Story of the No Pants Ride: Improv Everywhere

Story of the No Pants Ride: Improv Everywhere


[Music] CHARLIE TODD: Improv Everywhere, um, kind
of started in the summer of 2001. I had just moved to New York to be an actor,
or to pursue comedy. I, um, was hanging out with a college friend
who remarked that I looked like the musician Ben Folds, so just sort of spontaneously,
and perhaps partly out of boredom, I responded and said, “Hey, let’s see if we can make people
think that I’m Ben Folds tonight.” So we went to a bar in the West Village and
entered separately. I sat at the bar, and five minutes later he
came in and sat at a booth, and he ordered dinner, and ate a whole meal while I drank
at the bar, and after about 30 minutes he came up to me and said, “Oh wow, you’re Ben
Folds. I’m a really big fan. I have all of your albums dating back to the
Ben Folds Five,” you know, “Can I please have an autograph?” So I gave him an autograph, I signed a cocktail
napkin, and he said this loudly enough that other people in the bar overheard and word
sort of started to spread. And pretty quickly other people were asking
for autographs, and people were coming up to me and taking photographs with me. Um. The bartender eventually started giving me
free drinks – it was sort of this crazy experience. At the end of the night I, I realized that
I had to figure out how to leave and figure out how to end the prank. And rather than making a big announcement
and saying like, “Hey, guess what everybody? I moved here last month. You guys are all idiots. You’ve been fooled.” Um, I thought it was better just to sort of
thank them and leave. So that’s what I did. And I got excited about that concept of staging
performances and pranks that were, were fooling something, were changing reality, but were
doing so in a positive way. I think often people get confused by the word
“prank” and sometimes people don’t understand why I use the word “prank” to describe Improv
Everywhere projects because they, they really are intended to make someone’s day, and to
do something that is, you know, funny and unusual and is a positive experience, rather
than a more traditional, um, prank that, you know, one might associate with embarrassing
someone or humiliating someone or angering someone. The real goal is to give somebody a unique
story to tell, and to stage something in a public place – usually here in New York – where
the people who encounter it sort of will never look at that public space the same way. You know, they were walking through Union
Square and then saw 70 performers suddenly appear in the windows of a giant retail building
and then disappear and there’s no explanation for it. [Music] CHARLIE TODD: Here in New York we have to
make things that are, you know, truly out of the ordinary and really spectacular to
get someone to react. And in that first No Pants Subway ride you
can sort of see the girl who’s, you know, reading a book, and she looks up and she sees
me, and I’ve entered the train in my underwear. And there’s a man in a winter coat, but no
pants. You know, that’s weird, but I’m not really
gonna deal with this. When a second guy gets on, then that’s when
she, you know, puts the book away and goes, something’s going on here. I can’t explain what’s going on so I’m gonna
pay better attention. And then she notices some other guys on the
train who are laughing, and that makes her laugh, and then it becomes this shared experience
where, you know, she’s a part of something. Something’s not happening to her, something’s
happening with her. So I like that moment a lot. I think the best Improv Everywhere ideas are
ones that are site specific. Uh, and, for, for me that just comes from
walking around the city and noticing an unusual public space and thinking about how I might
be able to bring some comedy to that space. Um, for example, one morning I was making
the transfer from the E train to the 6 train [Music] and I had to take these, you know, giant escalators
that are in the stations and, uh, it was a very depressing place, it was early in the
morning, um, it was winter, people were, you know, making their commute and making this
cumbersome transfer. We had to sort of wait in line to even get
on this escalator, and I looked around and, and noticed a staircase right next to it,
and came up with an idea called “high-five escalator” where I put a series of actors
holding signs on the stairway [Music] It’s one of my favorite projects that we’ve
done. It was very simple, just five people holding,
you know, sheets of paper, but, um – that project really only works there. It’s not a broad idea that could really happen
anywhere, but a specific idea that works well in one spot. I just think it’s important for people to
realize that it’s, it’s acceptable to go do something because it’s fun. It’s acceptable no matter what age you are
to go play and have a good time. And there doesn’t have to be a reason behind
it. I’ve gotten criticism a lot of like, Okay,
I don’t know why you guys all went out and did this random thing together. Like, what purpose did that serve? Why, why wouldn’t you just go volunteer in
a soup kitchen instead? And, you know, it sort of drives me crazy
because I, I feel like other forms of entertainment don’t get that criticism. You’ll never see like, somebody review a movie
and say, like, “This movie was pretty good, but these people spent like, 10 months working
on this film, and I’m not sure why they weren’t in a soup kitchen for 10 months volunteering,”
you know. Volunteering is great, you know. I have no issues with that at all, and I agree,
people should volunteer for charitable causes as much as they can. And I think it’s just because what we do is,
we do get random people together to do something, and people look at it and say like, “Wow,
I’m impressed that you can get, you know, 300 people to put on tuxedos and go swim,
you know, in the sea at Coney Island. I’m impressed that you can get 4,000 people
together to take their pants off and to do something that is so pointless.” So I think people just look at those large
crowds and go like, “Oh wow, imagine if you could get these crowds together and have them
change the world, you know, by volunteering.” And yeah, that, that would be great. I mean, that’s not what my organization does. I think people look at some of the projects
we do as something that, because it doesn’t have an explicit purpose, then it must be
a waste of time. Um, and that is sort of, that’s the other
criticism is that, you know, you all have too much time on your hands, and that people
we might put on black-tie attire and spend the day at the beach, we have too much time
on our hands. And, you know, we don’t. You know, the people who participate in Improv
Everywhere are normal people from all walks of life, who, they just think that, that doing
that for a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon is a fun way to spend the afternoon. And I agree. I do think it’s important to remember that
it’s okay to go out and do something just because it’s fun. Having pointless fun is relaxing. It, you know, maybe it, it takes away some
stress. You’re able to kind of forget everything else
that’s going on and just go out and do something that’s dumb and silly and fun. And, um, you know, I think more people should
do that. I’m Charlie Todd, and this is Epiphany.

57 thoughts on “Story of the No Pants Ride: Improv Everywhere

  1. I love the idea man! Im all about an efficient world, but we also need happiness to function properly. Keep bringing the smiles and the memories!

  2. This is not pointless. These are the small, unique things; things like this stay on people's minds and it gives people a reason or a purpose to be happy throughout the day. These give people a chance to converse with each other (like in the subway, those two both experienced it and are emotionally relating with each other); conversation starters, if you will. These small things have a big impact on people's lives that are not shown physically, but emotionally.
    You're doing a good job, Mr. Todd.

  3. My comment came too strong… Was not my intention. I agree it feels good to put a smile on someones face. But, probably I'm the kind of person who thinks this is bizarre waste of time…

  4. Rob wants to give you a high five…. After they gave Rob the high five, they should have a sign saying "Rob has just been the toilet and he didn't wash his hands."

  5. The fact that it puts a smile on people's faces is exactly the reason it's not a waste of time, like any other entertainment! 🙂

  6. Maybe this is why I'm reserved about this… People without pants getting on the subway, will make me look around for the hidden cam or/and call the cops… Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of such videos like the freeze in the trainstation in NY, or the piano on the stairway. But this guy, in my eyes is nothing special.

  7. Regarding the high five bit. One afternoon at a comic convention (housed in the center where very important people do very serious work) there are 3 floors of dual escalators, and after getting to my floor and needed to go back down I decided to stick my hand out for a high five. I got 2. Then I rode back up and did it again. I got 10. 3 hours later, there was easily 30 of us, riding up and down the escalators getting high fives from everyone business man and toddler alike. That was 2 years ago.

  8. The 2013 No Pants Subway Ride just happened this past weekend in New York. Did anyone participate this year? We want to hear your stories of helping Charlie Todd's prank tradition continue!

  9. The original No Pants Subways Ride was in New York, but it actually happened in cities all over the world on Sunday. The phenomenon is spreading! Pantsless people unite!

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