Improv Everywhere Mp3 Experiment at San Francisco Improv Festival

Why are these people running scared in San Francisco’s Union Square Park? One of the oldest reasons there is: because someone else is It. It’s a giant game of freeze tag played by several hundred people who don’t know each other. They are all listening to the same 39 minute sound file and doing whatever it tells them to do. In that 39 minutes they also thumb-wrestled, played Mother May I & Twister, and obeyed such whimsical instructions as stand as hard as you possibly can.

This all happened because the fine folks of Improv Everywhere are in San Francisco this week as part of the 2011 San Francisco Improv Festival. On August 16th they conducted a touring version of the Mp3 Experiment series. On August 17th, Improv Everywhere founder Charlie Todd spoke at the San Francisco School of Digital Film-Making.

The Mp3 Experiment is participatory public event created by Improv Everywhere. We stage a new Mp3 Experiment in New York each year and also tour the project regularly to college campuses and international festivals.

This week’s experiment featured hundreds of people divided into 4 teams based on the color of shirt that they chose to wear to the event. They synchronized their mp3 players and were conducted by a mysterious baritone voice named “Steve” through various tasks and games leading up to an “Epic Battle” between all the balloon-wielding attendees.

Local guy Infl-uence not only filmed it, he also set his footage to the mp3 audio they were listening to which gives you a pretty good idea of how it felt to be a participant. Here’s his video of the experiment’s finale:

We posted about last month’s Mp3 Experiment #8 in New York City. And the seventh before that. In fact we’ve covered dozens of Improv Everywhere missions including a previous Mp3 Experiment in San Francisco in 2008.

Here’s another angle on just the Epic Battle. Warning: it gets a little ugly, there’s some friendly fire…

And here’s what it was like to arrive about 10 minutes into the event as the various color groups were shifting positions to form a giant dart board. Towards the end of this video, the yellow shirts are told that they are darts; they are instructed to move toward the center and get as close to the red shirts as possible).

The San Francisco Improv Festival runs through August 27 and features dozens of performers including groups from San Francisco, L.A., New York and Boston, former Saturday Night Live star Tim Meadows and members of the legendary San Francisco improv troupe The Committee, plus workshops on improv and script-writing. Tickets are on sale now.


Actor, nerd, poet, producer, writer mikl-em made his name short so you wouldn't have to. In addition to his blog you can find his writing in "Hi Fructose" magazine and witness him almost life-sized in various plays at The Dark Room Theater in SF's Mission district.

He tends to write about theater, humor, San Francisco culture and history, and stuff that's just plain weird. He thanks Scott for sharing the keys to the Laughing Squid virtual HQ and promises to uphold whatever it is that the mirthful cephalopod would prefer to be uplifted.