Improv Everywhere is a NYC based prank collective that was started by Charlie Todd in August 2001. The first No Pants Subway Ride was held in 2002 with seven participants. The number involved this year is still to be determined as 59 cities across 27 countries took part last Sunday in what is now a cultural phenomenon.
At 3pm in New York City over 4,000 people met at six different locations around the city. I showed up 20 minutes before the appointed time at Foley Square, which is just down the road from my place in Little Italy and also happens to be the center of the justice system in NYC.
By 3pm approximately 1,500 people filled the square and cheered as Charlie Todd took to the megaphone. He apologized for not feeling well and expressed gratitude that so many people had shown up. He also noted that over 15,000 people had replied to the Mexico City NPSR Facebook Page.
He asked people to sit or squat down if this was their first year. About one quarter of the people squatted. He then asked people who had been once before to squat. And then carried on through the years until most people were squatting. The next question led to the oldest participant, a 78 year old who’d never been before beat out a 77 year old guy who’d also been last year. The youngest was a 6 month old baby.
We were then divided into groups depending on which quadrant of months we were born in. The first 3 months made a group, the second 3 months made a different group etc etc. we were then divided by phone numbers until the groups were only 4 or 5 people strong. Each sub group of 4 or 5 were assigned a subway car to travel in.
We were told to remove our pants and put them into our bags as soon as the train doors closed from the preceding station, not to talk about what we were doing or act like it was a big joke. If asked, it was suggested we convey confusion and tell the person asking we felt too warm so had removed the pants, or simply forgot to put them on this morning. Or some other strange reason. But not the truth. And always to be delivered with a straight face.
After last minute instructions conveyed by the megaphones, the four large groups were sent onto the different train lines that headed north to the 59th St station from the City Hall area. At 59th St we all started south again as the plan was for everyone on the No Pants Subway Ride to meet at the Union Square station on 14th St. at 5pm.
People on the subway were laughing, confused, concerned, delighted, dismayed, frightened, blank and you could certainly see a fair number of New Yorkers shrugging to themselves and ignoring the chaos around them.
Two female friends of mine told me later they had broken away from the packs and travelled on their own into Queens where nobody else was travelling with no pants apart from them. And they got much stronger reactions. People got up and moved away from them. Changed carriages. Were seriously disturbed by the sight of two cool girls wearing nothing below their waists but underwear. And ignoring the fact they were so underdressed.
Union Square station at 5pm was a complete madhouse as approximately 4,000 riders arrived around the same time. The Police Captain wandering around with the megaphone looked like he would much rather be somewhere else. I asked a couple of the policemen if I could take pictures of them with some of the riders and they immediately backed away saying their captain was in a bad mood and would nail them for being too friendly.
The Police were generally cool but kept trying to herd the hordes out of the station and in the end succeeded in pushing them out into Union Square. Where it was very much like Occupy Wall Street all over again
“Mind check” was a common call to grab the attention of the crowd. A lot of people got up on dustbins and were encouraged to share their stories of hardship caused by having to wear pants. How traumatized they’d been by cruel parents insisting they wear pants to school when all the children wanted to do was run naked everywhere. Obviously many of these stories were very much tongue in cheek.
One girl got up and after writhing madly for a moment, informed us all that she knew she was sexy. Which is one of the least sexy things it is possible to do. A guy climbed up and started making a speech about the importance of fat people being able to go naked and how self-conscious he felt. He seemed to be in reasonable shape as far as I could see. But then he pulled his jacket open and horrified us with the rolls of fat on his stomach. But he got a big round of applause for his courage.
Gemini & Scorpio create Underground events of all manner (I once went to an amazing party they had on a huge old sailing ship) and they showed up with their sense of humour flying at full force, encouraging people to get some pants.
Probably the biggest Underground party creators left after the recent retirement of the Danger List would be the ever delightful Winkel & Balktick. W&B had been asked by Charlie to create the very first ‘Official After Party’ so some money could be raised for the proposed documentary on Improv Everywhere being made by Matt Adams. Respect to Winkel & Balktick for once again giving more back into the community than they take. This is an important project so please support it via the Kickstarter page – Matt has already raised an impressive $53,000 in 2 weeks and now has to find another $70,000 in the next 10 days.
The party was held at the Greenwich Village Country Club, a totally surreal slice of weirdness on University one block south of 14th St. Mini Golf, lots of Bar Games as well as mad DJ’s and a crowd that was ready to dance all night made for an impressive end to a superb day.
Watch out for Improv Everywhere. Check their website for great videos of extremely cool pranks. Coming to a space near you.
The Improv Everywhere video from this day is now online and if you want to see more pictures from this great event, check the Gallery in the Reportage section of this website and pass it on to any of your friends who took part. Or didn’t.