Hometown: Columbia, SC
CRACKED: What is Improv Everywhere?
Improv Everywhere is a New York City-based prank collective that causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places.
CRACKED: How'd you come up with the idea for Improv Everywhere?
Back in 2001 when I first moved to NYC, a couple of friends and I thought would be funny for me to go into a bar and pose as singer Ben Folds (who I don't really resemble). I sat at the bar by myself for a half hour, and then my friends came up to me and asked for autographs. By the end of the night I was drinking on the house and girls were giving me their phone numbers. I got tired of telling the story, so I put it online. Once I did that, I had a prank website, so I figured I should do more pranks. Once I started taking classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, I met tons of like-minded folks, and pretty soon I built up a nice army of people, allowing me to do more large-scale pranks.
CRACKED: How did it all go so terribly awry a couple of weeks ago?
One cop made a poor decision. I had 160 people taking their pants off on the train in a highly coordinated manner. I worked for weeks organizing the prank and it was running like clockwork with my team leaders managing their assigned pant-less brigades. Folks on the train were laughing and smiling, and everyone was having fun. One cop randomly ran into us and decided he needed to stop the train and call for backup, despite the fact that no laws were being broken. It's not illegal to wear underwear in public.
CRACKED: Is this the fist time that you've run into resistance?
No, last May I organized a fake U2 concert on a roof across the street from Madison Square Garden hours before the real U2 concert [there]. Just as U2 was shut down by the cops when they famously played their rooftop gig in Los Angeles in 1987, we too were busted. It was perfect. Eight of us got tickets for "unreasonable noise," but the judge threw them out.
CRACKED: What has been the most awkward/difficult premise for you and the other Improv Everywhere crew to keep up?
I honestly can't think of anything. Most of my senior members have so much experience improvising onstage at the UCB, that we're pretty much prepared for anything. We all have the talent of being able to stay in character no matter what comes our way.
CRACKED: Improv has some very specific rules that all players have to follow, like the rule that everyone must agree with everyone else. What happens when you have a member who's not in on it/ doesn't agree with the other players? Is it really possible to do improv with pedestrians?
Well, Improv Everywhere is not really the best name for the group. The kind of improv I teach and perform at UCB heavily influences our Improv Everywhere pranks, but they are two separate things. We try to play things as real as possible with our pranks. For example, at our recent Suicide Jumper mission, we played out the circumstances as if our "jumper" on the four-foot ledge was really in danger. Everything about the scenario was absolutely played real except for the height of the ledge.
CRACKED: Lots of famous comedians come from the world of improv. Is there anyone that you think would have really helped a prank you've done (barring them being recognized by the people on the street)?
Andy Milonakis, of MTV2 fame, participated in one of the No Pants Subway Rides. This was before he was on TV. In terms of famous comedians, I would've loved to have been able to do something with Andy Kaufman. I'm still holding on the belief that he faked his own death.
CRACKED: If the world was your stage and you had unlimited funding, what would be your dream prank?
I'm starting to get organized on a global level this year. I want to start attempting things that take place in multiple cities at the same time, all over the globe. I don't think I've figured out my dream prank yet. I just keep trying to create funny things that hopefully make others happy.
Charlie Todd teaches and peforms at the UCB Theatre in New York. See him every Saturday night at 10:30 with his team Reuben Williams.
Read more about the subway pants incident here.