The merry pranksters

The merry pranksters

A unique American group specialises in performing unexpected stunts in public. They're in Hong Kong, so get ready for some harmless fun,

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Improv Everywhere's "twins" stunt on a train
Improv Everywhere's "twins" stunt on a train
Photos: Improv Everywhere
Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, means mega sales and noisy crowds at department stores across the US. But a small "dollar store" in New York wasn't expecting a mad dash - so employees were shocked to find a crowd of people camped outside, waiting for the shop to open.

It was all just a prank - the latest light-hearted stunt by Improv Everywhere. The New York-based group, founded by actor and comedian Charlie Todd, is most famous for staging the annual No Pants Subway Ride. On one winter's day every year since 2002, bemused commuters around the world have witnessed people riding trains in their underwear. Other pranks have included members of the group showing up on a beach in September in tuxedos and evening wear instead of bathing suits, and freezing in place at the exact moment in New York's Grand Central Station.

Now Todd is ready to pull some stunts in Hong Kong. We don't want to give the details away, but expect something cool and fun this week at Pacific Place in Admiralty.

The goal of Improv Everywhere is to show that a prank doesn't have to humiliate or embarrass people. Todd's "missions", as he calls his stunts, seek to make people laugh or stop to notice the world around them.

The idea was born in 2001. Todd was in a bar with friends, and on a whim pretended to be musician Ben Folds. For three hours, he signed autographs, posed for photos, and accepted free drinks without revealing the hoax.

The experience taught him the creative potential of public spaces, including shopping malls, trains, and pavements. "Public spaces can and should be a venue for comedy and art," he says. "You should not need somebody's permission to do something fun and harmless.

"As a comedian and actor fresh out of college and new to New York, I discovered I could create my own performances rather than wait around for someone to give me a chance."

His core team - or "senior agents", as he calls them - are a handful of professional comedians Todd met while studying. But when it comes to larger "missions" (his No Pants Subway Ride this year involved 4,000 people), he invites like-minded citizens to join in.

Fun or chaos? Todd says he doesn't seek to break the law, but at times he's landed in trouble.

In 2005, rock band U2 held a concert in New York. Todd staged a fake U2 gig on his rooftop - which happened to be just across from the real venue - an hour before the actual concert. Thousands of fans stopped dead in their tracks on their way to the stadium.

The police intervened and Todd was arrested. "We've been asked to leave before a mission is completed, but that was the only time we had been handcuffed," he recalls, adding it's still one of his favourite pranks.

What started spontaneously has since become a global phenomenon. The video of his "Frozen Grand Central Station" stunt has gone viral.

"We have people in hundreds of cities around the world replicating it, doing their own versions. We are very proud," he says.

To witness Improv Everywhere's in action, hang around the area outside Starbucks at Pacific Place at 12.30pm and 4.30pm from December 6-9 and 13-16.


Black tie beach day

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