Improv Outside the Box

Professional Prankster Spills the Beans


Published: April 3, 2008

High school reunions are slightly awkward for most people, but for Charlie Todd, telling his former classmates that he now does pranks for a living was pretty hilarious. As founder of the NYC’s Improv Everywhere, he and his agents have been going undercover to “cause scenes of chaos and joy in public places” since August 2001. Todd attended his 10-year reunion back in February, one month after successfully completing “Frozen Grand Central,” during which 207 New Yorkers confused those who passed through Grand Central by freezing in place inside the station for five minutes. Todd’s a busy guy—his group is responsible for NYC’s annual No Pants Subway Ride—but he gave The Observer some of his time to talk about what exactly it is that he does.

The Observer: It’s awesome that your pranks are so light-hearted and positive, while at the same time so awe-inspiring and hilarious. What motivates you to do what you do?

Charlie Todd: I just like to come up with ideas (on my own, with friends, or via some random person on the Internet) that I think are hilarious and awesome and then figure out how to make them happen. That’s my motivation. I do things that I think are funny and that I think are awesome. Hopefully others think so as well.

The Observer: Your No Pants Subway Ride and freeze-prank at Grand Central have gotten you lots of attention—how did you come up with these ideas, and what was the process of putting them into action like?

CT: No Pants started as a simple idea in 2002—we did it with seven people. I just wanted to see how people would react to a series of guys getting on a train at different stops in their underwear. You can see the results in the 2002 video. It’s probably the funniest video we have. It grew and grew and had 900 people this past January. The freeze in place thing was something we did at a Home Depot in 2006 and then reprised it in Grand Central since it was a much cooler, open location. It’s an incredibly simple idea and takes no effort at all to pull off, which is why it’s been done in 13 other countries the past two weeks.

The Observer: If you could pull any prank in any city in the world what would it entail?

CT: I can’t really say what my ultimate prank would be as I haven’t thought of it yet. I do things once I think of them, which is why we’ve done so many.

The Observer: What is the funniest thing you’ve ever witnessed?

CT: I saw a Pikachu helium balloon stuck to the 100-foot-tall ceiling of Shakespeare’s Church (where he is buried.) That is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.

The Observer: How did you get started in improv, and what advice do you have for a kid looking to head down that path? How can students at Fordham get involved with Improv Everywhere?

CT: I did improv in high school and college and then signed up for a Level 1 class at [Upright Citizen’s Brigade (UBC)] when I moved here. If you are interested in comedy at all, you have to take Level 1 at UCB. No question. Best choice I ever made. In terms of getting in