King Philip IV


Shot by: Matt Adams, Gabriel Chai, Keith Haskel, Joe Stramowski
Photography: Katie Sokoler (photo credit for all photos on this page.)


King Philip IV: Chadwick Elliott
King Philip IV’s HandlerCharlie Todd

For our latest mission we staged an unauthorized autograph signing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art with an actor who bears a striking resemblance to King Philip IV of Spain. Standing in front of the 400-year-old Velázquez painting, the “King” greeted museum patrons and offered free signed 8×10 photos. Enjoy the video above first, and then check out the photos and report below.

In September of 2009, I sent out a message to the Improv Everywhere mailing list asking for “special skills.” I asked if anyone on the list had a unique talent, prop, costume, or location that we might be able to create a mission around. Agent Elliot responded to the email, “The mission I would like to propose is to cause a scene in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the museum there is a painting of King Philip the IV of Spain and I look identical to him.” He attached a photo of himself and the painting as proof. I wrote back right away and told him that if he could get his hands on a good costume, Improv Everywhere would love to make the mission happen.

A few months later he wrote me back saying he had a costume made and was ready. I went to the Met to scout it out a week before the mission and to my horror the painting in question was no long on view. It had been taken down for repairs and no return date was given. The mission would have to wait.

Almost exactly one year later I heard from Agent Elliot again. Not only was the painting back from restoration, but there was a huge New York Times story on it. The authenticity of the painting had been in question, but the restoration proved it was indeed a Velázquez and not the work of one of his assistants. This exciting news definitely called for an in-person celebration with the King himself.

Getting organized with the crew across the street from the Met

Attaching a hidden microphone
Fortunately it was winter when we staged this, as it made concealing the costume easy. Agent Elliot wore a long trench coat and a scarf to hide his regal attire.

The best unauthorized Improv Everywhere missions are the ones that don’t technically break any rules. Surely there is no policy on the books at the Met about dressing up like a painting and standing in front of it. The museum allows sketchbooks in for the benefit of art students, so we used one to conceal our sign and our photographs. The King brought a pencil in to sign his autographs as markers are not allowed.

Agent Elliot took off his coat right as we walked into the room and passed it to Agent Adams. I unfolded the sketchbook to reveal the sign, and the mission began. I did most of the talking, since it seemed beneath the king to promote himself. I spoke softly but loud enough to be heard by the entire room.

It took no time at all for someone to take us up on our offer of free autographs. The King spoke in a soft, dignified manner.

A crowd started to form almost right way

Some folks took photos
The woman in the photo above was from Argentina. I immediately said, “Oh, well you and the King speak the same language then.” I forgot to ask Agent Elliot if he spoke any Spanish. He didn’t speak more than a few words it turned out. Hilarity ensued.

We got a wide variety of reactions from the patrons in the museum. Some stared bewildered, some laughed, some took photos, some wouldn’t stop asking questions. I’m not sure if we actually fooled anyone, at least not anyone who took the time to do the math at how old someone depicted in a Renaissance painting would have to be. Yet with my suit and the King’s costume, we did look pretty professional. We looked like we were supposed to be there. I overheard a few people guessing he was a modern day king, a descendant of the king in the painting.

A guard had approached us about two minutes into the mission. He stood five feet away and stared confusedly without addressing us. I ignored him, and he eventually walked away to confer with the other guard in the room. About five minutes later he returned to ask if we had any permission to do what we were doing. I told him we didn’t, but that the King was very excited that his painting was back on view and he wanted to stand in front of it.

The guard told us he didn’t think we were allowed to be doing what we were doing without permission and that we should follow him so he could “call someone,” his boss I guess. I announced to the room that the autograph signing would have to stop for now, but that hopefully we’d be back later in the day. The King kept signing autographs throughout this discussion.

We followed him to the other side of the room where he began talking to the other guard present. I figured there wasn’t anything they could do to us besides ask us to leave. We weren’t breaking any written rules. I told the guard that we were done and were fine to leave. He seemed pleased with that and left the room. The second guard was MUCH more interested in what was going on. “He’s really the king?” he asked me. “But he’s too young…” Once I informed him that the King was 400 years old, he smiled and immediately got the joke of the whole thing.

I put the sign away and stopped addressing the crowd, but people kept coming up to the King asking for autographs, so he kept signing. With the first guard out of sight and the second guard a fan of the joke, I figured we’d be in the clear. The King continued to stand near his portrait.

Posing for a photo

Answering questions
After about five minutes had passed, the original guard came back into the room. He was not happy to see us back in the same place. I explained to him that I stopped speaking to the crowd, and I didn’t know it would be a problem if the King was just standing in the room. He wasn’t interested in hearing any excuses and demanded that we follow him.

We followed him to a stairwell where he picked up the phone to call someone. I still figured there wasn’t much he could do other than ask us to leave the museum. I didn’t want to have to speak to the head of security or worse the cop on duty about our silly prank. The guard was having a hard time reaching anyone on the phone, so I just said to him, “OK, we’re going to go walk out the front door now.” He said, “OK,” and sort of seemed relieved. He didn’t want to have a meeting about this nonsense either.

We had lasted longer than I thought we would. I figured there would be a pretty low tolerance for pranks in front of priceless works of art. We caused our scene and it was time to quit while we were ahead.

Mission Accomplished.


Agent Katie Sokoler’s full flickr set of photos
– Previous Improv Everywhere impostors: Anton Chekov, Ben Folds Fake


  1. Great job! I love how willing you are to put yourself into situations that others might stray away from for the sake of entertainment. You always make a great scene. I just wish I could catch some of your more off-beat shenanigans such as this. See you at the next MP3e!

  2. Wow, this was hilarious. Similar to the Chekov mission, but at least the public is growing more intelligent!

  3. Completely and utterly fabulous. IE always manages to come up with something funny that puts a smile on everyone’s faces. Agent Elliot does look startlingly like the King.

  4. Museums are so stuffy and pretentious…they need things like this to make them fun places for real human beings.


      • This is truly brilliant fellow interwebbers!!!! I laughed lotz when I saw this!! Blew my mind hohoho

    • I agree. I can’t believe the Met would throw them out. I think it’s a fantastic idea, and they should run “look alike” contests for their great paintings. It would be wonderful promotion for the museum, and really fun for the patrons, especially the kids.

      • The Met didn’t throw them out. One security guard who didn’t know what to do (and had a stick up his butt besides) asked them to leave, and they complied.

    • I can tell that you haven’t really spent much time in museums and you know very little about art. Museums are for everyone who wants to experience them, enjoy them, embrace them, and learn from them. You need to open your mind and your eyes to be able to see.

  5. Awesome!! I probably would’ve wimped out at the first confrontation with the guards. Brilliant.

  6. Haha, this is so great! I would have loved to seen the people that actually believed it, if even only for a second. This also reminded me of the Chekov mission– but it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it any less!! Nice work, guys. :D

  7. No one thought to bring a Sharpie, haha? I don’t think a KING would sign autographs using a pencil!

  8. I absolutely love the creative stuff you continue to dream up. I do hope you can continue your shenanigans for a very long time.

  9. What rules could you possibly be breaking? I mean maybe identity theft but I’m not sure the museum has the right to follow up on that.

    • If you think that “The best unauthorized Improv Everywhere missions are the ones that don’t technically break any rules” then you failed.
      Take 5 minutes to do some advance research: you were not ejected for wearing a stupid costume, but? because you DID break one of the museum’s rules: no videotaping.
      Even Hollywood is not allowed to film inside the Met – interior scenes that purportedly take place there are actually filmed elsewhere.

      • Ah, but the guards never once spotted our cameramen. Our guys used DSLR cameras on HD movie mode and blended in with the other patrons with similar cameras. DSLRs are allowed for photos (with no flash), and the guards did not know they were using them on movie mode. We were not ejected for videotaping. And believe me, I took more than five minutes to do advance research. This project was in the works for about 15 months!

  10. Hilarious! You come up with great ideas! By the way, were the guards French? They didn’t sound American to me.

  11. I love the guard that asked you about his age. What a cute little man. He’s the type of person that makes museums fun and interactive for everyone.

  12. I wonder if the “king” had went in just to admire the painting and instead got recognized by ‘someone’ planted in the crowd, if that would have had a different outcome because he wouldn’t have been intending to set up and autograph signing.

  13. Well done, Improv everywhere! Polite, well mannered and fun in a place filled with priceless art. :D

  14. Just think, what was an interesting event/prank probably made several of those people go home and google him and possibly learn something in the process! Great job guys!

  15. Oh no, you attracted attention to their museam and probably increased their sales momentarilly. That’s horrible. Good thing you left to stop that none-sense!

  16. Chadwick would have looked yet more like Philip IV if he had let his hair grow slightly longer.

  17. What kinds of questions did people ask? That to me seems the best part of the mission, which you are leaving out!

    Did people address the king directly? Isn’t that a no-no against royal protocol? Did they refer to him as “Your Majesty” or something of the like? Did the king address any of them directly? What did he say? Doesn’t it seem beneath him to hand off his autograph directly to commoners? Shouldn’t you have interceded between the public and the king? Was it apparent to Spanish speakers that the king could not speak Spanish, and did that change their reaction/perception of the proceedings?

    Also, I would think that a king would not have to wear a visitor’s pin. That may have been a red flag to the guards if not the audience. You should have taken them off! But perhaps you guys did not want to break any rules, and there is a rule that non-staff must wear a pin at all times within the museum. It did take away from the illusion a bit seeing the bright blue pin on the king’s robe.

    Nevertheless, it was another enjoyable mission. Well done. I wish I had been there. I would have asked a million questions and given you guys a surreptitious wink.

  18. Once charm and entertain us. With all the “reality’ shows that try to prove that the only way one can laugh is through ridicule and embarrassment, this was another sweet and gentle way to make people smile!

    Thanks again!!!

  19. I my mind this is, without a doubt, your best mission yet. Art is my passion and I can’t think of a better art prank you could have done. If the Met or any other museum was smart they would want this kind of thing going on to engage more people in art. Just think about having the subject of the painting standing there teaching about the time period and the painting. I wish I could have seen it.

  20. I think it’s a great idea to have real-life doubles in front of art, making exhibits interactive- pity the guard didn’t agree. Good job, IE!

  21. I tried to do something similar when I was in Budapest….. but without the costumes or the production value (had a friend who looked like one of the guys), but they kicked out out almost instantaneously :D

  22. Love it. That is so cool. I still believe that the met has authority to send a person out because of his costume. Shame on you Met for discriminating based on what one wears.

  23. Very fun. Doesn’t have quite the “magical surprise” moment that some of your other missions so, but I like the idea of lightening up the mood at a museum. Keep up the good work.

  24. I think it would be neat if you took it a step further and did a mass painting replica mission. Look through a museum for potential pieces and the participators stand in front of them in similar poses and clothing. Have them converse with the audience how it feels to be hanging around an art museum or something similar.

    I love these improv pranks. Keep it up :)

  25. You got to be kidding me:D it was just awesome :D Who would believe that he is the 400years old king :D Actually, I would also ask him for autograph and make a picture with him :)
    Great story ;)

  26. Hello, greetings from India. I have been following your missions on the net ever since I read about Charlie Todd in Reader’s Digest. Amazing stuff guys. Keep up the good work.

  27. Completely amused by this Improv! After reading what happened after, it definitely sounded like a mission well accomplished and glad it didn’t end bad.

  28. absolutely brilliant! From Spain…. :)
    I don’t know how are you able to manage in order to not laughing when “improving”…

  29. What’s so ironic is that if the guard or any of the museum people had half a brain they’d love this sort of publicity, to actually get people INTO museums. What a wonderful, wonderful prank and kudos to you for such a really nice one too.

  30. Sorry for my english, I´m from spain and probably it´s not very good, but can you tell me one cuestion? what fucking dis you study at school? only those thousands of ignorant americans can think that the king is real and the only thing he have to do is that.
    sorry for you but you need to study history, geography and………..

  31. Very well done! I’m disappointed in the Met that they chased you off so quickly. Agent Elliot does indeed have an uncanny resemblance to the painting. This mission did make me think of the end of The Thomas Crown Affair with all the people dressed as Magritte’s Son of Man (sans apple) walking around the museum.

  32. This man is more handsome than Felipe IV (Philip IV). Spanish People call him ‘The astonished King’ because he looked silly. He loved huntering with his dogs and he didn’t do anything more.

  33. Now see, the Met should bring on Agent Elliot as a volunteer docent to learn all about the painting and the king, dress up in his costume, and come stand in front of it to give little talks about “himself” one day a month. Expand this to other paintings in the museum, call it a “Living Art” series, and watch the people come.

  34. I need to ask:

    Was there any attempt to emulate the actual signature of Philip IV? Because if so, that would have taken this to an Even Higher Level of Awesome.

  35. Agent Todd: I am sort of bewildered that you keep referring to your performance/project as a prank. Perhaps your intention was to “pull a prank,” but you created a multi-dimensional experience for the patrons that day. Embrace what you did and don’t undercut it by calling it a prank. Just my two cents.

    Agent Aaron

  36. Dear cousin,
    This is a very rude thing to do, to came to town and not say a thing. So I open my laptop and find about it in the papers, you realized you leave me in a very difficult position with my acquaintances? Who have you stayed with?
    Well Philip, I just hope you enjoyed your visit and, please, next time stop and say hello for christ sake!
    See you in Madrid,

  37. Great idea, and so well executed! Brings up some interesting points. On the one hand, you were clearly doing the museum a favor with some great promo, and they look bad for running you off. On the other hand, I’m sure the guards are taught to have zero tolerance for anything unusual, in case it’s some kind of distraction. On the third hand, the guard essentially took himself off duty by going with you into a stairwell.

  38. The resemblance is absolutely amazing. Has Agent Elliot traced his ancestry? In any case, well done all.

  39. Great mission and nice accomplishment!

    Some Spanish museums have similar performances with actor on costumes. Groups of kids from schools attend to those performances as an early introduction to art and history.

  40. ha ha ha… really great. It looked like very professionnal, his majesty Philip the fourth was very convincing ! You wouldn’t have done the same with a Picasso’s portrait…

  41. LOVE THIS! As a museum educator I love seeing how people get involved in any museum and make it their own. You all were great in checking to find out if there were polices about writing in galleries, pens, cameras, etc. Museums now pay people for historical reenactments and so forth. I hope Agent Elliot gets a gig from this.
    During the 70s, I enjoyed pointing out to my sister that she looked just like Judith Beheading Holofernes in a Caravaggio at the Getty Malibu. That would be a super prank but bloody heads are not allowed in my museum and I doubt the Getty would like it, either

  42. Leave it up to some silly bureaucrat to put an end to what had to be the best thing going on in the museum that day. More people will remember that painting, and Velasquez, than any thing else they saw there on that date. Stupid museum for not seeing the potential in living history reenactment, and stupid guard for being such a block head.
    Otherwise I think this was just wonderful and hope to see more like this in the future!!

  43. The actor can thank his lucky stars he wasn’t born with that Hapsburg Lip. One day, many years ago, I was in Washington D.C. and I saw a young man who was obviously a throwback to the old Hapsburg face. He looked like he just fell out of a 17th century Spanish court painting. I couldn’t believe it. His features were as extreme as that family’s had been in their heyday of intermarriage and genetic Armageddon. I was dying to ask him where he was from. I’m guessing Spain or Austria, maybe in some diplomatic corps from somewhere once Hapsburg. I wish I had. I’ll always wonder.

  44. Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez was Portuguese, his parents worked for the Spanish royal court, it was not hard to pronounced his name.
    Doménikos Theotokópoulos or ????????? ????????????? was harder to pronounce, so they called him El Greco or The Greek, El Greco was born in Crete, which was at that time part of the Republic of Venice, why was he not called a El Venetian or the Italian? I’m just asking the question.

    El Portuguese or João de Brito

  45. You guys are just awesome! What a hilarious idea! And he really does look like the King! Spooky…. :)

  46. Nice job on the costume! And a really startling resemblance. Longer hair and sideburn curls would have made you twins. :D

  47. Brilliant. I laughed so hard when the guard said, “He’s really the king?” “But he’s too young…”

  48. Hopefully someone at the Met will see this and invite the King to the next Costume Institute Gala on May 2! Maybe he could greet the incoming celebrities.

  49. Hey, the king looks retarded but the guy looks so sexy :P
    Look at infanta Elena see looks retarded too, Affortunatelly they are stoping of marriying inside the same family.

  50. When I Googled King Philip IV, this mission came up second, right after Wikipedia’s article about the king. It’s amazing that within a couple days of publishing this account of a 15-minute prank, IE became more popular than thousands of accounts of Spanish history and the Met’s restoration of the painting! Congrats!

  51. This reminds me of people approaching me all the time when I was a child asking for my autograph because I was regularly mistakened for one of the Olsen twins. =X What a great mission… short-lived, but very successful!

  52. How stupid of the museum to ask you to leave. They should have asked you to come back every Saturday for the next 6 months and started searching for other people who resemble paintings and turn this into a regular event. This could have become a marketing ploy that would have brought hundreds, maybe thousands, of new visitors. Why do these institutions have such lackluster imaginations when they should be shrines to creativity?

    • To be fair, you really can’t make assumptions about the entire museum’s point of view based on the reaction of one guard. I’ve heard from employees of the museum who thought it was very funny.

  53. I just love this prank. A museum worker myself, I found this highly amusing. People over at the MET must be just a bit jealous they didn’t think of it themselves…

    I am curious: how many autographs did the ‘King’ signed? Can we see his signature?

    Thanks again for your work. It is art!

  54. It’s one of the reasons why I’m not a big fan of my local art museum. The guards that they hire are not particularly pleasant people, and are not fun to be around. Considering they’re ambassadors for the museum, you’d think they’d hire people with some people skills.

  55. It’s such an inspiration to see what you’re doing over there. Every mission you do makes me smile, and makes me want to do something like it myself.

  56. I love how you cared about using pencil instead of sharpies cause it’s against the rules, but not about the no filming allowed rule.

  57. Isn’t Mark Zuckerberg soooooo like King Philip IV? I mean.. c’mon, they are exactly the same person!!!!

  58. good job on this. My hunch is that if you had gone to the Director of the MMOA and the NYTimes and asked that they both go along with your prank (but not the guards) you would have been home free and lots more fun.

    • I think we probably could have talked the Museum into giving us permission to do it as a collaboration with them. It probably would have entailed many meetings and many levels of approval. Ultimately, I think our way was a whole lot more fun.

      We do collaborate with institutions every now and then (see: Who You Gonna Call?), but our roots are in unauthorized work, and it’s important for us to keep that aspect of our work alive. It keeps things exciting.

  59. No words…hahaha
    Now our king is signing pics in NY. He looks younger! And wears better than ever!
    Where was the bullfighting suit?

    Greetings from Spain

  60. so easy to fool north americans! haha some of them realy believed he was the actual king…hilarious!

  61. Excellent mission – You may want to add to the soundtrack the song “King of Spain” by Moxie Fruvous. Check it out at:

  62. Charlie, with your suit and your beard, you have the appearance of an unimpeachable authority figure, especially with those few flecks of gray in your hair. With your acting skills, you should be able to move about in almost any setting looking like you belong there.

    You actually look to me like some kind of campaign flack/manager, so think about a politics related mission.

    This can only help making any further missions more successful.

  63. Felipe V, a mass murderer who wanted to annihilate an entire people, the Catalan, language and culture. Labor still trying to get Spain.
    Philip V was the Hitler, Franco, Gadaffi of her time.

    A murderer, a dictator, banned the use of the Catalan language, a murderer who destroyed all Catalan institutions. That as a warning of war that it had begun, was town to town, hanging 1 of each 3 Catalan as a warning.

    Franco continued to work, only a few years ago, and work continues even Spain in a more subtle, relying on a supposed democracy.

  64. If you think that “The best unauthorized Improv Everywhere missions are the ones that don’t technically break any rules” then you failed.
    Take 5 minutes to do some advance research: you were not ejected for wearing a stupid costume, but because you DID break one of the museum’s rules: No Videotaping.
    Even Hollywood is not allowed to film inside the Met – interior scenes that purportedly take place there are actually filmed elsewhere.
    Respondents commenting on the “gullibility” of visitors are actually more gullible themselves: no one believed he was King Philip, some were simply amused and wanted a souvenir of their visit to NYC and the Met.

  65. Yay!!!! Another classic mission from the ole’ handbook! Good job guys! And a special congratulations for Agent Elliot and having his mission selected.

    I love how the guard asking you guys to move made it seem more “official”. He did not even address the King, he addressed Agent Charlie Todd. Because everyone knows a King talking to a security guard is “beneath” them. =D

    Wish both guards had been good sports about the whole thing. Oh well.