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Improv Everywhere

Undeniable Recap of 2013

It’s been an incredible year. I’ve had so many things happen that I had to start keeping notes months ago to keep up with all the awesome things that were happening – personally and professionally.  It’s really hard to pare the list of top events from the year down to the top five but here goes.

1. Seeing my Gymnastics Family at Rocky’s Memorial.  I had a lot of achievements this year, but by far the best day was hanging out with my teammates and coaches from my gymnastics days. I hadn’t seen some of these people in 20 years and it was like no time had passed. It’s unfortunate that it took the death of my coach and mentor, Rocky Kees, to bring us together again.

REG-Reunion

2. Speaking at SXSW.  I was shocked when I saw that I made the list of people who were invited to speak at South by Southwest this year. Over 4400 applications were submitted for 450 slots. I had a blast in Austin at the conference and just taking in the city. Doing my talk on copyright in digital media was an incredible but so was meeting Improv Everywhere’s founder Charlie Todd (and doing the MP3 Experiment with his crew) and running into/inviting myself to coffee with three of the captains from Deadliest Catch.

3. Book Contracts with the American Bar Association.  It was a very busy year of writing. I signed contracts to write two books for the ABA – Flash Mob Law and The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers – so I basically was brainstorming and writing from mid-February until mid-August. And then my publisher asked for a rewrite one of my manuscripts in October so that was another two weeks of whirlwind writing. Flash Mob Law was released in July and The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers is due out in February 2014. I’m really pleased with these books.

4. Minimalism Project.  I was inspired to clean out my life this year – to go through everything I own and get rid of the things I don’t use and don’t add value to my life. Since I started this project, I got rid of at least a quarter of my wardrobe, cleaned out my files and memory boxes, and I’m in the process of downsizing my Star Trek collection. I feel much more clear-headed when my surroundings are simple and uncluttered. I plan to maintain my minimalistic perspective when it comes to bringing new things into my life and continue to regularly examine my life to make sure I’m only keeping useful things around me.

5. Carter Law Firm went Brick and Mortar.  One of the last significant things I did this year was sign the lease for my law firm’s first brick and mortar office. It’s an office space with seven offices – all attorneys – who share a receptionist. Almost everyone is a solo practitioner. I’ve only been there about a month but it’s been great so far. I love that Rosie gets to come to work with me.

International Go Topless Day by Sheila Dee from Flickr (used with permission)

International Go Topless Day by Sheila Dee from Flickr (used with permission)

Firsts in 2013
First trip to Austin
First mission with Improv Everywhere
First time running with a headlamp
First bike ride with my iPod
First Go Topless Day Protest
First road trip with Rosie
First trip to the Google ‘Plex
First bad bike accident – flipped over my bike’s handlebars
First ASU tailgate party
First Arizona State Fair, including a first ride on the Zipper
First trip to Ford Theater
First ASU football game in Sun Devil Stadium
First night parade
First Phoestivus – with airing of grievances
First office space
First ASTYM
First dry needling
Food Firsts: bacon maple bar, hush puppy, brownie in a mug, fish tacos, scrapple, hot pot

Ruth & CharlieCelebrity Sightings in 2013
Best-selling author Gary Vaynerchuk
Captain Keith Colburn from Deadliest Catch
Captain Jonathan Hillstrand from Deadliest Catch
Captain Sig Hansen from Deadliest Catch
Improv Everywhere founder Charlie Todd
Bully Director Lee Hirsch
Dr. Drew Pinsky

In Memoriam
Rev. Charlie Coppinger
Jerry Grucky
Rocky Kees

I Met Charlie Todd!

I’ve known about Charlie Todd and Improv Everywhere since he uploaded Frozen Grand Central to YouTube in 2008. I was fascinated by their creativity and boldness from the start. I went back and watched all their videos and read all the blogs from their missions – it was captivating. I subscribed to their YouTube channel and I joined the now-disbanded “Urban Prankster Network” online.

Charlie Todd and Me

Charlie Todd and Me

Charlie and I have exchanged emails and messages over the years after I helped co-found Improv AZ and I started digging into the legal issues surrounding flash mobs and pranks. He was always friendly and helpful, but since we lived on opposite sides of the country, we never met in person.

A few weeks ago, I got a note from Charlie saying that he was debuting his film “We Cause Scenes” at SXSW. The film follows the story of Improv Everywhere from the beginning to where it is now. I love this story because Charlie didn’t start out trying to create this group. He was just a guy who was having fun with his friends and he embraced the opportunities that allowed it to grow into his career. I was so excited. I immediately put his film at the top of my SXSW to-do list.

I met Charlie about an hour before the film in the convention center. When I saw his familiar face, threw up my arms, and screeched, “Charlie Todd!” I gave him a big hug and chatted for a few minutes before claiming my spot in line. It was so great to meet him in person but because we’ve been conversing for years, it was like seeing an old friend.

The movie was fantastic. If it comes to your city, go see it. It’s a great story.

During the Q&A after the movie, Charlie announced that Improv Everywhere was doing an MP3 Experiment in Austin. I of course rearranged my schedule so I could go. We were given a place, a time, an MP3 to download, and we were told to wear a certain color shirt and bring an uninflated balloon. You’ll have to wait to see the video to see what we did, but we had a blast. It was so great to do a mission with my prankster brothers and sisters.

I give my friend Jeff Moriarty a lot of credit for helping me become the person I am today. If he hadn’t organized the first No Pants Ride in Phoenix, there never would have been an Improv AZ and I wouldn’t be a flash mob attorney and blogger. Watching Charlie’s movie reminded me that I have to give him a lot of credit too. He was the one who came up with the idea for the original No Pants Subway Ride and he was the one who decided to invite the world to participate in 2009. If he hadn’t done that, he wouldn’t have given Jeff his launch into the official prank/flash mob world.

So thank you Charlie. Without you, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

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Going Pantsless was the Best Thing I Did in Law School

The best thing I did in law school was the 2009 No Pants Light Rail Ride in Phoenix, Arizona. The people I met there opened the doors to the opportunities that made me the lawyer and the person I am today.

Photo by Jamey Peachy

Improv Everywhere has been doing the No Pants Subway Ride since 2002. In preparation for the 2009 ride, they invited everyone to organize No Pants Rides on the same day in cities all over the world. Jeff Moriarty conspired with a small group of his friends to do a ride on the newly opened light rail in Phoenix. I was a first-year law student and really a nobody in my school and the greater legal community. I didn’t know Jeff back then, but I saw the event on Facebook and signed up to do it with some of my friends.

On the day of the ride, all of my friends who were supposed to do the No Pants Ride with me chickened out. I wasn’t surprised. I said, “You guys all suck. I’m going without you” and I headed out to Tempe to meet my fellow pantsless riders. I figured Jeff had to be a cool guy for organizing the ride, so I purposely stood next to him on the ride and chatted all the way to our final destination.

The rest is history. I can show you, in 7 connections or less, how participating in the 2009 No Pants Ride led to some of my best professional opportunities and experiences.

No Pants Ride >>> Establishing Myself as a Legal Expert

  • Many of the people at the 2009 No Pants Ride are involved in blogging. This inspired me to have a blog.
  • Jeff Moriarty helped me create UndeniableRuth.com in January 2010.
  • I wrote, and still write, weekly posts about legal issues.
  • My posts demonstrated that I have a unique voice and competence in certain areas of law.
  • I parlayed my expertise into opportunities to write dozens of guest blog posts; provide quotes for news articles and blogs; participate in TV, radio, and podcast interviews; and give presentations at conferences.

No Pants Ride >>> Sponsor A Law Kid  

  • I met Jeff at the 2009 No Pants Ride.
  • Jeff is the creator of Ignite Phoenix. He encouraged me to apply to be an Ignite presenter.
  • I was selected for Ignite Phoenix #5 to present Frosting the Law.
  • Kade Dworkin was one of my fellow presenters at Ignite Phoenix #5.
  • Kade had a podcast in 2010 called Meet My Followers where he interviewed his Twitter followers.
  • One of Kade’s guests was Jason Sadler, founder of I Wear Your Shirt.
  • I Wear Your Shirt inspired me to create Sponsor A Law Kid, that funded part of my final semester of law school in 2011.

No Pants Ride >>> Paid Blogger for Attorney at Work

  • A group of us from the 2009 No Pants Ride founded Improv AZ to continue to do flash mobs and pranks in Phoenix.
  • Planning events with Improv AZ sparked my interest in flash mob law.
  • I asked Ari Kaplan whether this might be a viable niche.
  • Ari used my interest in an article for Law Practice Magazine in the fall of 2009.
  • The editor of the magazine, Mark Feldman, loved it. He continued to follow me and blog.
  • When Mark created Attorney at Work with Joan Feldman and Merrilyn Astin Tarlton, they invited me to be one of their professional bloggers in 2011.

And that’s the tip of the iceberg. I can show how the No Pants Ride led to making some of my best professional connections, writing my first book, developing an interest in podcasting, and meeting some of the most wonderful people in my life.

The 2012 Global No Pants Ride is this Sunday, January 8th in at least 56 cities. If there’s a ride near you, you should go. You never know what will come out of it.

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Flash Mobs Are Not Crimes

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.  This blog should not be viewed as legal advice.  It is simply my experiences, opinions, and information I looked up on the internet.

It appears the term “flash mob” is being used inappropriately and its meaning is being overly broadened to include any group activity that is coordinated using social media.  This year, there have been several robberies and assaults perpetrated by a group of people that appear (at least on the surface) to have been orchestrated via social media sites.  The media has called them “flash mob crimes.”  They make it sound like someone created a Facebook event that said, “Meet at Broadway and Main at 10pm.  At exactly 10:03, we’re all going to run into the minimart, grab whatever we want, and run out.”  That’s not a flash mob.  That’s solicitation and possibly conspiracy.  If the event actually occurs, it’s larceny and perhaps inciting a riot.

Improv AZ - Where's Waldo Flash Mob Photo by Jeff Moriarty

A flash mob is defined as “a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and sometimes seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment and/or satire.”  Flash mobs have been occurring at least since the 1970’s.  In recent years, they have been orchestrated via email and social media websites; however, that does not mean that every public group activity that is coordinated via social media is a flash mob.

Flash mobs are generally light-hearted innocuous fun.  People who participate in flash mobs ride public transportation without their pants; they welcome back strangers at the airport; they have fake battles between heroes and villains; and they stand frozen in place for short periods of time.  Some protests and promotional events are referred to as “flash mobs,” but technically they’re not.  And any event that has a criminal intent is definitely not a flash mob.

I give the media some leeway when it comes to coining terms; however, I was deeply disturbed when I saw a legal website refer to flash mobs as including criminal behavior.  It suggests the writer did not do their research on this topic.

I love flash mobs.  I have been participating in them and organizing them since 2009.  When Improv AZ organizes a flash mob, we do thorough research on the potential legal implications of our event.  I have attended an event with pages of statutes in my back pocket to ensure that we’re acting within the confines of the law.  We are diligent to inform our participants in advance of their do’s and don’ts.  We may push the envelope, but we never intend to cross the line.  Most of our encounters with police involve them smiling or laughing at us.  At the 2010 No Pants Ride after party, a Tempe police car stopped near us and an officer yelled out, “We had a briefing about you!”  And then he went about his merry way, knowing we were harmless.  A bit odd and rather goofy, but harmless.

Flash mobs are harmless, playful, and unexpected events.  They are not criminal acts by design.  Flash mobs and crimes are two completely different phenomena.  They do not exist on the same continuum.

In other news, the flash mob community needs to send a big “thank you” to Mayor Jackson and the city of Cleveland.   Mayor Jackson recently vetoed a proposed law that would have made it illegal to use social media to coordinate a flash mob.  Thank you for protecting our First Amendment rights!

Is That Legal – No Pants Ride

Disclaimer: Although I am a lawyer, I am not your lawyer. This blog should not be viewed as legal advice and does not form an attorney-client relationship with any reader.  

The Global No Pants Ride is this Sunday, January 9, 2011.  This event was started by Improv Everywhere in New York 2001 and has become an international event.  People in at least 49 cities all over the world will be riding their public transportation without their pants.  They will look totally normal from the waist up, but from the waist down, they will only be in their underwear and shoes.  A common question I often get when I talk about the No Pants Ride is, “Is that legal?”

No Pants Ride 2013 - Photo by Joseph Abbruscatto from Flickr (used with permission)

No Pants Ride 2013 – Photo by Joseph Abbruscatto from Flickr (used with permission)

In most circumstances, the answer is “yes.”  If people were required to always wear pants in public, going to a public beach or pool wouldn’t be that much fun.  To anyone who finds this event repulsive, remember that we will be more covered than most people are at the beach.  Everyone who is participating in a No Pants Ride must follow the decency law of their state.   In Arizona, that means you must have your genitals covered.   You probably don’t want to wear a thong on the ride because (1) there is an argument that you’re not sufficiently covered, and (2) do you really want to put your bare tush on a subway or light rail seat?

If you’re going to wear boxers on your No Pants Ride, consider wearing a pair of briefs underneath them.   You don’t want to risk accidentally exposing yourself when you sit down.

Last year at the Arizona No Pants Ride, our group of about 350 pantsless people met at Arizona Center.  After about an hour of pantslessly enjoying our beverages at Starbucks and Hooters, we were told by mall security that we had to put on pants or leave.  We chose to leave.  (No more business for you!)  That was perfectly legal for them to do.  Malls and businesses are privately owned and just as they can say, “No shirt, no shoes, no service,” they can require that people wear pants while on their property.  We left and went to Dave’s Electric Brew Pub where they were happy to have our pantsless patronage.

I am very excited for Sunday’s No Pants Ride.  For my fellow Phoenix pantsless riders, please visit Improv AZ’s website for all the details and RSVP on the Facebook event page.  If you want to see the video of last year’s ride, it is available on YouTube.  If you want more information about the legalities of flash mobs and public pranks, I spoke about this topic at Ignite Phoenix #5.

See you on Sunday!

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