2005_08_charlietodd_int_b.jpgAge and occupation: 26; Prankster

Where you live: The glamorous “Penn South” district

Tonight, you're launching a new show at the Upright Citizen's Brigade about paid programming - and it's called Paid Programming [here's the blog, and for information on a special offer for Gothamist readers, look here]. What about the low production value world of infomercials made it seem perfect for a live show?
Everything about infomercials cracks me up: the “hard sell” from the host, the canned testimonials, the 3 “easy” payments, it’s all so funny. I always assume that most of the demonstrations and claims they make are lies, and I figured it would a blast to try an infomercial product out for myself, in front of a live audience.

Tonight's show is about the "Restform Highrise Airbed" and you've already purchased a few. What are some things that have surprised you about the bed?
The first surprise was the $60 in shipping and handling I paid. The beds are actually pretty awesome. As promised, they really do inflate in three minutes (using the electric pump provided), and they’re very comfortable. They’re 2-feet tall, which is surprising for an inflatable bed.

The real test will be to see if the infomercial’s more outlandish claims are true. The spot features professional wrestlers performing “body slams” on the beds. I’ve got two guys who are going to wrestle live on stage for the show… I won’t be surprised at all if we ruin a bed or two.

One quality of the bed that you've been playing up is how the Restform Highrise Airbed is good for even a grizzly bear. While your show is at the UCB, are you considering an on-location show somewhere in NJ?
The fact that the infomercial has an actual bear standing on one of these beds is what drew me to the product in the first place. It’s just so absurd. If anyone in New Jersey has a bear that needs a bed, I’ll definitely do an on-location show. For the UCB show there will only be humans (actors and audience members) testing the limits of the bed.

One Saturday morning, at 5AM, we happened to see three different infomercials on scrapbooks, and even though the scrapbooks looked horrible, we were tempted to order one just to see what it was like... Have you managed to incorporate products from infomercials in your non-comedic life?
Well, like most people I use a Ronco Food Dehydrator to prepare all of my meals. I gots to have my daily dose of Turkey Jerky.

You also founded Improv Everywhere, the "organized fun" group which has staged a fake U2 concert, synchronized dancing in store windows, and pantless subway rides in the city. How did you start?
It all started when I moved here in 2001 and a college friend told me I looked like Ben Folds. We went out to a bar in the West Village to test the theory. I drank alone at the bar for half an hour, and then my friend approached me as a fan and asked for my autograph.

Suddenly the girls sitting next to me became much more interested in talking to me. For the rest of the night, I was Ben Folds in that bar. Ben ended up drinking on the house and one of the girls gave him her phone number. It was a simple, drunken prank, but it turned me on to the possibilities of creating scenes in public places. Soon after that I started taking classes at the UCB and met tons of awesome like-minded people who wanted to help me stage larger pranks.

What's a better environment for a prank? A Starbucks or a subway car?
That’s a tough call. I’ve only done one prank in a Starbucks, but it’s my all-time favorite. I got a group of seven actors to repeat the same five minutes of time over and over again for an hour. It was subtle at first, but by the end of the hour the Starbucks patrons were freaking out, trying to figure out if they were crazy or if they were actually stuck in a time loop. The subway has always been a favorite prank location for Improv Everywhere. Every January we stage our annual No Pants Subway Ride where we fill up a subway car with pantless riders. I have a feeling the 5th Annual No Pants this winter will be insanely huge.

The pranks seem to be a big hit with whoever gets a chance to witness them - even the police. What's been your favorite reaction to a prank so far?
In May we staged a fake U2 rooftop concert on the roof of my apartment building (across the street from MSG) an hour before an actual U2 show. Just as the real U2 was shut down by the cops for their rooftop performance in L.A. in 1987, the NYPD pulled the plug on us after about 20 minutes. The cops were very aggressive at first, but when they realized what we were doing, they lightened up. The best moment came when they figured out my friend Terry, a Korean-American, was playing The Edge. They actually broke down and laughed out loud.

When will the Improv Everywhere DVD come out? And there must be interest from TV production companies by now!
I have a friend in L.A. who’s working on the DVD for me. It’s a tough job. We have tons of tapes from the last four years. I really have no idea when it will be ready. I’ve been working with some TV producers this year on a pitch. It would definitely be fun to do our thing for a wider audience.

And, finally, have you met Ben Folds yet?
I used to see him on the streets of Chapel Hill back during my UNC days, but we’ve never met. I have no idea if he knows about my stunt. I think he’d like it. I portrayed him as very nice, generous guy, which I’m sure he is.

Questions about NYC:

What's your favorite subway line?
I lived in Astoria for two years, so I’ll give a shout-out to the N and W.

What's your favorite place to catch comedy outside of a comedy club?

Washington Square Park is always a good time. I haven’t seen him lately, but there used to be a street performer there who would cut oranges mid-air with a broad sword. His act was usually met with total indifference by everyone in the park, but he never seemed to care.

Best headlines: NY Post or NY Daily News?
NY Post.

Best and worst gentrification trends:
All of the new high-rise towers are starting to scare me, especially the new one in Astor Place. Jamba Juice is worrying me, too. Do they really need one on 7th and 24th AND 8th and 23rd?

What's the best place for a slice?
Stromboli. 1st and St. Marks.

Dogs, cats, or babies?
Basset Hounds.

Paid Programming begins tonight at the Upright Citizen's Brigade. And check out other missions from Improv Everywhere - that birthday party for Ted at the local bar might not have really been for Ted.