Sweet 16 on the Subway

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/05/11/sweet-16-on-the-subway.html

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Hey, I can’t wait for the day I run across Improv Everywhere on the subway or in a park.


suddenly it’s all surprises, hugs, kisses, music, dancing, and cupcakes.

Muy Fabuloso!

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Yeesh. Yeah, don’t really get why the author’s take on this is so nasty. Improv Everywhere is pretty well-known for pulling stunts like this in the city, like the annual pantsless subway ride. Everyone knows that they’re staged by actors, as they state (you’re not outing anyone by exposing it as “fake” here), but the fun part is the reactions and participation of the unsuspecting regular folks.

Suppose it’d be more fun if they just found someone who was actually having a birthday that day to include, but that’s actually a bit beside the point - some strangers were friendly and joyful enough to play along with this weird thing for a minute, and that’s kind of nice. That’s all, really.


I can’t help but feel like this organization creates feel good moments that nice, random folks contribute to - only to feel duped later on.

“You won’t believe… I just helped throw a party on the SUBWAY! It was great! I feel so good about my city! I…oh…there I am on BoingBoing. I feel so used…”

It’s like the ultimate point is to make the participants feel stupid.

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There’s an episode of This American Life called Mind Games about an event they staged where a small band was playing a gig and that evening they essentially created a massive amount of “fans” to make these guys feel like rock-stars. However it gets a bit more problematic when you hear from the band and the aftermath of discovering that this one magical night of theirs was actually false. The band members have varying reactions, some positive, some quite negative, but I think that it’s worth considering that, as well as Improv Everywhere’s complete lack of any remorse when faced with the fact that one of the band members fell into a deep depression after the fact.


I think that’s the rub. Actors doing a stunt for an actual birthday? That’s kind of fun. Actors staging a party for no particular reason? Also could be fun. Actors pretending that this surprise party is a surprise party just to get unsuspecting reactions? That feels kind of manipulative.


Really? Eh, I just don’t know… it would be hard not to notice the cameras that are there the whole time, and they all sign a release form. There might be a bit of a letdown at that point, but the notion that anyone’s being duped, or would be surprised to see that the video is in fact released online, just doesn’t really add up.

Clearly, the ultimate point is to get views on youtube, so perhaps the participants are being used along the way. But they’re not the butt of the joke - if anything, they’re the heroes. It just doesn’t seem like the worst form of internet exploitation that we could be griping about. It’s a slight variation of the decades-old Candid Camera model.

Interesting. Yeah, that sounds like a much dirtier trick, because it’s toying with the band members’ feelings about their careers and the level of success of the venture to which they are currently devoting their lives. I’d agree that that should be out of bounds. I would separate it from a momentary celebration of a stranger’s birthday, of course. I have no interest in defending every single thing that this group does, I just thought that the irate tone of this post seemed way out of whack with what is actually happening in this little stunt.


Yep, there’s that

At least they’re not releasing Zyklon B on the train!

Sorry but I think lowest common denominator comparisons are not relevant.

I just think they could do pretty much what they’re doing and make it somehow slightly more positive. All of their stunts come with an edge of having gotten a bunch of rubes to play along.

Just one man’s take on it.


Welcome to Donald Trump’s America, where even the birthday parties are FAKE NEWS!



That’s totally fair, even bearing what I said in mind it did seem like an odd slant for the article.

Yeah, yours and everybody else’s, as your audience is captive and the police/regulators can’t get to you. This doesn’t make you unique or creative, just opportunistic. Your competition includes angry preachers, acrobats, bustlers, and the homeless, who all come in a line behind you as you traipse off the enjoy your next hi-larious prank.

Guess what “venue” is the audience’s least favorite place to be subjected to not-even-opt-out “performances?”

This is one of the funner ideas they’ve had, but I would have enjoyed it immensely more knowing it was friends genuinely doing something for a friend as a one-time surprise. Not as part of a series of efforts at being escalatingly annoying.


In the end one of the most damaging things to a person is being lied to. And in the end, regardless of the good intentions, Improv Everywhere is lying to people.


Isn’t all theatre lying?

Why the scare quotes? I get that you disapprove, but questioning their legitimacy as an acting troupe is unnecessary.

And given that Boing Boing has a history of positive posts about Improve Everywhere, I find this post surprising.


I like Improv Everywhere…and yes all theater is deception on some level. There is a difference though when the audience is “in” on the deception and when they are part of it.

I didn’t go watch Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 thinking it was a documentary.

These push the envelope: https://www.pinkink.media/list-of-mockumentaries-from-discovery-and-animal-planet/
And there were of course people who thought these mockumentaries were real.

I guess its wrong to end up one of these guys IMO.


I agree, but I had to play devil’s advocate.


I’m with you…and I see both sides. I have Causing a Scene and like I said…I like this troupe. I do not however like when people do not know the scoop.

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Improv Everywhere.
Sounds like a good idea.
But when will it die?

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Fair enough, throw out the lowest common denominator comparison. It was only a reaction to the author’s outrage over something that just seems pretty unremarkable to me.

I just don’t see them as rubes - the overall takeaway from videos like this, if there is one, seems to be “hey, random people are kind of nice.” For those of us who spend every morning and evening commute glowering unspeakingly at strangers on the subway who are doing the same, it’s mildly fun to see the social barriers broken down and be reminded that, actually, they’re mostly decent humans like us. On the whole, that seems positive to me. Like I said, perhaps it would be even better if they managed to do that with less deception.

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