Improv Everywhere founder Charlie Todd's experiments with artistic expression and occasional subway pantslessness have become a full-time job. For Circa's new Weird Jobs series, we interviewed Todd in New York City's Bryant Park, the site of Improv Everywhere's latest mission.
Improv Everywhere aims to cause "scenes of chaos and joy in public places," according to its YouTube channel, which has more than 412 million views and 1.8 million subscribers.
Since 2001, Todd and his volunteer undercover agents have executed more than 150 missions.
Todd appears to embrace his unusual profession, admitting, "I definitely have a weird job."
Todd, a 37-year-old comedian who trained and continues to perform comedy at New York City's Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, considers Improv Everywhere his full-time occupation.
"We take our comedic sensibility and bring it out into the real world, and stage moments that surprise and delight random folks," Todd told Circa.
He contends that while he breaks even subsidizing most the group's missions, he's made a living through brand-sponsored missions, public-speaking engagements, and his staging of similar events at conferences.
Improv Everywhere's popular No Pants Subway Ride has become an international sensation. With more than 4,000 pants-less participants in New York City and "tens of thousands" more worldwide, the 15th-annual event this past January turned heads in more than 60 cities and 25 countries, according to Todd.
David Letterman even joked about the No Pants Subway Ride on "Late Show" in 2006.
How many times you been on the subway and said to yourself, 'Wow, if I could only see those guys without their pants!'?
"They get together every year, they take off their pants and they ride the subway, and I'm thinking, 'Hey, good idea!'" said Letterman, whose show also parodied the stunt with its own No Pants Cab Ride. "How many times you been on the subway and said to yourself, 'Wow, if I could only see those guys without their pants'?"
Improv Everywhere went viral again with 2007's "Frozen Grand Central," whose 200-plus participants struck poses and held them for five minutes throughout the train terminal. Posted on YouTube in February 2008, that video remains that channel's most popular, tallying more than 35 million views.
Actor Rich Sommer joined this mission just months before his first "Mad Men" episode aired.
Improv Everywhere also helped Grand Central Terminal celebrate its 100th birthday in 2013 with an unannounced light show for unsuspecting commuters and tourists.
Through the years, Improv Everywhere has been featured on VH1's "40 Greatest Pranks" and NBC's "Today," and in The New York Times and Rolling Stone, among many others.
While Todd has toured the country and the world to both discuss his work and plan new missions, New York City has been Improv Everywhere's home base. And one venue, in particular, has served as an inspiration and the destination for many of his group's missions: Bryant Park.
That includes Improv Everywhere's latest mission, which the group posted to YouTube on Wednesday morning.
"We set up a two-foot tall stage with a big sign on all sides of it that said 'Dance Captain Wanted,'" Todd told Circa.
New Yorkers and tourists would have to pick up the slack. "I had 100 performers, dressed in white shirts and black pants, come in and stand in this grid in front of the platform," Todd added. "After a minute or so, somebody got up on the platform and our crowd mimicked the dancer's every move."
Earlier this summer, Bryant Park was the site of "Commencement Speaker Needed," which asked locals and tourists in the Midtown park to step in and improvise a keynote speech for about two dozen people posing as "graduates" from the fictional "Big Apple University."
Last year, "Groundskeeper Acrobats" surprised park visitors who'd been watching lawn-maintenance workers in uniform perform an elaborate routine.
"It was really fun to watch it go from normal groundskeepers to crazy performance," Todd said.
And in the winter of 2011, Bryant Park hosted a mission called "Worst Ice Skater Ever?"
In the video, Kenny Moir at first appears to struggle to find his way off an ice rink to make way for a Zamboni run, but has a surprise in store for his fellow skaters.
I think if there's a message to our videos, it's just that message of unity, that we're not that different.
"I think if there's a message to our videos, it's just that message of unity, that we're not that different," Todd told Circa. "People of all different types and backgrounds can unite around comedy, around art, around creativity. I think comedy is a universal language that can maybe help bring people together a little bit."