Mobile Desktop

Produced by:Charlie Todd and Matt Adams
Music by:Tyler Walker
Featuring: Agents Casey, Plaza, Wengert
Digital Video: Agents Adams, Shafer, Todd
Digital Photography: Agent Sokoler
Mission inspired by: Agents Casey, Plaza

For our latest mission, three agents entered a Starbucks one by one with their own giant desktop computer and CRT monitor. They bought coffee and worked at their computers as if they were laptops. One computer even had a Wi-Fi card installed, enabling our agent to surf the web. Enjoy the videos first and then go behind the scenes with our photo report below.

Agents Casey and Plaza approached me with this idea at the UCB Theatre office in New York. Agent Casey is the IT guy for UCB, and had access to a whole closet full of old, barely working desktop computers and CRT monitors. Naturally we needed to use these dinosaurs in a Starbucks.

We met on a Saturday afternoon at the office and dug through the graveyard of old machines trying to find the ones that would still boot.

Agent Shafer works on the computers
Some of the machines were so old they were still running Windows 95. Agent Casey was able to install a Wi-Fi card in one of the slightly more modern ones. This would allow him to access the wireless network at Starbucks.

Whenever we film inside a place of business, we have to hide all of our cameras. Most places will kick you out pretty quickly if they see you filming. We had three cameras, each using different concealment methods:

Agent Adams’ camera was hidden in a Starbucks bag

Agent Shafer’s camera was sticking out of his duffel bag

And I used the hidden camera glasses loaned to me by the UCB’s Matt Besser
We used three enormous pieces of black rolling luggage as our “laptop cases.” As large as our cases were, they still couldn’t hold the CRT monitors, so those had to be rested on top. We had all forgotten how heavy this type of equipment would be. It was no easy task getting these rigs down to Starbucks.

Agent Wengert struggles to get out of the building

Agent Casey on 7th Avenue
We had a nice selection of Starbucks to chose from. There are about 4 within a 2-minute walking distance from the UCB office, one in every direction. We picked one that had plenty of window seats (for street filming) and an upstairs (to get the overhead camera angle.) We sent Agent Toledo and Agent Sokoler down to the Starbucks first to secure good window seats. They would reserve the seats until the computer users arrived.

The video camera agents entered next, buying a coffee and finding a good spot to covertly film.

I pretended to read a paper while filming with my glasses

Agent Shafer films through the window
Agent Casey was the first to enter. He bought a coffee and then quietly set up his computer at a table by the window.

Agent Casey
His computer had a Wi-Fi card which allowed him to get onto the wireless network. He opted not to pay for the T-Mobile access, and instead visited the only site he could browse for free,

We didn’t know how people would react to the computers. The most common reaction surprised us: people assumed that they were public machines put there by Starbucks. As Agent Casey went to pick up his coffee order, a man sat down at his computer.

Agent Casey had to repeat, “this is mine,” several times before the guy understood what he meant. He got up, and then proceeded to ask a nearby woman if he could use her laptop.

Agent Plaza entered next

She set up right next to a girl using a laptop, which provided the perfect contrast. People in the Starbucks started really reacting after she arrived. One weirdo on a big computer was one thing, but now there’s another one?

Customers react to a second desktop
Agent Plaza had a newer monitor, but her computer was ancient. She booted up Windows 95 and got to work on Word 95.

She took the joke a step further by actually putting her keyboard and monitor ON HER LAP.

Agent Wengert was the last to enter. He found a spot by the window in between the other two agents. This created a real computer lab feel with three desktops (and one customer’s laptop) in a row.

I sat facing the window for a few minutes, and it was really fun to watch the reactions of people on the street as they would walk by. You’d see them notice each computer as they passed, and by the third, everyone would do a double-take. Most people would keep on walking, but every now and then someone would stop and take a closer look.

The Starbucks staff never gave us any trouble at all. In fact, it didn’t seem like it occurred to them that the three computer users might have known each other. One employee walked by me and laughed. I asked him what was going on and he pointed at the three computer users and declared, “They mean BUSINESS.” That seemed to be the going theory, that they were just very serious about getting their work done. Our agents did seem entirely serious– everyone was excellent at keeping a straight face.

The manager told me that it must be “midterms” and that they were probably students from FIT, a college across the street. At one point the manager caught Agent Adams filming, but even then he didn’t put together that we were all part of a prank. He simply explained that, “They are paying customers and you can’t film them.” Agent Adams claimed to be a student who just happened to have a camera on him and wanted to film this unusual thing. The manager admitted, “It’s amazing. I’ve never seen it before, and I’ve been with the company for four years.”

The man pictured above was in the Starbucks almost the entire time. He couldn’t believe what was going on and was eager to talk to anyone else who noticed it too. “What’s the benefit?” he kept repeating. It made no sense that anyone would go to all the trouble to bring their desktop from home. As he exited Agent Adams caught him on the street and asked him what was going on. His answer is in the main video above, but here’s a longer transcription:

“This is the most insane fucking thing I’ve ever seen. What is the benefit? What’s the most that could happen? You’re saving electricity, but that’s like minuscule. Everybody in the place is looking. Does every Starbucks do this? The strangest fucking thing I’ve ever seen. Have you seen that in another Starbucks? Is it like a new trend or what? What’s the benefit? Do you know what the benefit is? If they’ve got a computer they must have a roof over their head. They must have electricity. Strange. This is very weird man. Today is the 9th of February, the day of a new trend. Is that the strangest thing you’ve ever seen? Is that not the wildest thing? I thought maybe I was behind the times and it was like a fad, but I’m glad that this is something that you haven’t seen either. That’s the strangest thing ever. That is so strange.”

We got another great reaction from the blonde woman pictured above (with the “benefit” guy.) She entered the Starbucks and actually stood in line behind Agent Wengert waiting to use his machine. There’s no telling how long she would have waited had he not started packing up and leaving after a couple of minutes. The reaction she gives when she realizes what’s going on is priceless (you can see it in the Agent Interview video above.) She, first tries to figure out why this guy is unplugging the Starbucks public computer, and then begins laughing when she realizes it’s his personal computer she had been waiting in line for.

Our agents left the Starbucks one by one and met back up at the UCB office. Despite all the heavy lifting, we had a really fun time, and it seemed like everyone who saw us had fun as well. It’s hard to believe, but it’s been nearly five years since our last mission in a Starbucks. It was good to be back.

Mission Accomplished.


See these photos in their full resolution at Agent Sokoler’s Flickr Set.


  1. Pfft. That’s pretty darn hilarious. I hate how everyone brings their laptops and hangs out at Starbucks.

    Yeea boy!

  2. I was actually listening to that computer song by Tyler earlier today :-)
    Took some ballsy agents to lug those dinosaur PCs into those cafes. Many kudos their way.
    Windows 95 = priceless

  3. Interesting prank. I wonder if you could go even further and turn Starbucks into like a giant computer office. As long as you keep buying coffee, why do they care?

    What I found most interesting about it, though, was the people who figured the computers were public. That really says something, that people would find it plausible that Starbucks would start installing public computers. …I’m not sure *what* it says, exactly, but it says something!

  4. Cool, but I’ve heard tale of people doing this before. Not as a prank, but to actually get work done. Mostly on the west coast. Still, never heard of three at once. Two? Maybe. But not three.

  5. LOL! Kudos to the IE team on this one — y’all’re really dedicated to causing whiplash (from doubletakes) ‘cuz that stuff is WAY unwieldy to hump around (bet y’all were a little sore afterwards). Special ‘ups’ to the female agent for woman-handling all that hardware AND putting most of it in her lap (EXCELLENT mission prosecution)! The Win95 box was an extra special touch. Thanks ImprovEverywhere for your on-going commitment to “Gittin’erdone”! __:)__

  6. I actually did this several times while I was workign at a Starbucks in Marysville, OH. Didn’t film it, but I can say that bring my entire desktop, with dual 21″ monitors, and all that stuff, was not the “worst” thing I had done there… (Roof Access is the key)

  7. You know, with all the people who thought these were public terminals provided by Starbucks, maybe this is a new revenue opportunity for them? A few thin client public terminals, maybe $10/hr for use?

  8. That’s It! I want my t-shirt to say:


    ! ! !

  9. Funny thing: at the Starbucks in Hells Kitchen on 9th ave, there are 2 guys who actually do this regularly, not for a joke, but they really do bring their desktops in to Starbucks to work. At least they use flat screen moniters.

  10. Oh my gosh, that is so hilarious. :D Good job, guys! And I envy for your skill keeping a straight face in a situation like that when there are only three agents and everyone’s staring.

  11. How much you wanna bet that the next SVP Operations meeting at Starbucks Corporate proposes the roll-out of pay computers in their high-traffic locations? You can get the “grande” minute package for $3.89 or “venti” minutes for $4.89. An extra shot of wireless is 35 cents.

  12. :-D I died laughing! :-) It’s hilarious, esp about the another customer thinking it was a public computer and the one where she was cradling the monitor! Hahaha!

  13. Fantasticly funny. Agent Wengert’s face as he drags in his monitor is awesome. And Agent Plaza’s monitor in lap is brilliant.

  14. This made me laugh, but also made me remember. I’m an oldster, and I remember back in the mid 1980s when Macintosh made a spiffy tote bag for its innovative computer with 9 inch black and white screen & no hard drive. Despite those shortcomings,the Macintosh operating system was user friendly, which caused a buzz on college campuses. The carrying case was a cube-shaped beige padded nylon thing with backpack straps and an Apple logo applique on the side, and when packed up, this Mac became a tidy bundle, but quite big and heavy. Nevertheless, a handful of “really cool guys,” students who could afford $2500 for this miraculous innovation, packed up their computers day after day, slung those bag straps over their shoulders, and tried to look nonchalant but also self important as they trudged across campus looking like Quasimodo with those huge loads on their backs. When they showed up at the student union, unpacked and found a place to plug in and set up so they could write papers while sipping coffee and trying to impress the rest of us, we really didn’t know how to react. Should we ignore them, befriend them or get together in groups and laugh at them?? So that part hasn’t changed! Thanks for another chuckle!

  15. I got your DVD pack just before Christmas in the mail! I was wondering if it would ever come.

    Your last line made me go back and watch The Moebius!

  16. Well done, folks! Really great filming… where the heck does one get a pair of those camera glasses?

    I think the Windows 95 was a good touch, as would anything really outdated. Heck, I’ve got an old IBM 8088 that would have worked well there too… maybe run Space Invaders game on it or something.

    I really like the xtra touch of putting the huge monitor and keyboard on one’s lap… that’s classic. Using huge luggage bags as computer cases, too, were an unusual was of making fun of laptop cases == brilliant!

  17. I think this video would be a lot better if one of the agents were to hook some speakers up and play a loud game or some music while in the store…

  18. that is simply genius! I would have used flat panels to make it easier, but Windows 95, classic! I am surprised that thing even turned on! lol or that it had support for wifi :)

  19. i cant understand why the staff didnt kick you guys out …
    its a kool prank and all … but we get kicked out all the time for something or another …
    you guys must be lucky … thats it …

  20. You guys have too much free time to be doing this all the time.

    How about doing something worthwhile like volunteer for a charity as opposed to organizing your forces to pull strange pranks like this?

  21. Though people’s reactions were priceless, I don’t think I would have been at all fazed had I been in the store. Bringing your desktop makes sense to me, for instance, if your internet connection at home is down and you really, really need to get online. Did anyone who was there offer this explanation?

  22. This is amazing. I am actually currently doing a case study on a local Starbucks for a class and I would have loved if this happened while I was observing.

  23. haha thats funny to see peeps reaction. i wonder if you were to bring a ps3 with its wifi and a fast is the connection at a starbucks anywho.

  24. @Noelix: Why are you here blabbing about wasting time when you could be volunteering somewhere? Also, are you currently attempting to cure cancer? If not, please get off your ass and help out a little. Thanks!

  25. Sadly, I’ve seen this before, and it wasn’t a joke when I saw it. Admittedly, the guy had an LCD monitor, and it was just 1 person, but it was still amusing.

  26. Yes. As was mentioned also above by Sarah, there is definitely a guy that comes to the 9th Ave and the Times Square starbucks with a desktop. Mostly after midnight. and man, does he get pissed when you accidentally unplug it!
    I hear that he once was a famous musician, and he chats online with his “fans” around the world.

  27. One way to ruin a prank– explain all the logistical details to the audience– and all the expanations of why it’s funny. DUMBASSes

  28. By far the most ingenious and funny video that I have ever seen. I would be dumbfounded also if I walked into a Starbucks to see this going on. I live on the farthest East Coast (St. John’s Newfoundland Canada) . I would like to ask if I may try something like this also in Homage to you folk?

    Bravo on complete ORIGINALITY!!!
    Made my day!

  29. @Fleeno Jackson: I was just about reply to Noelix. But thanks for doing the work for me. And Noelix, help yourself. Can’t be all serious, generous, etc. etc… on 24/7 basis.

  30. Next time you three witches meet again. 3 gaming machines. Transparent UV cases in three colors. Fans, cooling pipes, interiors UV flashing.

    JackIN to online cyber warfare games.

    They’ve seen the future.

    Give ’em a glimpse of the present.


  31. I would love to do this with my 24″ Widescreen CRT. That’s right. A huge CRT monitor that does 1920×1200 in widescreen format and weighs 200 pounds. My only concern, though, is that the table may not be stable enough to handle it.

    Theft won’t be an issue.

  32. Coooool, this idea is sooooo great.
    Maybe next time you guys try to bring your own coffee machine over there.
    Good job!!

  33. hahahahah omg!! that was tooo funnY! yo….when was this?!! I go to FIT..I would have loved to see this in person! loL! but that starbucks seriously sucks…they take a century and a half to get you your drink.

  34. This is hilarious guys. Reminds me of something I documented back in 2005 in midtown Manhattan. A young guy, that turned out to be homeless, would lug a full desktop computer into the Starbucks on 41st and Madison every day, with limited “permission” from the store manager. He would be IMing furiously all day long. He was there for a few weeks before a friend and I eventually interviewed him and found out he was just trying to stay warm and get some ass. Nice guy, hard life, and a full desktop computer in Starbucks. URLs to the posts documenting it are below.

    Keep up the great work.


  35. Well what is actually pretty interesting about this experiment that hopefully starbucks notices is that people walked in and saw these desktops and were hoping to use them(but obviously they weren’t starbucks). Maybe if starbucks sets up a few PC’s to use people would be more inclined to stop in… Take that McDonalds!

  36. @Chris D – Thanks so much for sharing your blog links about the homeless guy. Fascinating.

    @twiner – I’ve never heard of that group before. Thanks for sharing the video. I like that he had computer speakers as well.

  37. …that would be a ridiculously awesome way to spread Ubuntu. Just get a starbucks desktop background and set the home page to the starbucks site.. starbucks user.. give the password to the barristas, tell them it’s $1 a session..

    …How much would I be willing to pay to expose hundreds of people a day to Ubuntu Linux? $200? …brilliant. I’ll really have to consider this. Ha. Microsoft won’t have seen /that/ approach coming.

    …I bet they don’t get donations like that much..

  38. I love how many times the guy who looks like a more leaner version of Paul Giamatti said the word strange, dude was buggin haha and judging by his quote he was really astonished, he must have felt like he woke up the wrong side of the bed that morning, ” I thought maybe I was behind the times and it was like a fad” lol their are some really gullible people out there, it wouldn’t have taken me long to figure you guys out, still good job at duping everyone.

  39. this isnt as funny as the first time i saw it done in 2005 by a group of students. give credit where credit is due.
    for instance, the video section on

  40. Neat… you should have used even older pc’s, I would like to see people think of DOS Pc as public. Damn that would have been funny, but maybe a bit hard to pretend to be working for real. Although some of the old DOS machines had great games. Hint Larry or Kaper (old pirate game, the first pirate game in the world, dunno the english titel ).

    Brilliant idea, having it on the lap.. like a real laptop

  41. wa hahahahahahahaha
    that’s the laughing from China
    I cannot stop laughing when i look at your fantastic work
    I really wish I could join u cool guys.

  42. You are lame! You all think this is cool and funny. So stupid, it’s hard to even describe how stupid, lame, dumb, whatever….. lol

  43. I have seen someone do this once, though not as a prank. But he also brought his dot matrix circa printer as well. I couldn’t help but stare.

  44. I posted this on youtube BUT, I will post it here as well: i hope the dude at the end didn’t get too wrapped in the thing and pass on A GREAT OPPORTUNITY TO MEET A GIRL!!! if you don’t have a girlfriend you could have easily gotten that girl’s phone number and taken her out as you had her smiling ear to ear with your shenanigans. as a single guy it troubles me to see something like this go to waste as it was a perfect segway into conversation and you missed a great chance to try and get to know what looked like a cool, cute girl!

  45. Damn, Agent Plaza sitting with the monitor and keyboard on her lap has to be one of my favorite IE moments. I’m still laughing.

  46. Hahahaha this is the best fucking idea ever.
    I can’t beleive the guy at the end didn’t get the message, “WTF they are saving nothing in electricity, what’s the point ?”, use your itra-aural-buffer before speaking.

  47. sadly, this was done for real at our public library. the patron went to the trouble of hauling his PC and huge monitor up to the 2nd floor, found a table near an outlet and set everything up – even though we have about 30 computers for public use. this guy also wore a baseball cap with spongebob beanie babies sewn to it, so i guess we shouldn’t have been shocked.

  48. me and my friends did this 1 time,,
    at diferent coffee shop and did a lan party,,
    i dont remember when,,
    the next night it was “bring your own boxen” night
    each week for 3 months,,
    oh and the computers we brought were thrash boards
    like “the wall-puter”,,
    naked no case :) like

  49. Considering how much you spent on those computers, I think it might have been funnier to yield the computer to one of the people “in line” and just leave…

  50. The funniest bit is the 50 people trying to point out that “it’s been done before” (who cares?) and the few people who suggested it “would’ve been easier with a flat screen” (miss the point??)

    Still hilarious!

  51. i’m surprised people didn’t think you were trying to hack starbucks internet and do something with it

  52. I worked in coffee shops for quite a few years off and on, and the last one I worked in had this one strange regular who used to do this. He had this bright orange backpack that he carried his small but not laptop sized cpu and this flat screen and he would unravel all the cords and plug everything in and work for hours, drinking cup after cup of coffee, pausing a few times to go outside and brush his middle-of-the-back length hair outside. He had this funny southern drawl, and was quite gentlemanly, when we wasn’t yammering on about how his house was falling apart or whatever aging physicists go on about. And he would come in pretty much everyday with this set up, stay for hours, and then leave around lunchtime. Finally he didn’t show up for a few weeks and when he returned we were like “Where were you… We were worried.” He said he’d been in Europe giving talks. I forgot to ask him if he brought his computer.

  53. Fantastic. Next time, you might want to lug in a diesel generator too so you have your own powersource. Have you heard just how much noise those things make?

  54. This is pretty funny. I could do this pretty easily because I have an aluminum computer case, its way lighter.

  55. I love how that one guy in the first movie was so confused by it he was almost angry. WHAT IS THE BENEFIT I DON’T GET IT?!

  56. I’ve actually done this… not for fun… because I’m poor and I needed to use my pc outside of my house.

  57. That is hilarious. Desktops are so unwieldy as well. Unless you try those ultra light ones that come in very small boxes. Then again, these have CRT monitors!

  58. dude!! my names shafer too!! i also have a fondness of improv, only on a much smaller scale.

    my works are a LOT less known, but something like this would be amazing to take part in.

    hopefully if i ever make it up to new york i can meet some of yall, but im from texas and a poor college student so those odds are lookin pretty slim right now…

  59. That was hysterical! I even enjoyed reading the lowdown after watching the videos. That’s bizarre how we see desktops in public as “public” computers. I didn’t realize it until I watched then read about the girl waiting in line behind agent _______. I may have done the same thing, with the same thought as her! haha

  60. this is hillarious… :-D

    did you guys ever got the chance to tell the starbucks manager that this is actually a joke?

  61. hey i loved it! it´s a good way to improve and apply creativity in our everyday…
    Thanks for doing this!
    thanks for breaking the “monotonia” i just wanted to say hello and thanks from Colombia!