Hell’s Kitchen went Hollywood this week as one local’s act appeared in a now-viral segment on NBC’s variety competition America’s Got Talent!
Charlie Todd, a longtime West Side resident, Community Board 4 member and founder of the popular Improv Everywhere comedy collective led the group in a rousing, multidisciplinary production number disguised as an “audition” for the prominent reality program.
In a clip from this Tuesday’s episode titled “Nervous singer SHOCKS the crowd with one-of-a-kind audition,” AGT judges Simon Cowell, Heidi Klum, Sofía Vergara and Howie Mandel welcomed an uneasy singer and piano player named “Wesley Plummer” to the stage, who proclaimed that if he wins the competition he’ll quit his tech job at a hotel chain to pursue music full-time. Plummer took to the piano and began a shaky rendition of the ABBA classic, Take a Chance On Me, stumbling enough to warrant a chorus of boos from the audience. But before he was dismissed from the audition, a woman shouted into the void: “Give him another chance!”
As the judges turned, the woman broke into a classic, Broadway-style ballad, imploring the team to give Wesley the benefit of the doubt. Soon, other “audience members” piped in, confessing their own mistakes — which ranged from saying things they wish they could take back to farting on Zoom calls — building to a finale backed by a full choir and UCLA’s 40-person marching band.
Audience reactions shifted from confusion to joy as the theater filled with applause at the clever, immersive performance. “Who are you, really?” said a bewildered Howie Mandel to “Wesley”, who turned out to be composer and improv artist Eric Gersen. Gersen, joined by the “audience members” of New York performers Hannah Solow, Justin Phillips, Peter McNerny and Alexandra Nader, credited Charlie’s Improv Everywhere as bringing them together. “You were the first people that I saw online doing like flash mobs back in the day, in the subways and stuff — that was really cool,” said Howie, referencing the spontaneous public performances that the troupe has become known for over the past two decades.
While Sofía critiqued the audition as too staged, the infamously harsh Simon tipped his hat to the group for providing what he felt was a refreshing take on the typical musical performance. “I mean, the whole point of this was to surprise us, right? And I actually was surprised,” said Simon. “I loved the fact that it got bigger and bigger and bigger. I loved the song choice. So I actually really liked this audition.” And while the crowd clearly hoped that Improv Everywhere would get a coveted “Golden Buzzer” to move forward to the next round, it was not to be — Howie and Sofía voted the act down, saying that the surprise would be hard to recreate.
For Charlie, however, the chance to be on AGT and share Improv Everywhere’s work was a prize in itself. “The producers reached out to us and asked us to create a surprise prank on the judges and the audience,” Charlie told W42ST. Though they had only intended to be a “one-time” prank for AGT, Charlie told us, the judges were not informed and their reactions and votes were genuine. “We have a long history of staging surprise musicals, so we figured that would be the best fit,” he added. “Working with a 40-person choir and a full marching band from UCLA really took it to the next level. We had a blast.”
And while not every judge was moved to award the collective, the creative comedic impact of their act clearly made waves with viewers, who decried the judges’ decision and demanded more — “I really think this deserves a golden buzzer,” wrote one commenter on the video, as another added: “How could this act not go through? It was something different and entertaining. I really enjoyed this performance.” For others, the collaborative collective represented a much-needed balm in the hellscape of modern media — as one commenter noted, “This AGT act was a really good and positive moment in time when our country has been dealing with so much cheating, betrayal, and negativity. Don’t be surprised that the audience has acted as if the judges took away their ice cream. We are looking for acts that let us know that it will be all right in the end. This ‘flash mob’ fits the bill.”
What is certain is that Hell’s Kitchen has got talent — here’s to the encore!