Saturday, June 30, 2007

Free Hugs Debrief

Another Fantastic Day with Folks from SFShenanigans!
The event started around 1PM with Agent TheBeast, Agent O.Range, Agent Luna, and Agent Me.Ow doling out the hugs on on the Powell Street side of Union Square. After getting "warmed up" for the first half hour, the group migrated down to the Union Square corner at Powell and Geary, right in front of the Heart installed there. (Apropos, huh?)

Agent Luna was a machine! She was the most insistent hugger out there, giving hugs everywhere she could, traffic be damned! It was a frequent occurrence to see Agent Luna half-way into a car hugging passengers through open windows. She even climbed into one of the trolley-looking tour busses to hug as many tourists as possible, all the while being encouraged by the tour driver on his PA system.

Agent Me.Ow was not to be outdone though, as she scaled the side of a fire engine to give the same half-in-half-out hugging treatment which Agent Luna is fond of, except Agent Me.Ow was doing this a full 10 feet off the ground!

As a 'guerrilla hugging group', you never know what kind of reception you're going to get from 'The Man'. Several of our Agents tensed up as Agent Luna went to give a window-hug to one of San Francisco's finest, and was told to "Wait There." The Police Sergeant turned the corner, drove up the block, and parked his cruiser. We kept on hugging the people that came in front of us, though we all kept a wary eye on the dark figure of the peace officer that was approaching...

It turns out that Sergeant K just wanted to give each and every one of us a hug as well. He stuck around for a while chit-chatting about SFShenanigans, brides, and Santas, and how he enjoys doing his part to support those types of events. At one point, while Sarge K was holding one of the Free Hugs signs, a little girl shyly approached him, wrapped her arms around his lower thigh, and gave him what is arguably the cutest hug of the day! (Please bear with us while we deal with the technical difficulties of finding and publishing that photo. We *really* want to get that up here.!)

Throughout the day, we had a raft of huggers filter in and out amongst our ranks. In addition to the initial four we had these other huggers 'represent': Agent Matt, Agent Katty, Agent Shannou, Agent Jeremy, Agent SecretV, and Agent Ms. P. We even newly minted an agent: Agent Becky, who was visiting town for the weekend, but might just be moving to San Francisco from the Midwest due in part to her fantastic Free Hugs experiences!

It was a great, fun, happy, and surprisingly emotional day. (Little known fact: giving out hundreds of hugs is an emotional exercise as well!) At the end of the day, Agent TheBeast was heard to be whining about "spraining his huggers". What better way to know that the Free Hugs crew did their jobs?

For anyone else interested in giving out Free Hugs, here are a couple of the things we learned throughout the day.
  1. Eye contact works! People don't realize they want a hug until they see the good-will in your eyes.
  2. Have an arm subtly put out. People don't want to hamper your ability to hold your Free Hugs sign, but a free arm lets them know you are open for the hugging!
  3. A mixed gender group is important. Only having one single gender represented somehow changes the groups' approachability as a whole.

UPDATE (2008-02-28): The photos of the police officer have been FOUND! Check them out!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Mission Debrief - "Make Our Own Celebrity"
Concept: get our amateur cameras into a mission without being out-of-place

Plan: a little-known celebrity is spotted walking the streets of San Francisco, and a small group of fans proceed to fawn over her
Challenges: "selling" the celebrity status

Execution: Agent Shannou assumed the character of Ms. Pia Haraldsen, a little known (in the U.S.) Norwegian celebrity. Agent TheBeast would bolster celebrity credibility by acting as a bodyguard. While the Agents walked around the high-end SF shopping district, a group of bystanders would notice the celebrity in their midsts and pursue Pia requesting photos and autographs.

Mission Report from Agent Shannou

Andy Warhol once said "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." I feel lucky since this last weekend, I got to be famous for a whole 30 minutes. SFShenanigans, the Improv Everywhere-inspired group, had their second antic, called "Make Our Own Celebrity". And I got to be the celebrity. So I was the French-speaking Norwegian Pia Haraldsen, who was supposedly rumored to have something going with U2's Bono, and who was followed around by a group of very-exuberant fans.

As Pia, I walked down the street, accompanied by my bodyguard who walked behind me and who wouldn't let any of the plebian masses get too close while I did a little shopping. And this wasn't any normal shopping. I walked into the most fancy stores around Union Square, such as BCBG, Prada, Emporio Armani and Bulgari. Usually I would hesitate to go into these because I'd be afraid that the people who worked there would turn up their noses at me, but being dressed nicely and being accompanied by my suit-and-sunglass-wearing burly bodyguard made me fearless. I felt like I was right at home casually looking at jewelry that probably cost more than my yearly salary, and saying nonchalantly to those who asked if they could help me that I was "just looking."

My favorite part was when I went into Bulgari to look around, and a few of the fans rushed in to try to follow me and take pictures. A couple of the Bulgari security guards jumped forward to usher them out, telling them that "they couldn't do that in here" and that they had to leave.

It was hilarious and awesome to see them move into action to protect me. They locked the stores doors behind me so that the fans were stuck outside, and told me that I could stay there as long as I needed. They could see that I was worried about the fans that were following me, and wanted to make me feel comfortable that I was safe in that elitist place where the special classes could be separated from the lower ones. I couldn't believe I was being guarded by f'in Bulgari security, as well as my own bodyguard who was stationed at the door, ready for my command.

I told them in my French accent that I would look around a bit more, and then when finally I was ready to leave and the fans had moved on, a guard unloced the door and said "Au Revoir" politely to me.

When I was out of the stores on the street, I was almost constantly followed by a group that kept asking for my picture, an autograph, or just screamed, "We love you, Pia!" One of the fans even asked me for a date, saying, "What does Bono have that I don't?" I occasionally turned around and gave a quick autograph, or a demure smile for the camera, but then there were a few times that I blocked the camera from seeing my face or asked my bodyguard in French why these crazy Americans wouldn't leave me alone.

It sounds like the group of fans got a lot of people curious about whom I was. Everyone wants to be able to tell a story to their friends about having got to see a celebrity up close. Some tourists around Union Square who weren't part of SFShenanigans even took pictures of me, and some even pretended that they'd heard of me when the group explained who I was. It was great fun to be part of an antic that caused such curiosity and excitement. I can definitely see both the attraction to being loved and followed everywhere, and how it would get to be a bit of an annoyance if it couldn't be escaped.

Mission Report from Agent TheBeast

Playing the part of "The Bodyguard", it was my job to really drive home the fact that our Pia was someone.

One of the things that really helped me play my part was my appearance. I am a big burly guy, but dress me up in a dark suit and dark sunglasses, and I am a ready-made bouncer-type. (It's probably the only time in YEARS that I was looking forward to 'dressing up'.)

Another thing that helped me to cement Pia's international allure was the fact that both Agent Shannou and I spoke French. (Agent Shannou's French is much better than mine. For example, I knew how to say "go left" and "go right" in French, but forgot how to say "go straight ahead". Consequently, whenever Pia asked me which way we were going, it was ALWAYS to the left or right, and never once did I offer the option of 'straight ahead'.)

I could not believe how well my presence broadcast Pia's social ranking in the different stores. I would hold the door for her as we entered a store, and as she made her way in I kind of stood back near the front door in a military-esque "at ease" stance. At this point, the employees would practically trip over themselves (while simultaneously keeping a veneer of calm) to offer Pia some assistance. One store offered to escort us to what sounded like a very exclusive "second floor", and the Bulgari security people jumped into action when we had 'a little incident' with some overly-zeaulous fans.

All in all, this mission was great fun!

Mission Report from Agent O.Range

Overall Rating: 8.75

Let me tell ya. With this one, I sweat! It ain't no easy thing trying to get the photo/autograph/admiration of a fake celebrity... 'speshlee with a scary bodyguard on her heels.

Myself and 3 other operatives (Agent, Agent Me.Ow, and Agent Luna) stalked Agent Shannou for ~13 blocks in Union Square at the height of the tourist time. Within a half hour we:
  • had bystanders offer to take our photo
  • got someone to dig through their car to find us a pen for autographs
  • answered a 100 or so questions about the famous person we were chasing
  • and (dun.dun.DUN) got seriously ushered out of the store called Bulgari.(YES!)

Not only was the mere act worth it all, but $2.95 Irish coffee at The Gold Dust was a hell of an incentive! It was also excellent to meet Agent Hozexy and (visiting) Agent Wit, our new and lovely operatives!!!

SFShenanigans ONWARD!

Sunday, June 17, 2007


Wow! The "Make Our Own Celebrity" event was a HUGE SUCCESS!! That was a great day, and I think everyone went home with a smile on their faces!

For you, dear reader, we implore you to be patient while we compile mission reports and photographs... We hope to have some of them posted within the next couple of days.

In the meantime, have you planned your "Free Hugs" memorabilia for next week? (I think I am going to be making a t-shirt or three from what I learned in this MAKE Magazine article.)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

[Update] June 16 - Make Our Own Celebrity

Hello Shenanigan-erz!

Ms. Pia Haraldsen (a.k.a. Agent Shannou) has been hard at work hand-picking the appropriately chichi retail stores for us to visit. She's even thrown together a FANTASTIC map showing our route.

(Tangential to this, I also realized we could call this mission "Fake Our Own Celebrity"... I dunno why, but the rhymey pun amuses me...)

Lookin' forward to seeing all of you there!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

June 16 - Make Our Own Celebrity

Hello Shenanigan-erz!

We would like to invite you to our next Shenanigan on June 16th, at approximately 1PM.

We are going to be playing "Make Our Own Celebrity". Here's how it is set up: Agent Shannou (pictured at left) is playing the part of a little known (in the U.S.) celebrity from Europe (more on that below). Agent TheBeast (pictured below) is playing the part of her security guy.

Starting at 1PM, Agent Shannou's character will be seen leaving the Westfield Mall and making her way to Sephora on Powell. YOU, a part of Team SFShenanigans will "happen upon" Agent Shannou, and want pictures and/or autographs. However, her security officer is a little tense, and will be restricting access to the beloved celebrity. You may stick around,
whispering "is it really her?", or "she seems shorter in real life", or whatever other star-struck statements you may come up with...

After a little bit, Ms. Celebrity will tire of that shopping locale and head to the next one near Union Square... And the next one... And the next one... (Think Disney Store, Jewelry Stores, Victoria's Secret, etc...) Eventually (after a 1/2 hour or so), we will end up at The Gold Dust on Powell, everyone will break character, and we can have a drink and reminisce, and possibly plot our next outing.

What you need: Yourself, a camera, your creativity.

What we will supply: More info and a back-story (below), the beginnings of our route (above), the object of your affection, and a security guard.

(If you would like to become a part of the planning, look us up in Google Groups under "sfshenanigans"...)


Here is the back story we've worked out:
Who is she? -
Pia Haraldsen, adopted daughter of the nephew of Queen Sonja of Norway (which could explain the security). Who dated Guillaume, Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg (as noted here:

Why would American's know her? - She was seen hanging out with Bono and/or The Edge (of U2) in France, and Entertainment Tonight said that you had recently met at a charity
event (though they implied something "naughty" might be going on...)

If you have any questions, email