A rainbow wheel of terror and joy: Improv Everywhere at TED2012

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Photos: James Duncan Davidson

Colin Robertson is a futurist and is not someone most people have heard of. And as he began his presentation, the crowd was treated to a TED speaker’s worst nightmare: The slides crashed and the Mac multi-colored pizza-wheel of death appeared. Then an error message appeared on screen. Then another, and another. Then the wheel got bigger, and there were more of them. And then ten people in the audience held up rainbow umbrellas and spun them.

And then it got really weird.

That’s because Colin Robertson doesn’t exist. He’s the creation of Charlie Todd and Improv Everywhere, “A New York City-based prank collective that causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places.” Robertson, played by Eugene Cordero, was part of their brilliant and energetic scene of a technical disaster gone flashmob.

The audience was visibly uncomfortable as the tech problems started, but they knew about twenty seconds in that this was on purpose. They still weren’t ready for the sprays of confettii, the people in rainbow clown hats, or the beach-balls tossed from the balcony. Neither was Chris Anderson, who was forced to clear the balls from the stage at the end.