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Arts and Culture

Humiliation Fatigue?

VIDEO: Unlike most of today's public comedy, Improv Everywhere wants to spread joy.

Jordie Yow 26 Aug

Jordie Yow is the editor of Discorder magazine. He writes about music and other forms of pop culture in and around Vancouver.

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Electric public spectacle.

Improv Everywhere seeks to spread "chaos and joy" to boring, urban environments. The group of New York-based pranksters organizes elaborate scenes, hoping to give accidental audiences a timeless memory.

One of my favourite scenes is the Food Court Musical. It starts with a woman disguised as a worker at a fast-food restaurant who spontaneously bursts into a song about how she needs a napkin. Then, a man disguised as a patron starts singing about how he has mustard on his pants and also needs a napkin. Soon, the 16 cast members, all disguised as customers and employees of the mall, are performing a full-fledged, all-singing, all-dancing musical.

I'm getting tired of improv performances like Borat's or even Rick Mercer's that invariably make someone the butt of a joke (or at least wondering if they are), whether or not they make any kind of point as well. That kind of humour has its place. But the best thing about Improv Everywhere's elaborate scenes are that they don't aim to play a trick on anyone.

In interviews, Charlie Todd, who runs the group, always says the goal of Improv Everywhere's pranks is to give people who see the event something special to talk about later. They're proof you don't need to be cruel to make an apolitical point -- they're trying to bring the feeling of excitement that people would usually find watching a movie or TV show, and put it back into our everyday lives.

So dedicated are the members of Improv Everywhere that not only will they refuse to break character during the scene, they won't even take a bow when it's over. When the cast members of the musical finish their song, they simply get back to whatever their characters were doing before it started, as if nothing had happened. The janitor who had been singing a moment before goes back to picking up trash -- the real trash, not just the trashed egos and reputations of the audience.

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