NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — For more than 20 years, Improv Everywhere has been turning New York City into a playground for positive pranks.

Most of the moments came before the pandemic, but their messages remains the same. That’s the focus of this week’s Snapshot New York with Steve Overmyer.

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“I’ve always looked at the city like a playground,” said Charlie Todd. “That’s been our motto, always, that we cause scenes. But we’re causing a scene that’s funny, that catches people off guard in a positive way and a way that makes them laugh and smile.”

For more than 20 years, Improv Everywhere has been creating moments that allow everyone to join in. They’re called missions.

“Giving people this fun, unexpected moment of joy that maybe they carry with them the rest of the day. Maybe it makes their day 5% better,” said Todd. “Our best projects are the ones that invite people in rather than us just forcing ourselves on people. We like to lure people in and invite them into our world.”

On any random day, you might see an impromptu dance party with a few people from Improv Everywhere. But it becomes infectious.

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“Does there come a time when you’re not sure who’s in the troop and who’s just a random person that’s walking by?” asked Overmyer.

“Yeah absolutely. Those are the greatest moments,” said Todd.

As New Yorkers, we have an unwritten, social contract to keep our heads down, don’t talk to anyone and, no matter what happens, don’t react.

That’s impossible when Charlie Todd is around – even on a depressing morning commute at the 53rd Street subway station.

“There are these two giant escalators in that station with a staircase next to it, but nobody takes the staircase because it’s like you’re going up four stories,” Todd explained.

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That day he added a flair of color by simply asking everyone to lend a hand.

“Over the course of about an hour, my friend Rob gave out 2,000 high-fives to commuters,” he said.

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Their brand of performance art has stretched across all five boroughs. It all started with a harmless prank that’s become an annual tradition: “The No Pants Subway Ride.”

“I love it when something happens in the city where strangers have a connection,” Todd said.

Improv Everywhere reminds us while we are all leading millions of different lives, our unique connection to our outside spaces gives us a chance at a shared experience.

It’s a reminder that playing like a child can be liberating. All we need is someone to give us the OK.

(Credit: CBS2)

“We try to provide unique opportunities for people,” said Todd. “If they say yes and if they want to come into our world, they can have a once in a lifetime experience.”

“Creating moments of joy and bringing people together is important. We create this joyous, euphoric moment for no reason, just to celebrate life and be funny and have a good time,” he added.

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To date, Improv Everywhere videos have 470 million views on YouTube. They’ve completed two missions during the pandemic as a way to remind us to celebrate our shared space.

Steve Overmyer