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  • I started Improv Everywhere about 10 years ago

  • when I moved to New York City with an interest in acting and comedy.

  • Because I was new to the city, I didn't have access to a stage,

  • so I decided to create my own in public places.

  • So the first project we're going to take a look at

  • is the very first No Pants Subway Ride.

  • Now this took place in January of 2002.

  • And this woman is the star of the video.

  • She doesn't know she's being filmed.

  • She's being filmed with a hidden camera.

  • This is on the 6 train in New York City.

  • And this is the first stop along the line.

  • These are two Danish guys

  • who come out and sit down next to the hidden camera.

  • And that's me right there in a brown coat.

  • It's about 30 degrees outside.

  • I'm wearing a hat. I'm wearing a scarf.

  • And the girl's going to notice me right here.

  • (Laughter)

  • And as you'll see now, I'm not wearing pants.

  • (Laughter)

  • So at this point --

  • at this point she's noticed me,

  • but in New York there's weirdos on any given train car.

  • One person's not that unusual.

  • She goes back to reading her book, which is unfortunately titled "Rape."

  • (Laughter)

  • So she's noticed the unusual thing,

  • but she's gone back to her normal life.

  • Now in the meantime, I have six friends

  • who are waiting at the next six consecutive stops in their underwear as well.

  • They're going to be entering this car one by one.

  • We'll act as though we don't know each other.

  • And we'll act as if it's just an unfortunate mistake we've made,

  • forgetting our pants on this cold January day.

  • (Laughter)

  • So at this point,

  • she decides to put the rape book away.

  • (Laughter)

  • And she decides to be a little bit more aware of her surroundings.

  • Now in the meantime, the two Danish guys to the left of the camera,

  • they're cracking up.

  • They think this is the funniest thing they've ever seen before.

  • And watch her make eye contact with them right about now.

  • (Laughter)

  • And I love that moment in this video,

  • because before it became a shared experience,

  • it was something that was maybe a little bit scary,

  • or something that was at least confusing to her.

  • And then once it became a shared experience,

  • it was funny and something that she could laugh at.

  • So the train is now pulling into

  • the third stop along the 6 line.

  • (Laughter)

  • So the video won't show everything.

  • This goes on for another four stops.

  • A total of seven guys enter anonymously in their underwear.

  • At the eighth stop, a girl came in with a giant duffel bag

  • and announced she had pants for sale for a dollar --

  • like you might sell batteries or candy on the train.

  • We all very matter of factly bought a pair of pants, put them on

  • and said, "Thank you. That's exactly what I needed today,"

  • and then exited without revealing what had happened

  • and went in all different directions.

  • (Applause)

  • Thank you.

  • So that's a still from the video there.

  • And I love that girl's reaction so much.

  • And watching that videotape later that day

  • inspired me to keep doing what I do.

  • And really one of the points of Improv Everywhere

  • is to cause a scene in a public place

  • that is a positive experience for other people.

  • It's a prank, but it's a prank that gives somebody a great story to tell.

  • And her reaction inspired me

  • to do a second annual No Pants Subway Ride.

  • And we've continued to do it every year.

  • This January, we did the 10th annual No Pants Subway Ride

  • where a diverse group of 3,500 people

  • rode the train in their underwear in New York --

  • almost every single train line in the city.

  • And also in 50 other cities around the world,

  • people participated.

  • (Laughter)

  • As I started taking improv class at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater

  • and meeting other creative people and other performers and comedians,

  • I started amassing a mailing list

  • of people who wanted to do these types of projects.

  • So I could do more large-scale projects.

  • Well one day I was walking through Union Square,

  • and I saw this building,

  • which had just been built in 2005.

  • And there was a girl in one of the windows and she was dancing.

  • And it was very peculiar,

  • because it was dark out, but she was back-lit with florescent lighting,

  • and she was very much onstage,

  • and I couldn't figure out why she was doing it.

  • After about 15 seconds, her friend appeared --

  • she had been hiding behind a display --

  • and they laughed and hugged each other and ran away.

  • So it seemed like maybe she had been dared to do this.

  • So I got inspired by that.

  • Looking at the entire facade -- there were 70 total windows --

  • and I knew what I had to do.

  • (Laughter)

  • So this project is called Look Up More. We had 70 actors dress in black.

  • This was completely unauthorized.

  • We didn't let the stores know we were coming.

  • And I stood in the park giving signals.

  • The first signal was for everybody to hold up these four-foot tall letters

  • that spelled out "Look Up More,"

  • the name of the project.

  • The second signal was for everybody to do Jumping jacks together.

  • You'll see that start right here.

  • (Laughter)

  • And then we had dancing. We had everyone dance.

  • And then we had dance solos where only one person would dance

  • and everybody would point to them.

  • (Laughter)

  • So then I gave a new hand signal,

  • which signaled the next soloist down below in Forever 21,

  • and he danced.

  • There were several other activities.

  • We had people jumping up and down,

  • people dropping to the ground.

  • And I was standing just anonymously in a sweatshirt,

  • putting my hand on and off of a trashcan

  • to signal the advancement.

  • And because it was in Union Square Park, right by a subway station,

  • there were hundreds of people by the end

  • who stopped and looked up

  • and watched what we were doing.

  • There's a better photo of it.

  • So that particular event

  • was inspired by a moment

  • that I happened to stumble upon.

  • The next project I want to show

  • was given to me in an email from a stranger.

  • A high school kid in Texas wrote me in 2006

  • and said, "You should get as many people as possible

  • to put on blue polo shirts and khaki pants

  • and go into a Best Buy and stand around."

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • So I wrote this high school kid back immediately,

  • and I said, "Yes, you are correct.

  • I think I'll try to do that this weekend. Thank you."

  • So here's the video.

  • So again, this is 2005.

  • This is the Best Buy in New York City.

  • We had about 80 people show up to participate,

  • entering one-by-one.

  • There was an eight year-old girl, a 10 year-old girl.

  • There was also a 65 year-old man

  • who participated.

  • So a very diverse group of people.

  • And I told people, "Don't work. Don't actually do work.

  • But also, don't shop.

  • Just stand around and don't face products."

  • Now you can see the regular employees

  • by the ones that have the yellow tags on their shirt.

  • Everybody else is one of our actors.

  • (Laughter)

  • The lower level employees thought it was very funny.

  • And in fact, several of them went to go get their camera from the break room

  • and took photos with us.

  • A lot of them made jokes about trying to get us to go to the back

  • to get heavy television sets for customers.

  • The managers and the security guards, on the other hand,

  • did not find it particularly funny.

  • You can see them in this footage.

  • They're wearing either a yellow shirt or a black shirt.

  • And we were there probably 10 minutes

  • before the managers decided to dial 911.

  • (Laughter)

  • So they started running around

  • telling everybody the cops were coming, watch out, the cops were coming.

  • And you can see the cops in this footage right here.

  • That's a cop wearing black right there, being filmed with a hidden camera.

  • Ultimately, the police had to inform Best Buy management

  • that it was not, in fact, illegal

  • to wear a blue polo shirt and khaki pants.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

  • So we had been there for 20 minutes; we were happy to exit the store.

  • One thing the managers were trying to do

  • was to track down our cameras.

  • And they caught a couple of my guys who had hidden cameras in duffel bags.

  • But the one camera guy they never caught

  • was the guy that went in just with a blank tape

  • and went over to the Best Buy camera department

  • and just put his tape in one of their cameras

  • and pretended to shop.

  • So I like that concept of using their own technology against them.

  • (Laughter)

  • I think our best projects are ones that are site specific

  • and happen at a particular place for a reason.

  • And one morning, I was riding the subway.

  • I had to make a transfer at the 53rd St. stop

  • where there are these two giant escalators.

  • And it's a very depressing place to be in the morning, it's very crowded.

  • So I decided to try and stage something

  • that could make it as happy as possible for one morning.

  • So this was in the winter of 2009 --

  • 8:30 in the morning.

  • It's morning rush hour.

  • It's very cold outside.

  • People are coming in from Queens,

  • transferring from the E train to the 6 train.

  • And they're going up these giant escalators

  • on their way to their jobs.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • Thank you.

  • So there's a photograph that illustrates it a little bit better.

  • He gave 2,000 high fives that day,

  • and he washed his hands before and afterward

  • and did not get sick.

  • And that was done also without permission,

  • although no one seemed to care.

  • So I'd say over the years,

  • one of the most common criticisms I see of Improv Everywhere

  • left anonymously on YouTube comments

  • is: "These people have too much time on their hands."

  • And you know, not everybody's going to like everything you do,

  • and I've certainly developed a thick skin thanks to Internet comments,

  • but that one's always bothered me,

  • because we don't have too much time on our hands.

  • The participants at Improv Everywhere events

  • have just as much leisure time as any other New Yorkers,

  • they just occasionally choose

  • to spend it in an unusual way.

  • You know, every Saturday and Sunday,

  • hundreds of thousands of people each fall

  • gather in football stadiums to watch games.

  • And I've never seen anybody comment, looking at a football game,

  • saying, "All those people in the stands, they have too much time on their hands."

  • And of course they don't.

  • It's a perfectly wonderful way to spent a weekend afternoon,

  • watching a football game in a stadium.

  • But I think it's also a perfectly valid way

  • to spend an afternoon freezing in place with 200 people

  • in the Grand Central terminal

  • or dressing up like a ghostbuster

  • and running through the New York Public Library.

  • (Laughter)

  • Or listening to the same MP3 as 3,000 other people

  • and dancing silently in a park,

  • or bursting into song in a grocery store

  • as part of a spontaneous musical,

  • or diving into the ocean in Coney Island wearing formal attire.

  • You know, as kids, we're taught to play.

  • And we're never given a reason why we should play.