Sunday, January 10, 2010

From the Agent Jester File: No Pants 2K10

Earlier today I was involved in a little event you may have heard of. It's a stunt called 'No Pants' pulled off (no pun intended) every year by a group I've been a part of for several years now, Improv Everywhere. If you've never heard of it before, the basic idea is that a group of us all gather together in one location here in New York City (well, not anymore, but I'll get to that in a minute) and take a subway ride up/downtown and as we're riding the train we take off our pants, get off at various stops and re-enter new subway cars so it looks like an increasing number of people are getting on the train not wearing any pants. We all pretend to not know each other, and if pressed for a reason behind our pantslessness, we simply tell people we've forgotten them...and yes, we're very cold.

No Pants has been going on for 8 years now, and I got involved starting with the 2nd one in 2003 (side note: man, EVERYTHING has started to make me feel old lately!). When it first started it involved a handful of people. The first year I participated there were maybe 30 -40 people, which felt large at the time. Today we had close to 3,000. And that's only in NY - this year apparently 44 regions in 16 countries participated in their own version of No Pants. Crazy!

You can tell this picture's old because I'm playing on a Game Boy Advance.
Also, there's weird stuff on my head!

There was a moment earlier today where I was lamenting the inevitable loss of details from the No Pants of Yesteryear, like when a pants seller used to come on the train towards the end of the ride, selling us (our own) pants for $1. There was also the sense of being a part of a special, secret event that wasn't covered by seemingly every major news organization.

But as the event was wrapping up today in Union Square, I couldn't help but notice how happy everyone looked. How, despite how big it had become, people still felt like they were doing something fun and cool, and they were all making it their own special thing: someone had set up a "Try Pants!" information booth, everyone was swapping stories of what happened on their ride, and sporadic chants of "NO PANTS NO PANTS!" were constantly starting up over and over again. And keep in mind everyone was outdoors chanting, chatting, and posing for pictures with big, goofy smiles on their faces in 28 degree weather. In their underwear.

The defining moment of the day came when I was just about to leave to head back home. Having had enough of the cold, I put my pants back on and started to make way through the sea of people towards the subway. Someone noticed I had put my pants back on, and started yelling "HE'S WEARING PANTS!! BOOOO!!!" which the entire crowd quickly joined in on. As I was standing there, experiencing easily the largest booing ever aimed in my direction, I motioned to the crowd to hear me out, and a few potential responses ran through my head: "Hey, I was doing this back when you were all still in junior high!" (did I mention the crowd skewed young?), "Sorry, say that again? I can't hear all of you through all the WARMTH in my legs!" or the old standby: "Do you KNOW who I AM?!?" I quickly realized three things:

1) There's little you can say to an angry, pantsless mob to change their mind.
2) They did not, in fact, know who I was.

See! There I am 6 years ago in front of that random Indian guy!

And perhaps most importantly:
3) No Pants (and Improv Everywhere) has become something much bigger than I could have ever imagined, and really, I'm just grateful to see what it's become, and still be a part of it, in whatever small way.

So I shut my mouth, ripped off my pants again*, and became one with my fellow agents, fully embracing the future of of this wonderful event.

NO PANTS! NO PANTS!

Official Site/Event:
http://improveverywhere.com/2010/01/18/no-pants-subway-ride-2010/

-Matt

PS: One last interesting thing I noticed - amongst the many standard responses I overheard today, (you know, old hat for a vet like me) at one point I heard a young girl say: "What's going with these people? Oh, that's right! It's No Pants Day! I read about it online..." which I can totally imagine being the standard response in just a few years. 'No Pants Day' - I love it. I really do!

*...actually, I just slinked away slowly. But I think the "truth-ish" (a wonderful David Sedaris term that enables him to make whatever little tweaks he wants to his real life stories) ending works a lot better, so since I ultimately got the sentiment right, let's just say I did what I claimed I did up there.