats in the fountain, and with the help of Agent King, boarded and left the shore. The captains squeezed into one boat together, leaving the other boat, which was tied to theirs by a rope, available for tour patrons. Agent King began to announce the tour to the crowd, “Free Circle Line Tour! You haven’t seen Manhattan until you’ve seen it from the water!”
Agent Roche attracts customers.
Agent Roche stood to the side of the fountain holding up a sign that read, “Manhattan by boat! A scenic cruise! FREE!” Agent Jester approached and volunteered to be the first to take the tour.
Agent Jesster waves good bye to the shore.
At 120 pounds, Agent Jesster floated nicely in the 130 lb capacity boat. Captains Keech and Todd barely stayed afloat in theirs.
The crowd begins to grow.
People in the park began to stop and watch the tour. Some stayed for the entire day, others watched, laughed, and moved on. As the fountain was right by the Union Square subway stop, we got lots of traffic throughout the mission.
Captain Keech points out Manhattan landmarks like “Staples”.
Captains Keech and Todd alternated between rowing and giving the tour through their megaphone. Some samples of their tours:
Todd: If you look to the north and just slightly to the west, you’re looking in the direction of the Upper West Side, including Lincoln Center. If there weren’t so many trees and buildings you would be able to see all of this very clearly.
Keech: To my right is Foot Locker, which claims to be the world’s best place for athletic shoes. Beside that is Shoe Mania, where they have lots of shoes and are crazy.
Todd: This tour offers you the best view of Union Square out of any other water based tour.
Keech: Over here you’ll see the famous “Staples” where you can purchase all kinds of office supplies.
Agents Foley and Borden board.
Agent Jesster debarked his boat and left the tour completely dry. When docking, the Captains threw a rope to Agent King, which he quickly and carefully tied to a flower pot to secure the boats. The Captains followed strict protocol, with Keech asking Todd “Permission to board” each time he boarded the vessel. Agents Foley and Borden were next to take the tour. They chose to ride together.
Crowd members laugh.
Agent King continues to shill for the tour.
Captain Todd points out the tip of the Empire State Building.
The Captain’s boat is stuck on a sharp drain, or “glacier”.
A young girl gets a closer look.
Agents Borden and Foley got slightly wet on their tour, but not enough to discourage an actual stranger from being the next customer. Egged on by her boyfriend, a French tourist named Bojou decided to take a ride.
Bojou considers the tour.
Bojou is helped up onto the dock.
The boats are securely tied up as Bojou boards.
Bojou waves good bye to her boyfriend as she leaves shore.
Bojou floats safely as the captains’ boat begins to sink.
The crowd continues to grow.
After Bojou’s tour, Agent Parker volunteered to ride. Halfway through the tour, the captains’ boat was hit by a sharp corner of the drain, and with a giant pop, water began gushing to the sky as the vessel sank. Without hesitation, agents King and Roche dived into the sea to save the captains.
The boat sinks!
Agent Parker stays afloat as the rest struggle to stay alive.
Roche tries to save Captain Todd.
King uses an oar to save Roche and Todd.
Captain Todd is pulled to the shore.
Agent Roche collapses as he reaches land.
Strangers witness the tragedy.
Captain Keech announces that everything is ok.
Soaked from head to toe, the Captains decide to continue the tours.
Crowd members laugh and take photos.
With only one boat remaining, the Captains were now going to have to fit three in one boat to continue. Agent Harms volunteered to take the tour, and the three men squeezed together.
The Captains and Agent Harms.
While the Captains tried desperately to stay afloat, the megaphone was passed to Agent Harms as he, the tourist, was asked to give the tour. Harms did an eloquent job describing the Union Square area as Keech and Todd struggled to inch the boat forward as it scraped the bottom of the sea.
Agent Hot Chocolate struggles to stay dry.
Agent Hot Chocolate was the the last customer of the day on the Circle Line. As he and the Captains bravely crossed the waters, their boat popped just like the first and then men slowly sank.
Crowd members watch as the second boat is destroyed.
Around 45 minutes after they had started, the Captains were forced to end their tours for the day. It was a successful day at sea. Many smiles and laughs were had, and everyone returned to shore safely. The event was so exciting that a New York Post reporter tried to cover it. She loudly yelled at the Captains to look at her camera “for the press”, and then tried to get the story from Agents King and Roche. Never breaking character, Agent Roche explained that they were part of a small business, “You know, we give out free tours this week, and then maybe people will pay next week.” To date, the post has not run a story on the tour.
I got to the meeting place early that day. I noticed as other agents starting coming in that I had the biggest bag. Inside my giant Nike bag I brought a towel, a change of pants, a shirt, my camera, and a pair of underwear. I was definitely over prepared/excited to get into one of those rafts.
We all walked together to USP and then slowly dissolved into the crowd. I was with Agent Hot Chocolate; we sat pretty close to the fountain under the shade and just waited for things to get started. When they finally did, I took a minute or two to let Agent Todd and the others do their thing, and then I slowly approached. Once I did I didn’t wait very long to get first on line to get in the raft. I was really excited to get on the raft and to get really soaked! I get in, and the tour began. Agent Todd pointed out the park, the entrance to the subway, and I think Virgin Megastore, then he handed the megaphone to Agent Keech, who proceeded to tell me about various other interesting landmarks, such as the Diesel store, while holding the megaphone about two inches from my head.
I remember hearing the laughter of the crowd at this point. They were already warming up to what was going on, and really enjoying it. After all was said and done the maiden voyage of the tour was over, and ironically, I got out pretty much completely dry. I think its because I only weigh about 120lbs and Agent Todd told me later the raft is meant to hold up to 130lbs, which it never did ever again. By this time a pretty decent audience had formed. I got my bag and found a place in the crowd to just sit back and watch the rest of the tours happen.
At its peak the fountain was completely surrounded with bystanders, and I knew this point the mission was a huge success. It was further confirmed when the first crowd member was egged on by the crowd and her boyfriend to take the tour. To me, that the was the highlight of everything – that we actually convinced someone who had no idea what was going on, but in a way did, to get into a tiny little raft and take a mock “tour” of the city, getting into the little fountain and all the while potentially getting soaked with dirty, dirty fountain water. Awesome. Then the rafts broke one after the other, and the crowd slowly dispersed. It was brief, but beautiful. Everything worked out really well.
“The best way to see New York City is by boat!” Agent King exclaimed. How right he was this past Saturday. It wasn’t the buildings, monuments, or historical side of NYC, but the people that made this IE assignment a true delight. Tourists, natives, senior citizens, kids, women, men, skaters, posers, and improvisers crowded around to see Cap’n Todd and Keech valiantly steer their fleet of inflatable rafts around the bathtub sized fountain in the SW corner of Union Square. Donning sailor hats and speaking through a megaphone, these IE agents quickly gained the attention of just about every pedestrian in the area. Shoreman King engaged the ever-increasing crowd to offer the Free Circle Line tour. People couldn’t help but smile (including planted IE agents like me) while the tour was getting underway. I personally have never seen so many people smile in Union Square. Eventually, both boats sank turning the “Free Boat tours on a wishing well” mission into an equally humorous “Boat Tour Tragedy!” mission
- Zero boats
- 10 wet people
- 1 whole lotta fun
- Agent Todd pointing out the Empire State building and, of all places, Union Square on the tour.
- Agent King turning away from a reporter to grab a small string, yelling “I got the rope!”, and quickly docking the ill-fated dirigibles.
- Agent Harms, as a Tennessee tourist forced to lead his own tour, pointing out the STAPLES store that Ken had mentioned in the prior tour.
Female Onlooker: Who are these guys? Are they like students or something?
Agent Kula: I don’t know, I think they’re just giving boat tours of Manhattan.
Female Onlooker: (shakes her head and laughs) I just think they’re trying to meet girls.
I stood in the crowd on the East side for most of the tours, moving over the West side at one point. Folks gathered fast and most stayed for all but the last tour. I think after the boat sank, folks thought ‘shows over’ and scurried away. But during the tours folks enjoyed things being repeated from previous tours. Staples got a bigger laugh each time (though my personal favorite tour guide moment, was Agent Todd bragging that this tour offered the ‘best view of Union Square’). And a couple of folks were calling friends to tell them about it. They loved the urgency with which Agent King roped the boats to the side and – like I said – stuck around for tour after tour. Keeping a New York crowds attention is no mean feat.
When the mission was over, a little girl came over and talked to me while I folded up the boats to throw in the trash. She told me she was disappointed because “every captain I’ve seen goes down with his ship. That captain did not go down with his ship.” Then she mockingly shook her head and laughed. She also told me that next time she would bring a sea monster to put in the fountain and she could be its voice and move it around and attack the boats. She was laughing a lot and very excited that when an oar had fallen out of the fountain, she had been the one to get it and give it back to the captain. Her dad told me, “Thanks, you guys made our day.”
I overheard someone on the phone say, “I’m in Union Square, and there’s something crazy going on in the fountain.” Overall, everyone on the benches seemed to enjoy themselves and laugh out loud. Not one of them left until the whole show was over. That’s at least one good sign of successful entertainment.
I was only planning on participating in the mission as a deep cover crowd member. Agents wishing to take the ride had already formed a line three people long. However, Agent Keech, using a megaphone, set his sights on me standing among the crowd. “You sir, how about a ride?” It wasn’t hard to play the role of reticent crowd member. After expressing (real) disinterest in taking the tour, Agent Keech got the crowd on his side. “Come on, everyone, how many people want to see him take the tour?” The crowd applauded loudly, so I gave in.
The bottom of the passenger boat was already covered in water, and I was wet from the first moment I settled in. The boats didn’t float so much as drag along the bottom of the extremely shallow fountain. The weight of tour directors Todd and Keech on the lead boat was too much, and halfway through my tour the boat sprung a leak. Panic ensued, and the daring and selfless rescue by Agent King and Agent Roche was breathtaking. Arms were flailing, everyone was screaming, water was splashing…meanwhile, I was sitting alone in the passenger boat, ignored, alone, wet, scared. So I stepped out of the boat and my tour was over.
I stayed to watch the rest of the action, dripping wet. A woman approached me and asked if I knew who the guys were. I said, “No, I have no idea”. She then introduced herself as a reporter from the New York Post, and asked again if I knew who the guys were. After I denied knowing them again, she said, “Well, you got in the boat, you’re all wet, I assumed you knew them.” “No”, I said, “It just looked like fun.” “Well”, she asked, “how was it?” My brilliant quote: “It was cold! I got wet!”
- Seeing how long it would take a woman sitting on the edge of the fountain to stop pretending that nothing was happening behind her, and to put down her sandwich. (It took a few minutes.)
- While the tour was in progress, Agent King shouting, “Ladies and gentlemen, the boat will be returning to shore soon.”
- The elaborate docking ritual at the end of each tour: preparing to dock, tossing the rope ashore, the frantic grab at the rope (“Got it!”), tying the rope around the statue.
- After everyone disembarks the boat soaking wet (and tour directors Agent Keech and Agent Todd are wet, head to toe), Agent King informing the next rider that, “You might get wet.”
- Agent Keech holding up the barely-surviving boat to show a hole in the bottom, and asking if anyone else wants to take a ride. Agent Hot Chocolate shrugs his shoulders and nods his head.
It was a great time. So many laughs and smiles and pictures and disbelief.