Causing A Scene: Extraordinary Pranks in Ordinary Places with Improv Everywhere Hardcover – Apr 30 2009
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“[Causing a Scene], like the group itself, is inventive, entertaining, and frequently surprising.” (Booklist)
About the Author
Charlie Todd is the founder of Improv Everywhere, producing, directing, performing, and documenting the group's work for over seven years. He is also a teacher and performer of improv comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
"Causing a Scene" catalogs some of the work of Improv Everywhere, a group of people devoted to, well, causing a scene--in a word, pranks. What if, for example, 80 people showed up at Best Buy wearing blue shirts and khakis? Or suppose seven people on a subway train weren't wearing pants? What if the next year there were year there were 30 and then 40 and the number kept growing each year? These, apparently, were the sort of questions that the authors thought needed answers. So they set out to answer them.
The thing that separates the "missions" in this book from the realm of the ordinary practical joke is their sheer inventiveness and the fact that there is nothing malicious here. At their finest, the members of the Improv Everywhere are simply providing free entertainment for the lucky few who happen to be present at, say, the Olympic tryout of the New York City Synchronized Swimming Team--in about four inches of water in a public fountain.
The book describes thirteen missions, devoting around 20 pages to each one. The authors share the genesis of the idea, the planning, the execution, and the reactions. This project--by which I mean the book, not the missions--strikes me as a risky proposition. Describing jokes never works, so would describing pranks? The answer is a resounding yes, at least for most of the chapters. My particular favorites were the Starbucks mission (in which the same five-minute scene is repeated twelve times in a row à la Groundhog Day), the live book-signing by the great, great, and dead Anton Chekhov, and the synchronized swimming tryout.
The members of Improv Everywhere are carrying on the best tradition of hoaxing with all the creativity of Robert Benchley or P. T. Barnum but with far gentler motives than the latter. The book truly made me sense what it might have been like to be present at some of these wonderful missions.
I should add that the book raises some sociological or psychological questions about the way society treats difference. Some of the missions end with police involvement and raise issues that would have fascinated Michel Foucault. At one store, for instance, forty agents took over forty listening stations in a music store. The police were called. This response and some of the others detailed in the book are probably ideal for an enterprising graduate student's thesis. "Causing a Scene," however, keeps things light and funny. Only two points keep me from giving this five stars. First, I like to reserve that ranking for the truly outstanding, the work that will be remembered for not just years but decades. Second, there are some points at which the book could have been edited to reduce repetition, though I suppose with the repetition, the book is something one can read 20 pages at a time in multiple sittings.
This book compiles thirteen of IE's "missions," describing the event in great detail, from the inception to the actual incident. They've included some of my favorites - the book signing by (the very dead) Chekhov, the Best Buy employee army, and the subway ride sans slacks. All the agents do a great job and the reactions from members of the public are priceless. Maybe one day I'll be lucky enough to be in New York when IE strikes!
As far as downsides to the book, I would have to say that it is a fairly small book, the paper quality isn't great, and the pictures are black and white. But I consider these relatively small issues and I feel the book is fairly-priced.
If you're looking for a good laugh, definitely check out this book (and their site at improveverywhere dot com to see more missions). Be sure to leave it out on your coffee table so friends and family can enjoy it as well!
Whether or not you're already familiar with Improv Everywhere, this book will amuse in an easy-to-read, lighthearted way. Five stars.
Most of the material in the book has already been on the website in some form, but it is expanded upon and better put together for the book. I believe that fans won't really even mind that the material has appeared on the website because they will enjoy being able to read and share the funny experiences and stories.
My son would love to figure out how to get to New York and find himself in the middle of one of these extraordinary pranks!
But who cares?
The deviltry they've been up to with Improv Everywhere is hilarious. The intent is obvious: improvisational theatre everywhere.
Recounted here - in sometimes too much detail - are the plans and execution of each of their events. Some involve just a few people, others many more.
For example, one of my favorites involves a reading of his own works by Anton Chekhov, who had been dead only for a century or so. There's a bit of irony here because Anton Chekov and even his mother were notorious pranksters themselves. The idea was simple: a wonderfully bearded and wild-haired John "Wimpy" Ward was found taking classes at a local (New York) improv theatre. He became Chekhov. The stunt was staged at a Barnes & Noble and several dozen people gathered to hear Anton Chekhov read his works. The stunt went off successfully - and hilariously.
Another stunt, that you may have seen on YouTube or on television, involves people riding the subway. Pretty prosaic, eh? Not when they do it without pants!
How about walking into the men's room at a McDonald's - and find a tuxedoed attendant, complete with a collection of toiletries to aid in your grooming?
These people know how to have fun and the book can produce chuckles. It would produce more, however, if the authors could actually write well and the production values were higher. I thought the writing was kind of stilted and that the primary author puts way too much of his ego on display. The book is physically small, the paper of poor pulp variety and the many black and white photos are muddy and difficult to view.
Those quibbles aside, this is a fun book and a worthy read. It's also the kind of book that you may be inclined to lend out. If you do, you'll probably never see it again - but you'll have made someone else happy.
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