Actors: Agents Whines, Rodgers, Skinner, Shelktone, Ace$Thugg
DV Cams: Agents Kula, Cragg
Digital Photography: Agents Nicholson, Todd
Undercover crowd members: Agents Simmons, Montague, Lathan, Purnell, Rainswept, Becket, Shafer, Hart, Appel, Pally, Moore, McMullen, Cavin
A few weeks ago I was walking down 31st Street near 8th Avenue and noticed a four-foot tall ledge protruding from a seemingly abandoned building.
The next logical step was to stage an Improv Everywhere Mission with a suicide jumper on the absurdly small ledge.
At around 3:30 in the afternoon, a somber man crawled up the far side of the ledge at the edge of the building and began carefully inching his way towards the center.
Agent Nicholson brought his fisheye lense
The view from across the street
Many cars slowed down as passengers gawked at the jumper
A crowd looks on at the taxi-line across the street
Someone must have called the police, because Officer Randy McNabb soon arrived to talk the jumper down.
“It’s ok. Everybody gets a little depressed around the holidays”
Officer McNabb soon ascertained that the jumper’s name was “Will” and that he was devastated after not receiving a Christmas bonus. He couldn’t even afford to buy his kids presents this year, and suicide seemed like the only way out. Suddenly a cab pulled up to the scene and Will’s wife, Eliza frantically dashed out.
“We got your wife here. She says she loves you very much.”
As the scene gets more dramatic, more people join the crowd to figure out what’s going on.
Out of nowhere a shout is suddenly heard at the far edge of the ledge. “Will! What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Will’s coworker, Nate, had braved the dangerous ledge in attempt to save the day.
“Sir, don’t try to be a hero.”
As the plot thickens, the crowd grows larger.
Much to everyone’s relief a fireman appeared on the scene. He sprinted down the street with a trampoline, ready to save the day.
Man watches the fireman do his duty
The fireman moved the trampoline back and forth as Will paced on the edge.
“You got a lotta people who care about you, Will.”
Officer McNabb encouraged the crowd to cross the street and come closer to show their support for Will.
Will looked deep into the eyes of Eliza and realized he was about to make a huge mistake. “I’ll come down. I’ll come down,” he shouted as the crowd gasped with relief. It was determined that jumping down to the trampoline would be safer than walking back along the narrow ledge. The fireman instructed Will to aim for the “x” in the center of the trampoline and the crowd cheered him on by chanting “Hit the x!” Just before Will was about to jump a huge gust of wind caused him to lose his balance.
Unable to regain his balance, Will bravely pushed off the ledge.
He hit the “x” right in the center and collapsed on the street.
The fireman quickly covers Will with a warm blanket as Eliza rushes in to hug him. Officer McNabb announced on the megaphone, “We got him! He’s ok!” It was a true Christmas Miracle.
Nate jumps to safety.
“Use your head next time.”
Agent McNabb broke the crowd up. “Show’s over everybody. Let’s give these folks some space.” The crowd dispersed as Will and Eliza slowly walked off together.
Agent Whines (“Will” – the jumper)
When Agent Todd contacted me to play the suicidal businessman, I was surprised to find myself completely flattered. I’d always believed that I could project sadness; I just hadn’t realized I was proud of believing that until I got this assignment.
Executing the mission felt extremely simple. About fifteen minutes before we started, the principal agents and I sketched out a very simple back-story: (the names of my children, name of the fictional company, the fact that I had not received a Christmas bonus). Then Agent Todd and I walked over to the site. I spent five minutes or so preparing myself, and then hopped up on the ledge. After that, I simply had to react to other agents as they entered the scene.
I’ve been impressed with the acting commitment of IE Agents in previous missions, and wanted to live up to that standard. Agent Todd instructed me — and all other agents agreed — that we would play the suicide near-attempt as realistically as possible, except for the four-foot ledge. The only time I felt close to breaking character and laughing was 1) when I first saw Agent Shelktone nervously stepping towards me, since watching him once again revealed how absurdly close to the ground we were and 2) when Agent Ace$Thugg told me I should not kill myself because “you gotta good-lookin’ wife.”
The ledge was narrow enough that shifting along it was difficult. That helped generate actual nervousness and panic — since if I really did fall off the ledge too soon, I would drop harmlessly three feet down, ending the mission.
The moment I first stood up on the ledge, a passerby laughed and said “Don’t jump.” This encouraged me that our scenario was visually very recognizable.
At first I avoided eye contact with people walking by underneath me, since I was trying to pretend that I was hundreds of stories in the air, and unable to see pedestrians. But after a few minutes, I decided that a big part of the mission was interaction with non-agents, so I let myself make eye contact if it happened naturally. Most people hurriedly looked away as if they didn’t want to interrupt me, or didn’t want me to talk to them. A second guy said “Don’t jump” and laughed.
I was really excited for the “accidental” fall which happens after my character decides that he’s going to get down safely. I was hoping for three or four really big buckles forward and backward before jumping onto Agent Ace$Thugg’s trampoline. I think I got three before actually losing balance and having to jump off.
Agent Rodgers (Officer Randy McNabb)
1445h: I met up with the other agents and changed out of my civilian clothes, into my police uniform.
1530h: Agent Ace$Thugg and I lean on a truck near the ledge, and watch as
the crowd grows.
I saw several police officers eyeballing me. I figured when I start talking on the megaphone they’re gonna give me a hard time, and it might cut things short. So at the last minute I decided to take off the badges on my arm, the only thing that said NY PD. This did not affect the mission at all, and I doubt if anyone but myself noticed, but it was a personal defeat, I felt it almost immediately, and it made me a little depressed. In the end no police officer gave a shit, they watched as confused as anyone else, it was too cold for them to care enough.
I made my move away from the truck and took my first glance at Agent Whines on the ledge. As I brought the megaphone to my mouth, two girls grabbed my arm and asked, “What is the fastest way to 45th St. and 3rd Ave.?” I told them a cab is the fastest route, but I also told them how to get there by subway. I noticed one of them realizing the unnatural quality of my mustache, while the other girl pressed on with more questions. I pointed behind me and asked, “I’m sorry girls, how long has this guy been out here? I think we might have a situation on our hands.” They said they didn’t know, thanked me for the directions, and walked away. I asked the crowd how long he had been up there, a horrified Agent Simmons came forth and said, “like fifteen minutes!”
People were confused. A woman pushing a stroller and fighting with her husband said something along the line of, “I want to watch this crazy bootleg shit!” Most people walking by didn’t realize anything was going on until they got between Agent Whines and myself. I would try to tell them, “Don’t worry we’ll get him down.” A few in the crowd started chanting “Jump! Jump!” This deeply hurt me, I turned around and shouted, “This is a mans life your joking with!” They stopped the chanting.
Agent Ace$Thugg’s firefighter had an interesting take on things. He was pretty bitter, asking the jumper, “What do you just need some attention?” and saying “Come on, you got a real good lookin’ wife down here, r-e-a-l good lookin’.” After the trampoline was put down, I think Agent Lathan started a ‘hit the X’ chant, which the entire crowd and myself joined in on.
1615: The jumper was down, Will hugged me and I realized my hands were just about frozen. So if you ever pretend to be a cop talking down a suicide jumper, wear gloves! Also remember most people get depressed this time of year, never kill yourself!
Agent Skinner (“Eliza” – the wife)
Agent Whines and I were an easy package deal. He’s my real-life boyfriend, so we have the emotional connectedness required to convince a cabstand full of strangers that we were a married couple on the brink. Before we started, we worked out a back story including two fictional children, Tristan (9 years old, our little scientist) and Elliot (6 years old, just started violin lessons!)
We were waiting behind a parked truck for our entrances, and Agent Rodgers – “the cop” – was the first to go out. As soon as he walked away from the rest of us, he got stopped by two girls who needed help with directions. I wonder how far into their question they realized that he was wearing a fake mustache.
After Agent Whines assumed his position on the ledge and Agent Rodgers made contact with him,
I was supposed to join Agent Rodgers in trying to talk him down. At the last minute I decided it would be more dramatic to ride up in a cab, so I borrowed $3 from Agent Ace$Thugg and ran through Penn Station to get to the cabstand on the other side. When the cab pulled up, some cops were there but Agent Rodgers was still on the bullhorn, so I figured I should go down with him. I jumped out of the cab yelling, and generally freaking out, as I assumed I would in such a situation. From then on out I just stood by Agent Rodgers worrying and saying, “Don’t do this! We love you!” and that sort of hoo-haa. We frequently pleaded on poor little Elliot’s behalf, but apparently dropped Tristan from the family entirely.
When Agent Whines finally jumped onto the trampoline, I covered him with a blanket and we hugged heartwarmingly for a while. When we had all collected ourselves Agent Whines and I bid the crowd goodbye to go start putting our family back together (perhaps to find our poor forgotten Tristan). At this point Agent Shelktone stopped us, locked eyes with Agent Whines, and said very intensely “HEY…I’ll see you.” Which was hilarious.
Agent Shelktone (“Nate” – the coworker)
I had never seen the building that Agent Todd had referred to in our mission briefing so I was curious to finally get a look at it. It is quite an oddball building. In fact, it looks like how I imagine the book depository in Dallas to be. Which makes it all the more humorous that this is the place that Agent Whines and myself supposedly work at.
Agents Rodgers, Skinner, Ace$Thugg, and myself huddled behind a parked 18-wheeler truck. We were remarking how it felt like some sort of wings for the stage. Nobody seemed to notice that each new character in the ‘jumper’ drama emerged from behind the truck. A crowd started to gather, part plants of agents, and part genuine onlookers. The choice of location was clever as it was in front of a cabstand. So there was a built-in crowd.
The moment that Agent Rodgers emerged as the cop, two women asked him immediately for directions. Agent Rodgers had been worried that he might be mistaken for impersonating a policeman but I assured him that the giant fake moustache he was wearing could never be taken as real. Apparently these two women felt that fake moustache or not, he probably had a good idea of directions.
Agent Skinner came up with a great idea to arrive on the scene from a cab. There was a nice New York moment when she came up and got out and started yelling, and the person next in line for cabs pretty much just gave a nonchalant look and got in the cab.
Finally it was my turn to enter the scene and I crawled up on the side of the building and began edging my way towards Agent Whines. It proved to be more difficult than I imagined because every four feet the wall jutted out a little more and then went back to normal and then thinner again. I was wearing a heavy jacket too so this compounded things. I felt was I was going to fall a couple of times. I wondered what I would do if I fell but it never came to that. When I got to the last thin section near Agent Whines, I noticed that it was covered with bird crap. So I decided to flip myself around and inch that way so I didn’t have to touch the bird dung. I almost broke when Agent Whines scolded me for being out on the ledge what with my heart condition and trick knee.
I got to hop down on the rescue trampoline and hugged my co-worker and his wife. I waved them goodbye and then decided to get a cup of coffee with the Officer McNabb.
Agent Ace$Thugg (Fireman)
I was waiting at the end of the street before I came around the corner as the fireman. Every passenger in every car that drove by had their head turned back trying to get a glimpse of the suicide as they drove by. Then they saw me with my trampoline and fireman hat, pretending to be one of NYC’s bravest and the passengers all seemed to make the connection right then and laugh, even without witnessing the whole event.
Agent Lathan (bystander)
The first thing I saw when I got there was a guy laughing hysterically who had just walked past Agent Whines. He was talking on his cell phone and was like, “Check this out, some dude is threatening to jump to his death… off a three foot ledge!”
Some highlights included:
-Eliza racing out of her cab pleading with Will not to jump.
-Officer McNabb making the name connection to Will: “Your name’s Will? Well I have a son named Bill. That’s pretty close right?”
-Nate’s concerned and scared look on his face as he shimmied his way across the ledge.
-The fireman’s instruction to jump on the X. (Which led to the chant: “Jump on the X!”
-Will’s commitment and believability to a depressed man about to jump off a three-foot ledge. Plus his jump on the trampoline was highly dramatic. I actually wasn’t sure if we would really land on the trampoline. But he did!
I remember at one point a drunken old man came over and demanded to know what was going on. I gravely informed him that someone was about to jump. This made the drunken old man very angry. “Awww who cares? What’s gonna happen if he jumps. It’s not even that high!!” To which I sincerely replied, “I’m not sure. He could twist an ankle.”
Agent Simmons (bystander)
A very intense vagrant stopped and stared at the scene in disbelief. He said “What’s this idiot think he’s gonna do from that height?” I replied “We’ve had some ice lately and he could slip on that marble”. He shot back “It’s made of granite–like his head. Good BYE!” And he stormed off.
Agent Moore (bystander)
I had a friend in town on Saturday, and I was showing him around the city. Agent Todd had briefed me about when and where the prank was to be (3:30 at 31st Street and 8th Ave), and I tried to casually end up at the location with my friend. Unfortunately it was pretty cold out, so I had to tell him that yes, there was a reason I wanted to stand nonchalantly on a street corner eating a pretzel. I didn’t tell him the reason, but he knew something was up.
I recognized a few agents standing around us also being nonchalant, which reassured me that things would eventually start and that I hadn’t somehow missed it. After a while, though, I started shivering, which is decidedly un-nonchalant, so we ran to get a cup of coffee. When we came back, I found that all the agents were moving away from the street corner on which we’d been loitering. We followed a familiar back that was disappearing down 31st street. I saw a couple of cameras flash ahead of us, and knew things had begun.
We joined the small crowd of what looked to be mainly agents and people queuing for cabs. Across the street, there was a policeman with a bullhorn talking down a well-dressed but obviously agitated businessman threatening to jump from a four-foot ledge. “My God,” I exclaimed. “My God, I think he’s going to do it!” My friend laughed momentarily, but immediately played along, putting on a very serious face and trying to shield me from what would obviously be a sad, gory ending for the poor man.
A middle-aged couple walked by, and the woman asked her companion what was going on. He glanced briefly across the street, and replied, “It’s theatre.” They kept walking. Some people stayed to watch, though, and a small crowd was growing. Several people asked me what was going on, “He’s threatening to jump,” I would respond worriedly. “I think he’s going to do it.” My favorite reaction came from a girl who approached me and asked, “Is this…funny?”
We cheered when the fireman approached with his tiny trampoline, and moved across the street when asked. I encouraged several passersby to come with us. There was another big cheer when the poor man finally agreed to come down safely. I got a little teary. My friend – an excellent sport — didn’t laugh until we moved far away from the site. “I always trust you to show me the best things in the city,” he told me.
Agent Montague (bystander)
I think this mission was best suited for cars passing by. I saw a couple of camera phones stick out of cab windows to take pictures. A couple of cars halted in the middle of the road. Without any time to really take everything in, these people might have gone home truly believing the stunt. People standing on the sidewalk were drawn in, and it wasn’t because they were concerned for the jumper or wanted to watch a film shoot, but they just wanted to figure out what exactly was going on. I heard a lot of people saying, “Is this a movie?” and “What is this?” We were near the crowded taxi line at Penn Station. I actually saw one guy put his family in a cab and tell them, “I’ll meet up with you later. I’m sticking around to see what happens.” As a planted audience member, I knew few details about the mission. The real highlight for me was watching everything unfold, not knowing what would happen next. Originally, I assumed the cast of characters consisted of nothing more than one guy on a tiny ledge, which would’ve been sufficient. To my delight, a whole cast of characters slowly entered the picture. For me, it was like watching a play unfold on a random sidewalk, which was a unique experience.
Agent Pally (bystander)
I think the funniest thing that I heard or saw by far were the nurses in the dentist office on the ground floor. I was hanging back faking calls on my cell phone to try and make the people in the cab line believe it was something real as opposed to a movie, and I heard a banging on the glass and when I turned around I saw three nurses looking through their ground floor window miming to me “what’s going on”. This was particularly funny because I would imagine that if this were going on in a building that was on a high floor, you would have people from the building across from it looking on and wondering what was going on. Only in this case, we were all standing on the ground looking at someone four feet up.
Agent Pally and the nurses
In September of 2006, Officer McNabb and Will gave us an update at the IE 5th Anniversary Show :Source: improveverywhere.com