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Causing a Scene: Extraordinary Pranks in Ordinary Places with Improv…

by Charlie Todd, Alex Scordelis

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914230,315 (3.95)4
Shares behind-the-scenes accounts of pranks by the internationally popular improvisational group, describing the efforts behind some of their endeavors from the annual "No Pants" subway ride to their synchronized swimming show in a public fountain.

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I was in hospital recuperating when I was presented with a copy of "Causing a Scene" and was at the point where I would have read a postmodernist critique of Bayesian string theory to stave off boredom. Of course, "Causing a Scene" is far more interesting than any postmodernist critique could possibly be, recording a number of pranks acted out in the US by the Improv Everywhere group.

The pranks range from the "tricking taxi driver into thinking he was getting two lovers together", to having a bathroom attendant at a McDonalds, to having Anton Chekhov turn up at a Borders to give a reading and sign some of his books.

None of the pranks are overly mean hearted and can be enjoyed by anyone looking for whimsy, something that sadly is in short supply these days.

I was sure to pass this onto a friend who found himself in hospital before he was forced to reread his tattered copy of "Bayesian String Theory: a Postmodernist Critique". ( )
  MiaCulpa | Aug 25, 2015 |
Imagine sitting in a random Starbucks when a couple begins a minor spat, a man spills his coffee on his shirt, and another man wanders through the store blaring "Shiny Happy People" on his boom box. Just a random slice of life, you might think. Now suppose all those events (and more) happening again five minutes later. And again five minutes after that. And five minutes after that. You might wonder if your little part of the cosmos had just fallen into some sort of loop. You'd at least take notice.

But that was the idea behind "The Mobius", an hour-long seamless loop of drama played out by a New York group. Improv Everywhere actors, or "agents" as they prefer to be called, specialize in unusual performances in public places in front of unsuspecting audiences. The Starbucks employees weren't in on the secret during the Mobius, but the spontaneous show entertained the customers and gave everyone a story tell -- even if they never understood what had happened.

Charlie Todd, who founded Improv Everywhere in 2001, after a successful night pretending to be a musician in a New York night club, recently published Causing a Scene, the stories behind fourteen pranks his group has staged in recent years. They range from faking a rooftop U2 concert to orchestrating a sudden 5-minute freeze of 200 people in busy Grand Central Station.

There's no law-breaking or protests or hidden meanings to any of Todd's pranks. He merely wants to give people an experience. All the agents stay in character and leave the scene with no explanation. Consider the time he slowly trickled an army of eighty agents into Best Buy wearing royal blue shirts and khaki pants. They didn't pretend to be store employees -- only courteous shoppers who happened to be wearing clothes that resembled the store uniform. Double-takes were the norm that day until all those people "waiting for a friend" filed out again.

The same went for the Anton Chekhov book signing and the Olympic synchronized swimming trial in a city fountain. Improv Everywhere agents just put on public shows when no one realizes it. Usually, the pranks leave everyone smiling. Watch "High Five Escalator" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Abt8aAB-Dr0) -- a very simple Improv Everywhere stunt not mentioned in the book -- and see the glum "going to work" faces turn around in 126 seconds. But sometimes, as in the Amazing Hypnotist, agents left people angry or slightly panicked. Those pranks seem cruel -- amusing only to the performers -- but they are the exception.

The creativity with which Todd and his group approached most events in the book left me chuckling. And wishing I had been there.

Use the link above as a launch pad for other Improv Everywhere videos.

Find more of my reviews at Mostly NF.
2 vote benjfrank | Sep 29, 2009 |
A history, a description, a how-to book of Improv Everywhere pranks. A number of them are extremely funny even just to read about. The stories can be supplemented by the videos taken and available on YouTube. It's a fun and quick read. ( )
  snash | Sep 24, 2009 |
I loved reading about how they put together their different performances, and hope people everywhere become inspired to get involved in this joyous movement. ( )
  infogirl | Sep 17, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Todd, Charlieprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Scordelis, Alexmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Iacobelli, James L.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For every single person who has ever participated in an Improv Everywhere mission. None of this would be possible without you.
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Believe it or not, but U2 - the legendary Irish rockers with more than 170 million albums sold to date - has a lot in common with Improv Everywhere.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Shares behind-the-scenes accounts of pranks by the internationally popular improvisational group, describing the efforts behind some of their endeavors from the annual "No Pants" subway ride to their synchronized swimming show in a public fountain.

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