Todd created Improve Everywhere in 2001, after convincing a group of bar patrons that he was musician Ben Folds. “As an actor new to the city, I discovered I could create my own theatre rather than waiting around for someone to give me stage time,” Todd wrote.
Since its inception, Improv Everywhere has performed over 70 missions involving Todd’s professional “agents” (actors) and thousands of untrained civilians. Everyone gathers to a central location and then follows simple instructions (go shirtless in an Abercrombie, function in slow-mo in a Home Depot) that generally cause some sort of cheery raucous.
While Improv Everywhere is well-known among New Yorkers (the annual No Pants! Subway Ride is always a big hit), it’s only recently penetrated outside of a small network of performance ariststs in the know and savvy locals. An appearance on the Shotime version of Ira Glass’ This American Life garnered some mainstream attention, but for all intents and purposes no one really knew what Improv Everywhere was until they hit it big on YouTube. Through online video the group’s Frozen Grand Central has become an international sensation: ###
Since this video was posted on the IE YouTube channel in January 2008, it’s been seen 11+ million times and spawned at least 59 freeze events organized in 29 different countries. Talk about a viral video.
While some have been quick to group these “missions” as part of the recent flash mob craze, Todd believes there’s a distinction between the two. “Improv Everywhere was created about 2 years before the ‘flash mob’ fad…We’re out to prove that a prank doesn’t have to involve humiliation or embarrassment; it can simply be about making someone laugh, smile, or stop to notice the world around them.”
This simple goal – to provoke a smile, free of humiliation – is evident in all of Todd’s work and is driving force behind the group’s undeniable adorableness. Duplicitous at times, his well-documented stories always aim to make people happy. Mission accomplished.