In 2011, four friends from Staten Island started a hidden camera show on truTV, a network that, at the time, was making a transition into a reality TV focus. The show would put these four friends in different embarrassing improvisational “competitions,” the loser of which would be put through and even more embarrassing punishment.
Five and a half years later, Impractical Jokers has arguably become the flagship show of the now comedy-based network, and its four stars (Brian “Q” Quinn, Sal Vulcano, Joe Gatto, and James “Murr” Murray) are showing absolutely no signs of slowing down. In fact, this past weekend at San Diego Comic-Con, they officially announced their SIXTH SEASON! I got a chance to sit down with the Jokers at SDCC during the Impractical Jokers Block Party to talk about the show, its growth, and how they are able to stay grounded through it all.
We dove a bit into the group’s past. While most people know them as the Jokers, they were first known by their sketch comedy group name, The Tenderloins. While the TV show certainly showcases their improv skills, their YouTube channel has a plethora of hilarious sketches that show off their creativity (warning, some of these are NSFW).
I asked them if they could go back and with the truTV resources and budget they have now, would they re-shoot any of their older sketch videos. They had a series called Blind Cops, and if they could go back, they would definitely shoot Blind Cops 3.
Murr added, “If they asked us to reshoot ‘The Craig Murray Incident,’ I would NOT because that sketch was PERFECT.”
The conversation then moved on to the growing popularity of Impractical Jokers, which has led to a growing presence at SDCC. In 2013 at SDCC, they released an exclusive comic book with DC and did a few signings. The next year they did a show. 2015 saw the first “Hall of Impractical Jokers,” where they redesigned one of San Diego’s downtown art galleries and turned it into a shrine for the group. This year was their biggest yet, as over 25,000 SDCC attendees gathered at Petco Park for the Impractical Jokers Block Party, as well as another “Hall of Impractical Jokers” at Dick’s Last Resort in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. The all-day event involved carnival food, a DJ, and different activities where attendees were able to experience for themselves some of the group’s funniest challenges. Included were a tightrope walk, scary corn maze, and sumo wrestling. (That’s just SDCC. They also have a live comedy tour that covers the U.S. and the UK, and this past February had their very first Impractical Jokers Cruise!).
With their continuing growing popularity, I asked them how they were able to stay grounded. “We check each other pretty hard,” said Q. “We’ve all had moments where we’re like, ‘Dude, why don’t you relax?’ But I like to think we’re okay guys, so it’s not really a problem.” Joe added, “We started the show we were 34 and 35, so you’re already the person you’re going to be at that point. So that helps.”
We then talked about the challenges. For those who haven’t watched the show before, the premise is that one or more of the Jokers challenges another to do a hilariously awkward task—for instance, to do and say whatever the other Jokers tell him to do via obscured earbuds all the while acting like a fast food employee and still trying to get a tip. While there is hilarity in the dares themselves, the true fun comes from watching each of the Jokers push themselves past their own comfort zones.
I asked them if there had ever been challenges that they were surprised they were able to complete. “Not some much from ourselves, but we get surprised with what we see each other do,” said Joe. “There was one challenge where Murr took a guy’s sock off his shoe and put it in his mouth. I couldn’t believe he did that.”
Q added, “When Sal jumped out of a helicopter 30 feet into a lake, that amazed me.” Q also brought up how, over the course of the show, each of them has built up a sort of mental callous. “If you look at what we did in the beginning to what we do now, we go for a lot more now. That callous over time helps because it makes us do even crazier things.” Those callouses have helped them definitely become more creative, but not over the top. While the challenges get harder as each season progresses, they don’t just do things for shock value.
While the show has a competition base, with points and such throughout, the guys stressed that comedy comes first. “No matter what the score is, we always know that this is a comedy show,” said Murr.
You can see how the Jokers changed the show over time to ensure that comedy was at the forefront. “When we started, we would have five or six challenges for a 30-minute episode. Now we have two to three. It gives us time to breathe a bit,” said Joe.
We wrapped up the interview by talking about their favorite type of challenge, which also happened to be mine: presentations. The guys are split into teams and have to give a power point presentation to a focus group. The two Jokers presenting don’t know before they start the presentation what’s on the slides because they were created by the other team. Not only are they hilarious to watch, but it also gives the audience a chance to see all fours guys’ comedic talents at the same time.
Earlier in the day, someone asked the Jokers what brings the fans in. What is it about Impractical Jokers that would cause fans from all over to gravitate towards them? They responded that they are just four friends, just four regular guys that haven’t changed in the 20-odd years they’ve known each other, and that it translates well throughout the show. Nothing shows that more than their 100th live episode. Each of them had to walk over a tight rope 10 stories in the air. Murr, Joe, and Sal tried but didn’t make it across. However, Q was able to make it all the way.
When Q’s foot hits the platform on the other side, and the celebration starts, there is a shot of the other three Jokers. The looks on their faces say it all. They weren’t just a group of TV stars watching their cast mate do something cool. At that moment, they were three regular guys from Staten Island that just watched their best friend, their family, do the impossible. Why do fans gravitate towards them? Because maybe regular people want to achieve the impossible as well. Thanks to the Jokers, in their own, hilarious way, we know it can be done.
Impractical Jokers’ fifth season is currently airing Thursday Nights at 10 EST on truTV. For tour dates, head to thetenderloins.com
So what do you think? What Jokers’ challenge is your favorite? What type of punishment should the guys do next? Let me know on Twitter or sound off in the comments below.
Featured Image: truTV