If you’re a guy you are well aware of the unspoken credo between best friends: Screw with each other at all costs. Men have been doing this for years, but sadly, none have discovered a way to profit from it…except for The Tenderloins comedy troupe. Made up of comedians Joe Gatto, James “Murr” Murray, Sal Vulcano and Brian “Q” Quinn, the troupe’s TruTV series “Impractical Jokers” – in which each member competes against one another in random tasks via a hidden camera-style show – is entering its third season this coming Fall. Thus far, “IJ” has garnered over 60 million viewers, making these four high-school buddies from Staten Island local favorites.
The Tenderloins recently spoke to TSJ about their beginnings, “Impractical Jokers,” and their current tour. They also took some time to take a few jabs at one another, naturally.
The Smoking Jacket: Like many people, I love “Impractical Jokers.” You’ve all known each other since high school, right?
Brian Quinn: Yep! We’ve known each other since freshman year of high school, over twenty years.
TSJ: Because it’s been that long, it seems as if there’s nothing you can do on the show that’ll be too far.
Joe Gatto: Yeah, that’s definitely true. It’s fun because everyone loves to mess around with their best friends, and we get to do it on television.
TSJ: When did you ultimately decide to start up The Tenderloins? Did you perform in high school together?
Sal Vulcano: We did. We all performed in our high school improv club, and after college we created The Tenderloins comedy troupe, which is who we are now. Then we performed live for a long time and eventually came the show.
TSJ: The group is a cool mixture of sketch, improv and stand up, correct?
James Murray: Yeah, we started as live improv but then progressed to stand up and then some sketch. Eventually, we started drifting into filmed sketches and doing things for the Internet. That’s where we got a lot of attention via MySpace and such. We also won a contest for a show that Carson Daly was a part of called “It’s Your Show.” We won the $100,000 grand prize. Our pilot never aired but we hooked up with a production company and that’s what got the ball rolling.
PORN IN PUBLIC
TSJ: With “Impractical Jokers,” how do you find yourselves coming up with the dares?
SV: They usually lock me in a small room and I have a quote to meet by the end of day, Friday. [laughs]
JM: And if he doesn’t come up with enough we give him the hose. [laughs]
SV: Even if I come up with enough I ask for the hose. [laughs]
TSJ: Are there any writers on the show or is it just the four of you?
BQ: We have a couple of people who come in and help us out. Our main guy is a guy named Casey Jost, who we’ve known forever. We call him the fifth member. He’s always on set and we bounce ideas off of him. The bulk of it is us, but Casey is invaluable to “IJ.” We have a couple of people that help out.
TSJ: How do you go about deciding who is the victim of a dare?
JM: Well, all four of us do the challenges in the show, but the punishments, we’ve known each other so long that we know what is going to screw with each of us the best. So if we come up with a punishment involving cats, it’s Sal. He’s terrified of cats. Or if they come up with a punishment that involves nudity, they will choose me because I’m not comfortable with my body in the slightest bit. [laughs] We just know so much about each other it’s kind of easy to tailor the punishments towards one person.
TSJ: Speaking of that nudity, James, you did Strip High Five with Joe, right?
JG: Yeah, we battled it out in Union Square.
JM: We battled it out and America lost. [laughs]
TSJ: For something like that, did you just start doing it or did you have to tell people?
JG: No, we don’t tell anyone we’re filming anything until it’s over. We want the show to be 100 percent genuine and get the public’s real reactions to us being idiots. We get permission to film places but nobody really knows we’re on camera.
TSJ: Even for the restaurant bit when you had to eat off of someone’s plate? I think it was Sal who was grabbed and being interrogated.
SV: That one was the first thing we ever shot for the show. Things are still nerve-wracking for us three years in, so that one being the first day of production for the first episode of the first season, it was crazy. She grabbed my hand and would not let go. And we couldn’t explain anything because I wasn’t allowed to talk. I was frozen with fear, I have to admit.
TSJ: I know in the show you’re all competing. What do you gain from it? The joy of watching your best buddies squirm?
JG: You get the pure joy of torturing your friends. [laughs]
SV: Let’s not make any mistake about this. Doing the show means we have to be with each other 24/7, so if we didn’t get to make each other squirm it would be no fun at all. [laughs]
JM: Kyle, if there’s anything the show has taught me it’s that I need a new group of friends. [laughs] And that I need health insurance.
BQ: If there’s one thing it’s taught me it’s that Murr needs three new best friends.
SV: If there’s one thing it’s taught me it’s that Q is always right. [laughs] Joe, what about you?
JG: I just always agree with Q and Sal so what they said. [laughs]
TSJ: Over the course of the show, has there been one challenge that has gone way wrong?
JG: Well, it’s not a normal prank show. We’re trying to make each other look like idiots, not the public. But I think Sal got assaulted by an old man when he tried to cut him in line. SV: That guy was no-nonsense. I think he might have been a war vet. As soon as I cut him in line for Broadway tickets he went back to a different place. He was not happy.
Most recently, though, James and I were working at a car show and a guy looked us both in the eye like he was looking right into our souls. And we weren’t doing anything bad either, but he just sensed that something was off. He turned to us and he says, “I will punch you in the fucking face!” [laughs] Needless to say we were like, “No problem buddy! Sorry.” [laughs]
TSJ: Has there been one that’s been the most humiliating?
BQ: I think we’d all have individual answers for that, but for me, they made me teach my parents a Sex Ed course. To this day it’s something I’m grappling with and talking to a therapist about. [laughs]
JG: That was probably one of the most excruciating things. We made Q teach a Sex Ed course to his parents. I mean, come on. That was ruthless. I think that’s probably up there for all of us.
TSJ: You’re currently filming the third season. Has the show changed at all to you?
JG: I think we’ve gotten more personal as time has gone on. After having done this for a while, there’s a little bit of revenge in there. We all sort of want to out-do one another. We put a lot more thought into these things now. We’re really excited; we’ve got a lot of good ones coming up this season.
TSJ: The show has been incredibly successful. Did that at all surprise you?
SV: I think with things like comedy you always try and hope but never think you’re going to get on television. And then when you do you don’t think you’re going to stay on television, and you never think people are going to respond the way you want them to. So no matter what happens, I don’t want to say we’re in shock, but it’s never lost on us. I still can’t believe that people stop us and say how much they love both us and the show.
TSJ: From the pilot you had to have known you had something unique.
JG: I think when we went into it we just wanted to deliver something that was really us; something that we didn’t have to act in. With this show, we’re able to just be ourselves and be real.
JM: And I think what makes it work is that we’re best friends, and everyone has best friends that are like us to a degree. It’s a very relatable show, I think.
TSJ: I would agree 100%.
BQ: I’m sorry I was out for a while there, Kyle. Sal and Joe realized I was wearing pants and they’re wearing shorts because it’s eighty degrees here in New York, so they started pulling up their shorts and giving me the finger in the middle of the interview. I’m trying to be professional in the middle of this and my two asshole friends are giving me the finger in the middle of a shopping mall.
JG: My calves are so cool right now. You should know that. [laughs]
BQ: Joe’s calves look like clear garbage bags filled with milk. [laughs] Are you keeping this?
TSJ: [laughs] I’d like to. It’s obvious from talking to you guys and from watching the show that you’re real New York guys. Do you think the show would have a different feel if it were shot elsewhere like in LA?
SV: I think this city has an energy about it that reflects us. We’re able to capture that on the show. New York is sort of one of us. I think it’s a character in itself. That’s what we wanted to do. We wanted that real grittiness New York has. It compliments what we do on the show very well. They make a good match.
JG: This place is a melting pot. You’ve got people from all over the place. There’s a lot of different personalities and types of people. That really helps. There’s tourists from Alabama, people from New York who don’t care about anything etc. It’s a good mix.
TSJ: You’re doing a live tour now too, right?
SV: Yeah, we do New York about every six months. We tour every year and tailor the act to stand up, but we do a mix of that, sketch and audience interaction. We also do multimedia stuff, tell stories about working on “IJ.” It’s a mixed bag, it’s so much fun.
TSJ: So do you guys see an end to the show? Or is it one that you’ll always be able to generate material for?
BQ: I think there’s no shortage of ways we could mess with one another. So as long as people want us around we have no problem coming up with ideas. As long as people want it we’ll keep coming up with ways to screw with each other.