Guerilla Improv: Reverse Panhandling

April 26, 2007, 6:30 PM

Homeless Agents:
Agent Carlson and Agent Todd (no relation)
Undercover Agents: Agent Curtis, Agent Stewart

Agent Connerly:

Kansas City has just passed a street performer / panhandling ordinance that has a lot of KC's roving artists up in arms. One of the aspects of the ordinance is that you can't be insistent about asking for money in certain affluent shopping districts, including our favorite target in town, The Country Club Plaza. So we thought we'd do the opposite. Be insistent about giving away money.

Photography by Curt Rierson of

Agent Todd:

This was interesting in the same way that the Papa don't Preach mission was in that people are obviously conditioned to have these blinders that keep them from looking at or acknowledging a (seemingly) homeless person. People would walk by as we would say "Would you like some change?", and their automatic reaction was "I don't have any."

We were set up about 15 yards from a real life panhandler (is that PC? What is the PC term nowadays?) and a few people would take the change and as they walked by him, give it to him. I was actually pretty grateful to the Police on The Plaza, and security for telling him about what we were doing. If we had not prepared and just gone into it, I would not have wanted to handle a confrontation, mostly because I'm pretty pacifistic.

One of my favorite parts of the mission was the students from Rockhurst High School. They were there doing a photography project, and they were actually the first people to actually take any change from us. They were there to photograph Jerry (the...hobo? I'm fairly certain that's not PC, but it's fun to say). After photographing him for a while, they came back to us to ask us what our deal was. I just said that we had had a good year and were giving a little back to the community. They continued asking Agent Carlson about our motives, while I kept trying to give out change to people as they were coming. The kids then decided they wanted to photograph us. After snapping 30 million photos, one of the kids asked me about the car I had sold. In what was a pretty bonehead move, I told him I had never had a car, to which the kid replied that that was what Agent Carlson had told him. I quickly caught myself and told him that, yeah, I had sold a car, but it wasn't worth much of anything and barely ran. Anywho, flash forward about 20 minutes to after the mission had ended and we were a few blocks up the street and around the corner, changing. The kids walked up on us again as we were changing and just stopped, staring with their mouths wide open. Eventually they came up to us and asked what we were *really* doing, and we had to come clean. They thought it was great and swore that they totally bought our stories. We swore them to secrecy and went on our way.

Agent Curtis :

I loved watching Agent Carlson and Agent Todd try to hand change out to the people on the plaza. At first people just put their heads down and said that they had nothing to share. Some people would walk away and begin to smile, but my favorite moment came when two highschoolers from Rockhurst came by and started taking pictures of Agent Carlson and Agent Todd. They obviously thought that they were really homeless and handing out change. I walked by and Tommy immediately got in my face and asked if I wanted any change. I said no way, I don't know where it has been with a disgusting look on my face. One of the highschool kids got really defensive and said Would you take change from someone in Gap, and I said yes because they are clean and walked away. I couldn't help but laugh when I got about 10 feet away. Later the kids saw the camera and all of us walking together and asked if they had just been on Punked.

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