Causing a Scene by Charlie Todd and Alex Scordelis: B-

From the back cover:
From the infamous No Pants! Subway Ride to the legendary Grand Central Freeze, Improv Everywhere has been responsible for some of the most original and subversive pranks of the Internet age. In Causing a Scene, the group’s agents provide a hilarious firsthand account of their mischievous antics. Learn how they created a time loop in a Starbucks and gave Best Buy eighty extra employees. Join in on the fun with this irreverent, behind-the-scenes look at Improv Everywhere’s world-famous missions, and get inspired to create your own memorable mayhem.

I only discovered Improv Everywhere fairly recently, after an interview with its founder Charlie Todd was a featured video on, and spent a couple of weeks devouring the entertaining mission reports on their website. I’ve never been a fan of pranks in which some unfortunate person is made to feel like an idiot, but Improv Everywhere isn’t like that at all. In Charlie Todd’s words,

We realized we had stumbled onto a new idea: pranks that didn’t need a victim… It was much more challenging to come up with ideas that actually gave the people we encountered a good experience—an amazing story they could tell for the rest of their lives.

After reading the various missions, I found myself recounting them to my friends and loved ones. I like best the ones where they make whole crowds of people extremely happy, like when a subway car full of strangers participates in a surprise birthday party for someone who’s about to get on or when seemingly unacquainted shoppers in the produce section of a grocery store suddenly burst into a choregraphed musical number about the lonely, segregated lives of fruit. Random acts of good-natured absurdity, in other words.

After exhausting the web content, this book seemed like the next logical place to turn. Alas, while I did learn some new things from reading it—I didn’t know, for example, that the Frozen Grand Central mission had inspired an episode of Law & Order—and while the mission reports have been wholly rewritten from posts on the site, I didn’t really take away anything new. The suggested agent assignments don’t offer anything of use; they basically tell you how to recreate the prank you’ve just read about, which you can pretty much figure out from having just read about it. The book has a number of editorial and printings errors, too.

Causing a Scene will probably be best enjoyed by those who have not explored the website, but honestly, I’d just advise everyone to go there instead. It offers a lot of fun feedback, as participating agents frequently leave comments, plus many color photos and videos. Todd promises that one can easily “procrastinate an entire week’s worth of work” there and I’m inclined to agree. Despite finding the book somewhat of a disappointment, I definitely remain a fan.

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