Thursday, May 06, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 92 (5/6) -- Causing a Scene by Todd and Scordelis

There are two main types of pranks -- the kind that are fun for everyone involved, and the ones that create humor for some by humiliating, exploiting, or frightening others. Every talk-radio host whose ever hosted a "morning zoo" is an expert in the second type, as are most of the fratboys of our nation -- overgrown and otherwise.

The first type is, of course, better in all possible ways, but it is much rarer. Improv Everywhere, a New York based group that creates odd scenes, moments, or experiences in public, always aims to create pranks of the first type. (Certain law-enforcement officials, assistant managers, and other officious types may disagree about their degree of success in particular pranks.) They're most famous for the annual No Pants! Subway Ride, but have also recently taken to staging musical numbers in public -- their work is surprising and wonderful, as if throwing onlookers and bystanders into a stranger and more interesting universe.

Charlie Todd -- the founder and head prankster of Improv Everywhere -- wrote this book, subtitled Extraordinary Pranks in Ordinary Places with Improv Everywhere, with Alex Scordelis, a fellow IE "agent" and professional writer, and William Morrow published it last year, either as a catalog of some impressive IE pranks from their first few years or as an inspirational manual for similar groups around the world.

Causing a Scene details a baker's dozen IE pranks, from several years of the No Pants! extravaganza to a small-scale prank on a single cabbie to a fake U2 concert on Todd's apartment building's roof to a bookstore reading and signing by famous dead playwright Anton Checkov. Some of those events caused consternation in various tight-assed authority types, and a few even led (briefly) to arrests. So these are not perfect Type One pranks -- not all of them, at least. But the intent was always there: IE's events are outbreaks of whimsy and joy in a bland, workaday world, and just reading about them goes a long way to restore a lapsed faith in mankind.

Even for those of us who don't expect to ever be involved with pranks like this -- whether you're a confirmed misanthrope like me, or for some other reason -- Causing a Scene is a refreshing and inspiring book. Todd and his compatriots have gone to a lot of time, trouble, and expense just to have fun -- and to inject a bit of fun and surrealism into other people's lives along the way. IE is, as they say these days, entirely made of Win.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
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