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July 14, 2010 9:57 PM   Subscribe

Constantly productive and frequently amusing theater group Improv Everywhere takes on an iconic Star Wars scene in a New York subway car.

Make sure to check out their post detailing the setup and execution, as well as their other missions.
posted by lholladay (83 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was all set to drop the snark (Must we post everything Improv Everywhere does?) but that was pretty awesome.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:03 PM on July 14, 2010


What would happen if I were near this scene: "and then this guy, outta nowhere, tackles Darth Vader! I know! And then he picks up the Princess and runs off the train!"
posted by boo_radley at 10:06 PM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not really "improv", as such, is it?
posted by cthuljew at 10:07 PM on July 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's only a matter of time before they pull one of these stunts and Vader gets tased by overeager MTA personnel.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:07 PM on July 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


> Not really "improv", as such, is it?

Yeah, while this was amusing, I would've been more pleased to see people in convincing Star Wars costumes doing random things that would be more baffling than just a straight reenactment. Like, say Darth Vader lights up a cigarette and just stands there puffing on it with his heavy breath. After awhile Boba Fett would come up and chide Vader for such a disgusting habit, and then maybe a Stormtrooper would come issue him a citation for violating the no smoking policy. Or not.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:12 PM on July 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


GO HOME IMPROV EVERYWHERE! THIS IS NOT IMPROV!
posted by ReeMonster at 10:13 PM on July 14, 2010 [11 favorites]


Spontaneous acts of premeditation.
posted by XMLicious at 10:15 PM on July 14, 2010 [8 favorites]


Did I show up in time to hate on some kids for having fun?
posted by sourwookie at 10:16 PM on July 14, 2010 [27 favorites]


There's nothing worse than an ill fitting storm trooper uniform.
posted by schwa at 10:21 PM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


The bemused-at-first-but-then-heartwarmed-and-smiling bystander reaction shots are well past their expiration date. It gives it the feel of a Simon Cowell production -- which is exactly what improv isn't supposed to be.
posted by grounded at 10:23 PM on July 14, 2010


> There's nothing worse than an ill fitting storm trooper uniform.

Both sartorially and the whole nad chafing thing.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:24 PM on July 14, 2010


At least they weren't doing acapella.
posted by barnacles at 10:24 PM on July 14, 2010 [8 favorites]


A lot of Improv Everywhere isn't improv (the musical scene things, for instance), and they've gotten progressively less so, it seems. I think now they'd be more accurately called Whimsical Situationism Everywhere, but that's ok too, right? Just creating weird scenes for people.
posted by kenko at 10:28 PM on July 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


Those are clearly the doors of Star Trek.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:28 PM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Those are clearly the doors of Star Trek.

Yeah, one of them should have bumped his head on the top frame.
posted by dhartung at 10:31 PM on July 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Funny you should say that.

At the next stop, Vader’s entrance got a great reaction. Agent Scordelis entered the car with force and authority, but unfortunately didn’t account for the height of his helmet. He knocked his head on the door when he entered! It was hysterical, and we should have video of it in an upcoming “outtakes” video.
posted by lholladay at 10:36 PM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


If I had been in the train, when Vader pulled up, I don't think I would have ever stopped laughing.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:37 PM on July 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


How about: Chewbacca is sitting in the 7th Ave line minding his own business playing an iPhone game. Stormtrooper boards the train, pulls a blaster and starts threatening Chewbacca with laser singed fur. Then a guy dressed like a NYPD street cop comes in the train and pulls his gun. Standoff ensues while Chewbacca howls and the cop screams the usual "get on the ground!" stuff. Cop shoots the Stormtrooper (with a blank and squib blood pack on the Stormtrooper's armor, of course). Stormtrooper goes down, Chewbacca gives the cop a proper Wookie noogie, and then they exit the train hand in hand while the Stormtrooper bleeds out on the floor.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:38 PM on July 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


HERF DERF NERF HERDER!



....sorry
posted by lattiboy at 10:39 PM on July 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


I liked how everyone on the train seemed utterly delighted by the appearance of stormtroopers and like. It furthers my belief that the normal subway announcements should be replaced with Dalek voices

"THIS! TRAIN! WILL! BE! MAKING ALL LOCAL! STOPS! EXTERMINATE!"
posted by The Whelk at 10:40 PM on July 14, 2010 [15 favorites]


Whelk, have you seen the new season? Because all I have to say is:
"WOULD YOU LIKE SOME TEEAAAA?"
posted by lholladay at 10:44 PM on July 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Greeting the entrance of Darth Vader with laughter like that is just wrong. They needed a plant in street clothes to pretend to choke to death after giggling at the Dark Lord.
posted by availablelight at 10:51 PM on July 14, 2010 [14 favorites]


also, this is begging for a caption contest.
posted by availablelight at 10:58 PM on July 14, 2010


The next stop is. Tosche Station.

Stand clear of the dark side of the Force, please.
posted by Mikey-San at 11:05 PM on July 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


That music sounded a lot like Blake's 7 to me.
posted by grouse at 11:09 PM on July 14, 2010


Then a guy dressed like a NYPD street cop comes in the train and pulls his gun.

The point is comedy, not tragedy.
posted by GilloD at 11:25 PM on July 14, 2010


> The point is comedy, not tragedy.

Why should Improv Everywhere start being funny now?
posted by Burhanistan at 11:28 PM on July 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


help help I don't know how to express a contrarian opinion without being hostile and unpleasant
posted by boo_radley at 11:31 PM on July 14, 2010 [11 favorites]


Okay, so this isn't "improv," but it is fun, and I sure wish I'd seen it. This was on the G at 59th and Lexington, and I was right up there this afternoon. Drat! I knew I shouldn't have taken the F!
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 11:59 PM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know, it looked like everyone on the train was having a good time and enjoyed themselves, and I think fun, harmless things that make people happy are something we should be encouraging.

In other words,

fuck
the
haters
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:09 AM on July 15, 2010 [25 favorites]


Then a guy dressed like a NYPD street cop comes in the train and pulls his gun. Standoff ensues while Chewbacca howls and the cop screams the usual "get on the ground!" stuff. Cop shoots the Stormtrooper (with a blank and squib blood pack on the Stormtrooper's armor, of course).

Why would an NYPD cop shoot a Stormtrooper? They're the white ones!
posted by Mikey-San at 12:12 AM on July 15, 2010 [18 favorites]


For the record, I thought it was hilarious. It's just not improv. I want to see them do more stuff like this. I'm also just a pedant.
posted by cthuljew at 12:13 AM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is it just me or was the actor playing Leia better than Carrie Fisher?
Anyway, I thought this was amusing.
posted by hot_monster at 12:19 AM on July 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


The best part of this video is that they used Pranks! by RE/Search Publications as the body of Leia's "For Dummies" joke (pause around 0:10 and you'll see the spine and the distinctive clown-headed spider on the back.) This book changed my life when I was 18, and I can understand why IE would want to pay homage. Most of the pranks detailed inside are a little more... acerbic, let's say, than Star Wars on the train, but if the criteria is wit, humour, and style, I guess it fits.

Sidenote: I met publisher V. Vale this year, and he's a mensch.
posted by Chichibio at 12:25 AM on July 15, 2010 [5 favorites]


Nice use of the "For Dummies" book gag.

Ehhhhhh. Sigh.

Did a "Got Rebellion?" sticker feel too edgy? Were you worried it might go over peoples heads?

Improv people. Giving purpose and shelter to the forensics geeks that couldn't sing or recite bad RomCom monologues verbatim since time immemorial.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 12:25 AM on July 15, 2010


Is it just me or was the actor playing Leia better than Carrie Fisher?

The Leia on the subway was likely not fucked up on ludes.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:40 AM on July 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


That music sounded a lot like Blake's 7 to me.

That was Mars, from Gustav Holst's suite The Planets.
posted by pjern at 2:00 AM on July 15, 2010


I thought this was funny, but I'd enjoy this much more without the music.
The added soundtrack doesn't make much sense. If the scene needs the music a stormtrooper should have carried a boom box or something.
posted by charles kaapjes at 2:21 AM on July 15, 2010


I can't believe no one helped Leia. They know she will be tortured if she leaves with Vader. But everyone just gawks. Something is so wrong with the world today.
posted by montaigneisright at 3:23 AM on July 15, 2010 [7 favorites]


Certainly fun to watch a video of it happening on youtube.
posted by fire&wings at 3:53 AM on July 15, 2010


The last stop where they did this was 125 Street? I'd like to see them try this on a train that goes through the Bronx.
posted by pxe2000 at 4:25 AM on July 15, 2010


There's nothing worse than an ill fitting storm trooper uniform.

Both sartorially and the whole nad chafing thing.


And I thought those uniforms smelled bad... on the outside!
posted by Greg Nog at 4:27 AM on July 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm amazed at how clean the NYC subways are now. It's been awhile since I've been there, but those were not the cars I remember.

I liked the book gag. That was funny.
posted by purephase at 4:44 AM on July 15, 2010


Cosplay everywhere.
posted by empath at 4:52 AM on July 15, 2010


availablelight: "also, this is begging for a caption contest."

I don't get it. Mayor Bloomberg often rides the subway as a publicity stunt.
posted by Splunge at 4:59 AM on July 15, 2010 [5 favorites]


Well, hell, I liked it.
posted by grubi at 5:14 AM on July 15, 2010


The problem with Improv Everywhere--aside from, you know, not being improv, and as pxe2000 implies above, not really going everywhere, either--is that they insist that nothing ever, ever goes wrong with their "missions", either in their execution or in their reception. If you haven't already, you should listen to the This American Life episode which features them; for one stunt, they pick some random stranger at a bar and insist that he's their friend (with another name) and they're going to throw a birthday party for him, and another in which they pretend to be big fans of a random bar band, and in both cases the recipients of their stunts aren't too happy about it afterward--but IE insists that they were a big hit, and in the case of the random birthday party guy, rationalize it on the basis that they chipped in and gave him a bunch of gift cards to different places. They never, ever have to re-do a mission because people reacted badly or didn't really react at all or, heaven forbid, someone walked up to them and yelled, "Hey, Improv Everywhere, right? I love you guys! Hey, do the bit that you did at Starbucks that one time!" It's not just that they're technically not improv, but that there seems to be no risk, no real chance for failure; like the children of Lake Wobegon, all their stunts are above average.

Thus, what I'd find entertaining is a series of pseudo-Improv Everywhere stunts that go horribly, horribly wrong. You could start with them crashing a kid's birthday party with a bunch of "agents"wearing GWAR-type costumes, splice in a bunch of shots of kids crying, then cut to the leader saying, "Well, we did give them a bunch of free candy, so I think it turned out alright. (pause) Kids still like candy, right?"
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:15 AM on July 15, 2010 [10 favorites]


The bemused-at-first-but-then-heartwarmed-and-smiling bystander reaction shots are well past their expiration date.

I'll fess up to having a soft sport in my heart for Improv Everywhere's stunts, but I am so. damn. tired. of the "let's focus on the heartwarming expressions of the bystanders impressed with our cleverness" that their videos invariably contain.
posted by deanc at 5:16 AM on July 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


When they do the garbage compactor scene, with the walls of the subway closing in and crushing the passengers, with blood running out onto the tracks, and lots of screaming...THEN I'll be impressed......

that said...watching the reactions of the passengers made me smile...
posted by HuronBob at 5:18 AM on July 15, 2010


It did make me a bit sad to see all the cell phones come out. Do we gaze at anything remarkable in public at close range though our own eyes anymore, instead of mediated through a tiny little screen held at arms length? There ought to be an, On Cellphone Photo/video/graphy.
posted by availablelight at 5:24 AM on July 15, 2010 [6 favorites]


I have a lot of respect for Improv Everywhere. What they do is essentially theatrical, in that it relies on spontaneity and requires a live audience. They've managed to overcome one of the largest hurdles -- the incredible cost of renting or own a theater space -- by just doing it wherever. And they're extremely clever at documenting their performance so that it can be places, and has an audience, online. They've created a sort of new genre of theater, and are arguably the most popular theater in America as a result of it; at least, I can think of no other theater in America that attracts an audience of 336,000, as this video has. And I respect that their prankishness is never mean or meant to humiliate, but instead to surprise and delight. I would be interested in seeing other theaters make use of some, or all, of Improv Everywhere's techniques in the service of some other theatrical creation.

For my tastes, this particular example was one of their weaker pranks -- their best stuff has an exquisite surreality to it, as though the laws of the universe had somehow been upended (Frozen Grand Central, as an example.) This felt more like clever outreach -- it's targeted to appeal to the demographic that loves Star Wars, which, to an extent, is pretty much everybody, and, to a larger extent, is nerds, who have a long history of being an especially committed audience when they feel like their specifically nerdy tastes are being catered to. That being said, having Darth Vader stand right where the subway doors would be so the train pulls right up to him -- that was perfectly executed.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:35 AM on July 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is awesome. I like that their are people out there just doing cool things for others just to give them a funny moment in their day. Who the fuck cares if it's not improv.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:37 AM on July 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


There. Oh man. I've become a youtube commenter.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:38 AM on July 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


And it turns out that Princess Leia was actually JEWEL!!!
posted by Shohn at 5:45 AM on July 15, 2010 [5 favorites]


Just for the record, it is improv. There may be some set dialogue, but the blocking is, of necessity, improvised on the spot, as are every aspect of production that are left unsettled because of the process of just going out in the street and doing a scene. There are all kinds of improv beyond asking for a name of a book and a childhood phobia from the audience and then building a long form Harold as the audience watches.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:48 AM on July 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's clearly not improv because they aren't asking the members of the audience to name an activity that they can act out.
posted by smackfu at 5:51 AM on July 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


By the time you put "to an extent" and "pretty much" in front of "everybody" it doesn't mean anything like "everybody" anymore.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:01 AM on July 15, 2010


Pretty much everyone survived.
posted by Splunge at 6:29 AM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mayor Bloomberg often rides the subway as a publicity stunt.

Bloomberg:Vader::Giuliani::???

The Emperor?
Darth Maul?
General Grievous?
posted by bashos_frog at 6:32 AM on July 15, 2010


Grand Moff Tarkin
posted by ecurtz at 6:51 AM on July 15, 2010


That was Mars, from Gustav Holst's suite The Planets.

Its best use ever.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:28 AM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would certainly recognize his foul stench.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:28 AM on July 15, 2010


Watto, perhaps?
posted by armage at 7:30 AM on July 15, 2010


Tough crowd.
posted by cj_ at 7:40 AM on July 15, 2010


Harmless.
posted by redyaky at 7:48 AM on July 15, 2010


My favorite part is how the Stormtroopers allowed passengers to exit before boarding the train. If only all commuters had Imperial training.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 8:30 AM on July 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Astro Zombie: no, sorry, street theater is not improv, necessarily, and I'm not sure why you think that you think that it is simply because the actors don't have marks to hit. Their "missions" are always rigorously planned out in advance, in this case they're following a script that was written thirty-three years ago, and at any rate, any theatrical production has the potential to require improvisation (technical problems, people forgetting their lines, etc.). That doesn't make it improv as it's commonly understood, by a long shot.

I should temper my rant with the qualifier that, as individual bits of street theater, IE's productions really are pretty good, with some (the "Möbius strip" thing at the Starbucks that was described in the TAL episode that I linked to above) being kind of brilliant. It's the framing and especially their insistence that things always go perfectly the first time, simultaneously smug and a little desperate, that's really distracting to me. It's almost like this little recurring bit of meta-theater that detracts from their strong points.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:30 AM on July 15, 2010


I think now they'd be more accurately called Whimsical Situationism Everywhere, but that's ok too, right?

Whimsical Situationism in Manhattan.
posted by rusty at 8:39 AM on July 15, 2010


I like to think we predated that with our Top Gun Subway Musical. (self-link/G-train).
posted by iamck at 9:28 AM on July 15, 2010


Greeting the entrance of Darth Vader with laughter like that is just wrong.

Yeah, well, we've all seen Episode Three now, so it's pretty much inevitable.

That doesn't make it improv as it's commonly understood, by a long shot.

Sheesh, how did you guys complaining about an organization doing something slightly different from what their name implies survive the aneurysm you had when IBM started selling computers to home users?

Your mom isn't a business, as it's commonly understood.
posted by straight at 10:31 AM on July 15, 2010


Astro Zombie: no, sorry, street theater is not improv, necessarily, and I'm not sure why you think that you think that it is simply because the actors don't have marks to hit.

well, if you're defining it along the lines of improvisational comedy, which is what the bulk of the Wikipedia article is about, then, no, it isn't.

But I think you may have an exaggerated sense of how much is planned out in advance. Two of improv everywhere's most famous pranks involved the founder setting up a towel and cologne table in a MacDonalds and a group of people riding the subway sans pants, all claiming to have coincidentally forgotten their pants. There was no memorized text -- just a preestablished situation, and then the performers winged it based on their interactions with people they met.

This one had a script, but the number of factors that could not be planned, and therefore might have to be responded to on the fly, overwhelm the number of preplanned elements. I know of almost no street theater in which improv is not an essential element, just because the traditional theatrical etiquette flies out the window when you take it to the streets, and you have to be ready to just roll with whatever happens. There may be street theater that doesn't make extensive use of improv, but I haven't seen it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:34 AM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


See, here's the thing: I'm a librarian (we like to describe things as accurately as possible, including as specifically or as general as appropriate) and from Chicago (where improv has a long and storied history). So, you know. I kind of like "Whimsical Situationism in Manhattan", and would even forgo inserting (The Nicer Parts Of) in front of Manhattan.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:51 AM on July 15, 2010


Your mom isn't a business, as it's commonly understood.

Not mine, no.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:53 AM on July 15, 2010


I'm a playwright from Minneapolis with 10 years experience in improv, and we like our definitions messy.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:17 PM on July 15, 2010


Goddamnit, the cadence of the Darth Vader lines was all wrong! It's like you haven't seen the movie 100+ times!!
posted by mrnutty at 12:25 PM on July 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


IE's productions really are pretty good, with some (the "Möbius strip" thing at the Starbucks that was described in the TAL episode that I linked to above) being kind of brilliant.
I'm going to disagree: it wasn't that brilliant, for a few reasons. First, it's just doing the same thing over and over again. They might as well just called it "loop" rather than "mobius". Next, the guy who walks in with the boombox playing "shiny happy people" makes it blatantly obvious what's happening. And you're kind of right about IE's problem, here: you NEED that kind of simple-minded element that makes it OBVIOUS because not only do they need to show that "everything always goes perfectly" but, as I said above, they're mostly concerned about broadcasting audience reaction. (one of the filmers admits as much at the end of the Mobius video: he says, "I got some great reactions")

You know what would have been brilliant? A 7-minute sequence of events that were mutually dependent on each other (eg, the ringing phone causes the woman to open up her bag, revealing the cigarettes, causing the fight that makes the woman storm out, bumping into the guy sitting who causes him to spill the coffee, which then completes a loop with an event that starts the sequence all over again).
posted by deanc at 2:47 PM on July 15, 2010


I find your lack of deodorant...disturbing.
posted by felix betachat at 3:20 PM on July 15, 2010


Well, I thought it was funny.

Isn't it interesting that every single person there recognized the characters? Off the top of my head, I can't think of any other story/characters that would be automatically recognized by everyone from age 2 to 60ish. That's huge, huge, huge cultural unconscious penetration. It's practically mythology.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 8:03 PM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Harry Potter.
posted by cthuljew at 8:14 PM on July 15, 2010


cthuljew: "Harry Potter."

Maybe a couple of the iconic leads; although I still don't think you'd see big penetration in the 60 year old male demographic...but really, if you just had a bunch of kids in capes come on a train with wands, it doesn't necessarily say "harry potter" so much as it speaks to a wider genre upon which that story is based. Yes, everyone would recognize the meme of "wizard", but there is nothing in that story line that would allow the recognition of supporting actors like storm troopers.

If someone dressed in a bad storm trooper costume were to go anywhere, everyone would know what he was *supposed* to be. They would know the story line, and that unknown character's role in said story line.

If someone showed up in a bad Hogwarts (sans obvious HP accoutrement like scar and glasses) outfit, people would just assume generic wizard/magician/escapee from boarding school.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 9:04 PM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't recognise and character from Harry Potter, other than maybe Harry Potter.

I do know who Lando Calrissian is.

But then, I was born in 1971, which means I was just about the right age when Star Wars was released for it to be scribed into my psyche in indelible ink until the end of time.
posted by Diag at 9:19 PM on July 15, 2010


Why is it a big deal they are concerned with audience reactions? I mean, if they weren't, they might as well just do it in a theatre. It's kind of the whole point.. it wouldn't be interesting otherwise.
posted by cj_ at 10:07 PM on July 15, 2010


Gawker steals (again).
posted by entropicamericana at 12:40 PM on July 16, 2010


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