In December 2011, longtime friends Joe Gatto, James Murray, Brian Quinn and Sal Vulcano reinvented the prank show with their truTV series “Impractical Jokers.”
Each episode, the guys challenge each other to complete embarrassing tasks amid unsuspecting members of the public as they're filmed by hidden cameras. After the pranks are completed, the joker who fails hardest at his challenge is subjected to a "punishment" designed by the other guys.
After six seasons and more than 160 episodes and specials, the “Impractical Jokers” empire has evolved to include an after-show hosted by Joey Fatone, international spin-offs in nearly a dozen countries, a four-day “Impractical Jokers” cruise and a live stage show—under their comedy troupe name, The Tenderloins—that has sold out multiple nights at both New York City’s Radio City Music Hall and London’s O2 Arena.
Last month at San Diego Comic-Con, the guys drew more than 16,500 fans to the second annual “Impractical Jokers Block Party” at Petco Park, which featured show-inspired fan experiences, a live web show and autograph sessions with James (aka “Murr”), Brian (aka “Q”) and Sal.
I sat down with James and Sal in the stands at Petco Park—home of San Diego Padres—to get the inside scoop on the show’s great triumphs (briefcases full of money) and hilarious failures (mimes), and find out what’s ahead in season six.
David Onda: You just wrapped filming the second half of "Impractical Jokers" season six. Can you tell me about some of the things you're really excited about this season?
James Murray: Last week, we had a full-hour episode in Hawaii, which was awesome. And then, later on this season, we go back to Universal Studios. We filmed a punishment at their Volcano Bay theme park, which was wild.
Onda: How do the people in Hawaii differ from those on the mainland?
Sal Vulcano: They were chill. [To James] Remember that guy we invited to the party? We did this bit where we’re standing 100 feet away from each other, but we’re working for the same company, and we’re at these booths. When someone walks by—“Can you do me favor? My friend, he’s my coworker, but I’m not allowed to leave my station. Can you relay a message?” So, I give him the message, he tells it. James is 100 feet away. James has to be like, “Can you do me favor? Can you let him know I said this?” So, we had to see how many times we could get him to walk back and forth 100 feet. He did it like 8 or 9 times, and then we invited him to a party.
Onda: Does doing a show like this, and meeting a guy like that, help restore your faith in humanity?
Murray: It actually does. It really does.
Vulcano: The show, I’d say more than not, restores my faith in humanity.
Murray: People are good overall. And they’re willing to put up with more than you think. They just wanna be happy and live their lives. I’m surprised every day by their reactions.
Vulcano: There’s one of every type, but for the most part, the things that we took away from the six years of doing this is we get still surprised at how much people are willing to be patient and put up with.
Onda: As the show continues to gain popularity, has it become harder to pull off pranks because you’re more recognizable in public?
Murray: It’s a problem for sure, but that’s a good problem to have, first of all. Second, we work pretty well with it. We have new ways to do the show, to test out if people recognize us or not. We wouldn’t necessarily do a ballfield like this. We’d get recognized too much. We do more one-on-one-type challenges, things like that. And we have tricks. If I’m performing with you, Sal will walk by before I even come in to see if you recognize him. If you recognize him, we send you on your way and we bring in somebody else.
Vulcano: We’ve got little safety net things we do.
Murray: The show has to be real. That’s what makes it fun, and that’s what makes it work.
Onda: Have you ever had a prank go so poorly that you couldn’t air it?
Vulcano: I think two of them in 160 episodes. We didn’t air a few. We were like, “Eh, we could take it or leave it.” We didn’t need to. But there were two that we said, “This will never air.” As we were doing it. One was where we played mimes in Central Park in New York, and nothing about it was funny. It was 95 degrees. We were in the makeup. The makeup was running. Nobody wanted anything to do with us. We were not good mimes. Not being good mimes was still not funny. It didn’t work in the failure. A lot of times, our show works when we fail, it’s still funny. It didn’t work at all.
Murray: We took the footage of us as mimes, we took it out to sea in the middle of the ocean, and burned it.
Vulcano: We buried it with all those Atari “E.T.” games.
Murray: We took the footage to the edge of a vat of quicksand, and we burned it.
Onda: Do either of you have ideas for a prank or punishment that you’ve been holding on to but, for some reason, haven’t done yet?
Vulcano: Yes. But that’s a dangerous question. I can’t answer that in front of him [points to James].
Murray: I can’t answer it in front of him [points to Sal].
Vulcano: We have things for each other. We’ve done almost a dozen things that have taken three months to a year of planning. That’s how the show is evolving. We’re kind of digging a little deeper. One thing that aired last night is we took the inspiration of mime being so terrible, and we actually handcuffed a mime to “Q” for 24 straight hours. [laughs] It was actually probably just as bad for the mime. We have one punishment this season that literally spans the next 9 weeks. A punishment happens to one of us that affects that person for every single scene of every episode until the end of the season.
Murray: It affects everything about this person for the rest of the season.
Onda: You really have, against all odds, reinvented the prank show. And you're still finding ways to keep it fresh after six seasons.
Vulcano: That’s the most exciting part of right now—having to reinvent, because it makes it the most fun. Just when I think we’ve done everything, someone throws out an idea, something clicks and it’s like, “Oh my god. This is a whole thing we’ve never done before.”
Onda: I think almost everyone who watches this show has, at some point, wondered if anyone has ever taken a swing at any of you.
Murray: It has never happened, and the reason is because of the hook of the show, the idea of the show—the joke’s on us. That’s the reinvention of the prank show, I think. The joke’s on us, not on the public. People are more confused or bemused by what we’re doing, never really angry. It’s rare that they’re angry.
Vulcano: In six years, if we’ve come across—I’m gonna throw out an arbitrary number—if we’ve come across 10,000 people, I’d say maybe 10 tried to hurt us.
Onda: When you come to events San Diego Comic-Con and meet your diehard fans, you must have some unusual fan encounters. Do any odd meetings stand out to you?
Murray: At our live shows—the guys and I tour live as The Tenderloins—fans will come to the block party dressed as us, holding up signs about us. They have our faces on their bodies.
Vulcano: A lot of them have tattoos of us—everything from our signatures, to our quotes, to literal portraits or cartoon caricatures of us, which is a trip and a half.
Murray: Like, Sal’s got Jayden Smith, but fans have Sal.
Vulcano: Sometimes married couples will ask us to sleep with their significant other.
Murray: Like an “Indecent Proposal” type of thing. Usually for a million dollars. You’ll see about a dozen briefcases here tomorrow, all filled with a million dollars.
Vulcano: A briefcase is a dead giveaway.
Murray: [laughs] The tell-tale sign of a swinger—a briefcase with a million dollars.
Vulcano: By the way, tomorrow, if you see me frantically walking around the field, I’m searching for briefcases.
“Impractical Jokers” airs Sunday nights at 10 p.m. ET on truTV. Click here to catch up on season six now with XFINITY On Demand.