Improv Everywhere’s Charlie Todd describes what it takes to get strangers to act in unison, even if it’s just for fun.
FORTUNE — Charlie Todd did the starving actor thing when he first moved to New York at 22 in 2001. On the side, he and his buddies staged pranks in public spaces, trying to make people laugh.
Over a decade later, those public performances — and the organization that he built to pull them off — have become Todd’s main source of income. His group, Improv Everywhere, is a long-form improvisation troupe that organizes events like the annual “No Pants Subway Ride” in New York, and other great feats of public absurdity. In 2008, for example, Improv Everywhere coordinated 200 people to freeze in place, at the same time, for five minutes in Grand Central Station.
Todd has written a book called Causing a Scene, published in 2009. Now he speaks at colleges and universities and even consults other organizations about what makes a successful viral phenomenon. He took some time to explain to Fortune how an unknown aspiring actor gained the power to get 4,000 people to simultaneously take off their pants.
How do you get so many people to agree to do one thing at the same time?
I’ve developed those skills over the last 11 years. The projects I do are open to everyone, so I have to design them in a way that anyone can participate. In the No Pants Subway Ride, for example, the two requirements to participate are the willingness to take off your pants in public and the ability to keep a straight face about it.
And lots of people can do that?
About 4,000 this past year.
Yeah, you know, when I first started Improv Everywhere, the people who participated in it with me were actors or comedians. It didn’t occur to me that someone who was, say, a lawyer would want to do this.
A lot of people who participate in Improv Everywhere events see it as a confidence builder — as sort of a personal challenge to try something new and stretch themselves. That was really never my perspective. I was a performer already, so to me, it’s really no big deal to take my pants off on a subway car if it’s being done for a reason.
Do you think it helps the group’s appeal that the events aren’t mean-spirited like other pranks?
That has always been the goal. I really believe in the golden rule of the prank: any prank should be as much fun for the person getting pranked.
There have been some challenges as we’ve grown. It’s just not practical to always do things with thousands of people. I have to sort of evaluate every idea and consider if it should be open to everyone or would be better served with fewer people.
It’s been important for our longevity to constantly come up with new ideas. As long as it feels fresh every time we do a new project, we’ll remain relevant.
What can companies looking to up their social media game learn from what you do?
Brands are turning to web video and social media and realizing that’s where the audience is. The main advice I have for people trying to make content online in conjunction to a brand is to not make commercials, but instead to realize how important it is to create really exciting content first. There have been examples of brands sponsoring someone who’s already doing something awesome who can then do something even cooler with a brand attached.
But Improv Everywhere has remained brand-less, yes?
I think a big appeal of our projects is that there is no agenda behind them — it’s comedy for comedy’s sake. People approach me a lot about doing things that would have a message and be more activist-based. I think the tools I use with Improv Everywhere are tools that activists could certainly use to great effect. But if you have 200 people freeze in place, that seems like magic. If you have people freeze in place with t-shirts that say “U.S.out of Afghanistan Now,” it’s a clever protest, but people say, “Oh, I know what that is, it’s a protest.” It doesn’t feel as much like magic.
What has Improv Everywhere taught you about leadership?
How important it is to maintain the trust that you have with those you’re leading. Over the years … I’ve realized that 95% of the people who show up I don’t know personally. Still, they’re trusting it’s going to be fun, well thought-out, and organized. This means that I can have a few thousand people pretty much do whatever is asked of them. If I were to ever do that in a way that’s exploitative or not a good use of their time, it would be my last because it would break that trust.
- Employment News Paper 5 May | Search and Read PDF Online ... May 20, 2013Find and Read Employment News Paper 5 May free Download, ...www.glembook.com/pdf/employment-news-paper-5-may.html […](author unknown)
- Fast-food workers in Detroit walk off job, disrupt business ... May 16, 2013Visit Crain's Chicago Business for business news and analysis related to the ever -changing employment picture in Illinois and the U.S..www.chicagobusiness.com/.../fast-food-workers-in-detroit-wal... […](author unknown)
- Chicago Best Places to Work, Workplace Features, Employment ... May 16, 2013Find the best places to work in Chicago and why employees think so along with ... Best local business news – essential to doing business in Chicago; Lists, data ...www.chicagobusiness.com/section/ISSUE02?date=20130511 […](author unknown)
- Cruise Ship Employment
- Earn Income At Home
- Employment Advice On Videos
- Employment Web Sites
- Hazardous Materials Removal?
- How To Become A Bounty Hunter
- How To Get Through An Interview
- How To Start A Carpet Cleaning Business
- How To Start A Lawn Mowing Business
- Interesting Links
- Pool Cleaning Business
- Self Employment Loan
- Self-Employment Ideas That Worked!
- Summer Vacation Jobs
- Technical & Vocational School Directory
- The Complete Guide To Working For Yourself
- Typing Jobs
- Window Washing Business
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- AuPair directory site - oDesk May 23, 2013Hi guys I need a aupair directory site where aupairs and families can find each other needs to be a site likehttp://www.aupair-world.net quality of site MUST be best Design of the site must be cleaner and newer style that what aupair-world.net currently isBudget: $750Starting On: May 23, 2013Ending On: June 6, 2013Posted On: May 23, 2013 02:12 UTCID: 2025710 […]
- need a site like aupair-world.net - oDesk May 23, 2013need a site likehttp://www.aupair-world.net quality of site MUST be best Design of the site must be cleaner and newer style that what aupair-world.net currently isBudget: $750Starting On: May 23, 2013Ending On: May 23, 2013Posted On: May 23, 2013 02:08 UTCID: 202571042Category: Web Development > Web ProgrammingSkills: Country: AustraliaHours Billed: 657.8 […]
- need a site like aupair-world.net - oDesk May 23, 2013need a site likehttp://www.aupair-world.net quality of site MUST be best Design of the site must be cleaner and newer style that what aupair-world.net currently isBudget: $750Starting On: May 23, 2013Ending On: May 23, 2013Posted On: May 23, 2013 02:03 UTCID: 202571030Category: Web Development > Web ProgrammingSkills: Country: AustraliaHours Billed: 657.8 […]
- Code Igniter Web Application Troubleshooting and Development - oDesk May 23, 2013Hello! I have a current web application developed (online school) that is about 70-80% and I need someone to pick it up and finish the work plus fix and add some minimal styling. The site is developed in: 1. CodeIgniter 1a. Zend Framework 2. All PHP 3. Site is on my server MYSQL I need a programmer who can: 1. Troubleshoot currently developed website 2. Adva […]
- Wordpress Developer - oDesk May 23, 2013This is an ongoing Wordpress position. New sites need to be built and existing sites maintained on a continuing basis. Must have at least 3 years of Wordpress experience. Must be a GREAT communicator of status and get back to me in a timely fashion. It won't matter how much you know Wordpress if you don't communicate well with us! This person MUST […]
- Link Exchange Script Needed - oDesk May 23, 2013Hello, I'm in need of a simple php/mysql link exchange script. I want users to be able to grab my link and place it on their website. In exchange for placing my link on their website, script will place their link in bottom of my website page. Please view the following example of what I need: http://utoo.me/57lNk Very basic but I need this script to be 1 […]
- Gravity Forms Expert (In Wordpress) - oDesk May 23, 2013Hi, I have a 'Gravity Forms' pricing calculator installed on a get a quote page. I need the following items completed: 1. Paypal payments has been integrated but I need to have it only charge 5% of the total amount (not 100%). This amount needs to be editable incase I need to change it to another amount (eg 15%). 2. I need to have some images added […]
- Web Based Flash Creator - oDesk May 23, 2013I am looking for a web based tool developed in Flash or even maybe HTML-5. It will have to allow a cell phone case template be loaded, the ability to add a photo and resize it, add text, etc and have sample websites below. If you have developed something like this, please send me sample work. Sample Sites: http://www.belkin.com/us/custom-cases;jsessionid=77B […]
- Web Master - oDesk May 23, 2013Project 1 - Recreate http://www.sevenpoint2.com/products.html page on http://peakhealthinc.com/alkalinity-products/ just the main section of the pageBudget: $100Starting On: May 23, 2013Ending On: May 30, 2013Posted On: May 23, 2013 00:44 UTCID: 202570846Category: Web Development > Web ProgrammingSkills: Country: United StatesHours Billed: 28.67click to a […]
- Wordpress: 2 Quick CSS Problems - oDesk May 23, 20131) http://intuition-designs.com/SPO/news-events/ 2) http://intuition-designs.com/SPO/press/ Need to make these pages look like the below JPEGs using CSS: http://images.intuition-designs.com/revisions Please add me on Skype: intuition_designs. Must be completed right now. Wordpress experts audition for future large jobs with Intuition (www.intuition-designs.c […]
- Amazon.com Wishlist Scraping Page - oDesk May 23, 2013We need to build a very simple script that collects the data from an Amazon.com wishlist into a MySQL database. We want was much data as we can get, but we NEED to have at least the following product attributes: Product name Product Brand Amazon URL Product Description Product Features Main Image Price Number of reviews Average rating (number of stars) We […]
- api for verticalvelocity in combination with stamps.com api - oDesk May 23, 2013Addition of vertical velocity api for the purposes of combing it with stamps.com api to notify user that a package has been shipped. after the stamp is created and printed 1) Add user to "SHIPPED" list 2) it will auto email the user based on "ship_template.txt" SEPERATE Uses of API non related to stamps.com 1) when user submits informatio […]
- Help correcting links & a few customised backend for my responsive site - 99.9% done ( a few hrs work ) - oDesk May 23, 2013Hi, I have a responsive site that needs some links fixing & a few things added to the customised back end. The site is complete but a few things to fix ( a few hours for someone who can work with Pagelines, responsive sites & customised back ends ) Please only message me if you can work with the above Regards, SuperficialBudget: $30Starting On: May 2 […]
- Development of simple web form and integration with existing mysql-based software. - oDesk May 23, 2013Web app must integrate with existing web app and MySql database. Web app must be Firefox 16 compatible. The work flow would be as follows: 1. User weighs an item 2. User scans a barcode (ItemID value) on the item (usb scanner instantly types barcode number and presses return) 3. Scanner inputs the ItemID that was scanned and moves the active field to the wei […]
- Web master - oDesk May 23, 2013Job Type : Part time , On going Job Grade : Web developer/ SEO Career Level : Experienced (Non-Manager) Education : College / Diploma Category : IT/Software Development Job Description : Helping Canadians achieve their dream of achieving the potential of their rental investment or finding their dream rental property by turning the complex world of property r […]
- prestashop 1.5 expert nep\;pd - oDesk May 23, 2013presta I have prestashop 184.108.40.206 installed. Here is a list of things I want to get done. Fix my product indexing issues. Install a couple of modules. make sure prestashop is working correcting I need a fixed quoteStarting On: May 23, 2013Ending On: Posted On: May 23, 2013 00:08 UTCID: 202570760Category: Web Development > Web ProgrammingSkills: Country: Un […]
- PHP & MYSql developer needed (back & front end) exp. with jquery & APIs also. - oDesk May 23, 2013We are looking for a PHP & MYSql developer to work with us on our new project. Someone who is: - Experience in PHP to an intermediate level - Experienced in MYSql to an intermediate level - Excellent XML skills; particularly forms. - Worked with APIs; E.G. Nexmo - A good understanding of JQuery We are looking for a developer to build a few simple lead ca […]
- Anonymous on Interesting Links
- Anonymous on Interesting Links
- Anonymous on Interesting Links
- Anonymous on Interesting Links
- Anonymous on Personality development – Tips for creating a good first impression