Guerilla Improv: Team High Five

If you just came here from, we've got some explaining to do...

Team High Five isn't real.

If you just want to see the pictures we took of you, go here. But you'd probably have more fun if you read on to find out what really happened :

July 1, 2006, 7:30 PM

Team High-Five:
Agents W. Meredith, T. Marks, Donnelly, Wallerstein, and Carlson.
Undercover crowd members: Agents Watts, R. Marks, Connerly, and M. Meredith
Photography: Agent Thomas

Agent Donnelly:

The Idea and Planning:

Gears started churning for this mission on our message board when Agent Todd stated that he used to go to bars and claim he was on a cross county high-five tour for and get free drinks. I thought of the many times my hand was left stinging after a high-five, I think I even cut someone with my fingernail once, and thought that maybe worse injuries were possible. After a thorough Google search, I had only found one high-five injury, some minor league baseball player broke his wrist high-fiving his coach after a homerun. The fact of the matter was it could and did happen at least once. What if five of our agents represented a high-five, wore matching shirts, and went into bars to promote high-five safety? It was ridiculous and cheap, the two basic qualifications for our missions. This would be our first mission in the bar district, an area that frankly had a good practical joke coming its way.

Agents Meredeth, Marks, Wallerstein, Donnelly, and Carlson, preparing for the first hit

Why on earth would anyone donate large sums of money for such a ridiculous cause? Two teenagers in a car is the only way I could think anyone could die as a result of a high-five, and Connecticut seemed like the affluent place where such a thing can happen. Thusly, The Rory J. Ellis Foundation was formed.

The foundation performed a great deal of high-five research, and came up with some startling high-five statistics. We also needed to teach people how to high-five "correctly", so we created the Safe High-Five to be the most lame, unsatisfying high-five ever. The rules of a safe high-five are:

  • Be gentle!
  • Don't "wind up" before your shoulder
  • Keep your arm and forearm at a ninety degree angle
  • Keep your wrist slightly loose
  • Cup your palm slightly to get all the noise without all of the force
  • Be safe!
  • Know who's hand you are touching in a high-five
  • Know where your hands have been
  • Use protection during cold and flu season
  • Don't drink and high-five!

Agent Meredith developed a great flyer that outlined our fake statistics and pointed people to our website. He also developed a vibrant and rather cheesy logo for our website and t-shirts. Agent Marks wrote up a brilliant photo release form with the organization name, location, etc. Agent Connerly found a variety of hand injury photographs that we could easily claim were caused by reckless high-fives.

My character, Maggie, was Rory's girlfriend since high school. She thought that she and Rory would get married after college (and not-so-coincidentally, I was the ring finger). Having a close personal connection to Rory and his family would probably help us out a lot. With our characters straightened out and our bellies full of pizza, we attacked Westport with full force in our ridiculous shirts.

The Mission:

Our first stop, at Kelly's, was probably the worst of them all. The bar was sparsely populated with an older crowd who had been drinking for some time and probably just wanted to keep drinking. Everywhere we went, the biggest jerks of the bunch were the bar staff themselves, which is understandable since they deal with an alarming amount of yahoos and weirdoes on a daily basis. Since we weren't buying anything initially, they seemed to feel that they had a right to jerk us around.

When I attempted to engage in conversation with one table, I was promptly screamed at by the old bartender, full force in my ear. He didn't like me passing out flyers, didn't care what was on them, and told me to take it outside. Negotiating with this man was futile and only resulted in more yelling. We all stashed the flyers in Agent Thomas' photo bag and attempted to engage in conversation with other patrons to minimal avail. An older fellow wearing overalls approached us and asked what we were promoting.

He told us that we didn't belong in the bar, that we had no right to be here, etc. The younger doormen, a few of which I knew, were amused by us and didn't seem to care what we did, and sheepishly complied with the rules. We weren't directly forced out, but a few more minutes in there would have turned really ugly.

So far, we were not doing too well, my stomach started to sink. But not for long.

Broadway Cafe is a nice independent coffeehouse, and its outdoor seating is prime for people watching and mingling with the alternative crowd. We approached the group, who seemed dumbfounded and amused.

We handed out a lot of flyers, showed all of the injuries, and pretty much won the whole group over. People like to feel smart, they like to call shenanigans and flaws, and though they tried, they all eventually accepted that such a ridiculous group can happen.

An enthusiastic young man approached us and gave us a pretty good grilling, but he seemed amused and insisted that we part ways with a hug rather than a high-five, and so I did.

He was very sweaty. We then hit Starbucks and had the same general dumbfounded/amused response.

At the Dark Horse Tavern, the flyers were again a cause of trouble. When we entered, we asked the doorman if it was okay to hand them out, but he gave us a rude sort of "I don't want to see that. Its not my job" response. The bartender vetoed handing out flyers (thankfully after we had already handed them out to the majority of the patrons). Two guys pulled out a very fancy cell phone and went to our website, which thankfully, Agent Connerly had updated right before we started the mission. High fives ensued.

We entered the dungeon of Buzzard Beach. We basically received nothing more than confused stares and cold shoulders, but this is the same bar where I have seen more reality stars, tattoos, absurd body modifications, and inappropriate spectacles than I care to recall. One man was quite amused by "Fig" (Agent Carlson, whose character's name was Figaro) and engaged with him in a rowdy conversation.

We exited and hung out in the stinky alley way, handing out flyers to cops and passersby while we reformulated our game plan.

Harry's Bar and Tables is a classier sort of place, so we thought better than to go in there, but they waved at me and motioned for us to come in, so two agents entered, and once we saw the rest of the crowd staring with their curiosity peaked, the rest of us entered. I talked to the bartender, who looked at me as if he had seen me before (indeed he had the night before) and explained to him that we weren't here to sell or distribute anything, just chat. He chuckled at the concept stated that he wasn't the boss and that it was fine by him.

An inebriated couple, who were less than classy, harassed me and Agent Meredith after we negotiated with the bartender. The rather frightening man stood up and stared us down and slurred profanities while his girlfriend egged him on. They launched a formal complaint and told us to take our "show outside." The bartender reluctantly and politely asked us to leave, even though a higher population of the paying customers had beckoned us inside and seemed to love us. We left, but not in a hurry.

We did a lot more street work after that, which went well. Most of the people who took a flyer listened to us for a minute or so and then moved on, seemingly unphased by our ridiculous spectacle. Those who denied a flyer seemed perplexed or just annoyed, but generally polite. Our street sessions were generally unmemorable and bland. The real fun was in the bars, and we needed to get back to them. We figured that if we were paying customers and let other patrons approach us, we would be less likely to be thrown out. So, we headed to Blayney's and ordered drinks. The place was empty, so no one really gave us more than a raised eyebrow. We needed to ditch the clipboard, releases and flyers, which we deemed a major red flag and deterrent for people to talk to us.

Agent Marks and I returned to the car to put the clipboard back,. Along the way, two men sitting outside of Tea Drops stopped us and asked what we were doing, and we gladly told them. I think this was the most flawless interaction of the night; the gentlemen were intrigued and really believed us, and stated "Wow, I never thought about that before, but it is really dangerous." I talked about our activities with children at day camps and making the shirts, which seemed to give us even more credibility. They gawked at the injury images and took a few flyers, and were very polite and genuine.

Sans-clipboard, things took a turn for the better. People approached us rather than the other way around, many of them the same people we had encountered an hour or two before. We returned to the Dark Horse Tavern, ordered drinks, and let the chaos unfurl.

There was a delightful group of people at our second visit to the Dark Horse Tavern that included two British or Australian men, who were more than delighted to talk to us. One of them claimed he shaved dolphins, rescued penguins from the Kansas City airport and transported koalas. They were trying to one up us with ridiculous claims, maybe trying to get us to crack, but we never did. One of them high-fived as many people as possible, claiming three of them would get the flu according to our statistics (17% of flu transmissions are caused by high-fives). I told him that was during the peak of cold and flu season, but he didn't really seem to care. Then I told him that he was going to start the second wave of the plague and to stop giving rouge high-fives.

Foolishly, I went into the back room of the bar alone and was immediately surrounded by a group of men I had talked to earlier in the night. And they were pretty, well, pissed off that such a ridiculous organization existed. I was sucked into a vortex of sorts with a few local gentlemen, who initially asked me about the safe high-five and then deliberately gave one another exaggerated, reckless high-fives repeatedly. They didn't take me up for some hand sanitizer. They then completely interrogated me if this was real. They believed it was legit, but would not stop talking about how ridiculous it was and wondered if I really believed in this "weird garbage" I convinced one guy, Eric, that I was a college student who really needed the credit and money, and while I didn't oppose the idea of safe high-fives, it was not at the top of my list of awareness causes. He repeatedly told me that he thought that Team High-Five was the most weird and ridiculous thing he had ever heard of, but he respected that I was doing the project mostly for money and college credit. Apparently, me believing in the cause was unacceptable, ridiculous, and absurd, but to take money was okay in his book. It would have been a lot easier to just let the guy in on the joke, but sticking to the plan was a lot more fun. And as the guy kept saying, we would never see each other again. So I kept the gig up, listened to his stories and drunken ramblings. I then ran away as fast as possible.

The rest of the night was pretty tame. A few people asked us for flyers. I switched shirts and headed back to Harry's with Agent Watts and later Connerly. I was surprised they let me back in. Patrons remembered us, the bar staff didn't. Apparently word had spread because numerous people asked me for a flyer or another one even though I wasn't wearing the shirt. Westport quickly degenerated into drunken chaos, so I was glad we stopped when we did. However, we still had half of the 300 flyers left over. So, Agent Connerly and I placed numerous flyers beneath the windshield wiper blades of the remaining cars around 3AM, which would probably not be retrieved until the next day.


I guess this was a success. People loved and hated us, just like Papa Don't Preach, but those that hated us certainly let us know. I wish we could have handed out more flyers, but I guess we had to respect the wishes of the establishments. Honestly, I've never had people yell at me or treat me so poorly before in my life, even when I worked in Westport as a waitress. I am glad that people question things and are willing to do so with such fervor. Now if they would just do it with the government...

Agent Connerly:

While being undercover you get to hear some funny responses from the crowd that would otherwise be missed. For example:

  • "Its probably one of those Christian groups. I've seen it a million times. Now, if one of thier shirts said 'F**ker', it'd be a different story"
    -Guy at Dark Horse

  • "These guys have too much time on their hands. Or too little.."
    -Confused old lady at Kelly's

  • "Oh look, they've got a website... I'll use this to waste time at work!"
    -Guy on the street

  • "That's so funny! I wish we had people doing stuff like that back in New York City"
    -Trish from NYC (home of ImprovEverywhere), after being let in on the joke late in the night


Full Gallery of the mission, Team High Five

Discussion & Feedback thread of the mission

Team High Five website
High Five Fact Flier from the mission
High Five Injuries examples (pdf)

More missions