Impractical Jokers raise pranks to new heights at Silver Legacy in Reno
The premise of the "Impractical Jokers" hidden-camera television show on truTV is simple. The possibilities for awkward hilarity are infinite.
Four good-natured guys in their late thirties who've been bosom buddies since high school cook up challenges to shame each other in public. Learning the details only moments before it is to be performed, the prank victim must carry out additional humiliations as the others call commands through a mic on a concealed earpiece. They range from sitting in a doctor's waiting room reading bizarre texts out loud to opening for Imagine Dragons before 14,000 concert-goers, without knowing how to play an instrument.
The question is: How does this zany form of comedy translate to a stage show?
"It's even funnier," said "Impractical Joker" James "Murr" Murray, in a phone call from Manhattan during a break from the quartet's tour, which makes a stop on Aug. 29 at Silver Legacy.
"We come from a live-performance background," Murray said. "The cool thing is all four of us are on stage — it's much more like a rock concert . . . We're telling jokes, telling stories, and there's a giant screen showing videos of footage that hasn't been on the show. We shot some pretty edgy, hidden-camera, funny challenges that you can only see at the stage show."
Plus, Murray and his fellow jokers, who are collectively known as the Tenderloins, will be telling embarrassing stories from their own lives. "We're doing what we do on the TV show — being best friends and ripping into each other," Murray said. "The expression we use is, 'Best friends are the worst.'"
The Tenderloins have been best friends since attending the all-boys Monsignor Farrell High School in their native Staten Island, N.Y. Their troupe's name stems from those days.
"We kept a list of words that you'd be slightly embarrassed to say in public," Murray said. "At the top of the list was 'tenderloin.'"
After high shool graduation in 1999 Murray and Joe Gatto, Salvatore "Sal" Vulcano and Mike Boccio (later replaced by Brian "Q" Quinn) began ceaselessly performing comedy-improvisation and sketches at clubs and festivals. They also had a fifth member, Gideon Horowitz, for a time.
They claimed an early social-media coup during the height of Myspace popularity as the top-ranked out of 120,000 comedian accounts. Their sketches and show episodes have millions of YouTube views today. Their hard-won mini-celebrity came after a spate of false starts, including TV pilots for Spike TV, A&E and TBS, among others. They also hosted a short-lived truTV comedy-variety show, "Joker's Wild," this past fall, and still have a bi-weekly podcast on iTunes and their website, www.thetenderloins.com.
The key to success for their off-beat, off-the-cuff capers is their genuine friendship, Murray said.
"It comes across that we love each other dearly. I can't see doing this without these guys. It works. I will say, in our lives we've failed a lot more than we've succeeded. To finally get something right — we're about to hit our 100th episode on Sept. 3 — not a day goes by that we don't punch each other in the arm. I'm literally making my best friends laugh."
Although "Impractical Jokers" is rooted in male bonding, 54 percent of its TV viewers and 70 percent of attendees at live shows are women, Murray said. His theory for the gender skew: "If you have a crush on Brad Pitt, you ain't never sleeping with Brad Pitt. But we look accessible. They think, 'I can get that guy.' We seem very gettable. We're all a little overweight, and my hair is just about gone at this point. We're the ones you settle for."
Fans who catch the live show won't have to settle for the same humor the Tenderloins cook up on TV, Murray said.
"The show is family friendly, but we do recommend (age) 16 and older. There's a video where the guys are working in a puppy store and they told me to do something ridiculous. But it's funny. It's a relatively clean show, but there's an occasional curse.
"There is one thing we do that we invite the audience to play along with us. We borrow an audience member's phone. For years, we played this game where we flip through the contact list on one guy's phone, and whoever we stop on when we say stop, we have to text the number."
The other three victimized Murray that way himself, 10 years ago, when he was just breaking into acting.
"I had my first TV job, and the guys were over for the Fourth of July, and we flipped to the next phone. I didn't know they were doing this. And they texted, 'You were so great last night. Want to do it again?' They sent it to 'Andrea CC.' She was with Comedy Central. She never responded, thank God."
After 16 years of constant toil as comics and writers, the Tenderloins — intrepid as the Four Musketeers — believe they have a real shot at mega-stardom.
"We'd love to do an 'Impractical Jokers' movie," Murray said. "That's the holy grail. We're working hard on it."