In 2010, the guys sold the pilot for Impractical Jokers to truTV and became an overnight success, seventeen years in the making. For anyone still in the dark about the show, Sal, Joe, “Murr” and “Q” go out in public with hidden cameras and challenge each other to do embarrassing things — really embarrassing things. If they refuse, they are subject to a “punishment” at the end of the show, which by the way, can’t be refused. Punishments have included tattoos, skydiving, cross dressing, piercings, and some very creative ways of scaring or embarrassing each other.
The show has been described as a prank show, or a reality show, but neither label is exactly a fit for the show, what they do is more unique. “If you had a Venn diagram, prank show is somewhere in there,” Sal explained. “We get called a prank show, we get called a reality show even– which I think is even more far off, cause it’s not contrived, everything’s real. It’s just us being us. It might sound corny but I just think it’s a show about friends.”
Vulcano explains the appeal of the show perfectly. “Everyone has those friends they grow up with and I think people see [the show] as an outlet because everything is so serious nowadays, and we’re just silly. We get on the tv, we don’t care. And it’s a good outlet for people. They kind of live vicariously through our pranks. What would they do if they were in a situation and what not.” Brian he describes as the group’s curmudgeon– “He’s always looking for, in the best possible way I mean this but he’d kind of rather not be there, so he always looks for work arounds.” Murray he calls “crafty and deceitful” and just as crazy as Joe. Vulcano says Joe’s reputation as the crazy one is a little inaccurate. He says Joe doesn’t go the farthest because he’s crazy– Joe is just committed to doing anything to get a laugh from his friends. “Joe on the show is an extension of his and my real life dynamic. It’s almost where the show kind of came from.” He explained, “Joe’s main goal in life is to make me laugh and I’ll always lean over to him and say ‘do this, say this.’ This is when the cameras are off– from when we were kids till like yesterday– I’ll just go, ‘oh Joe this would be so funny, do this.'” Sal added, “he’s probably the funniest person on the planet. He has a willingness to do anything to make me laugh and I don’t think he’s crazy. It’s not motivated by him being crazy, its motivated by him wanting to embarrass us or just kill us and make us laugh.”
Since joining truTV in 2011 the show has skyrocketed, and not just in the United States, they’re an international phenomenon. “Our show is in dozens and dozens of countries now in two ways. Our show specifically, and if it’s in a country that’s not English speaking, they dub our voices.” They’ve also licensed the format so other countries have their own version of the show- more proof of the originality of the concept. And they are gigantic in the UK. “As of like two years ago, the UK on Comedy Central started playing Impractical Jokers, and, this is something that really was crazy to us– it’s the number one show on Comedy Central there- they tell us, by a very far margin.” So they started touring there, and they have plans to film an episode in the UK as well.” And in January we just found out we’re doing an arena tour there, so we’re playing the 02.”
The opportunities back home are exploding too. Here in the United States, Impractical Jokers has been an important factor in establishing truTV’s new identity as a creator of original comedy programming. Their fans are deeply loyal and growing, getting everything from tattoos to license plates, dressing up as the guys for Halloween, baking cakes, and Sal says he loves it. “You couldn’t be more grateful and surprised at the response from people.”
They also have famous fans– like Steve Carell and Bruno Mars to name just two. The guys tour all over the US, and Sal hinted at some things in the pipeline that are next level. “It’s a little early and I don’t want to be saying– but we’re going to be playing some bigger venues,” he said. Bigger venues, means bigger than Radio City where they just finished a three night sold out run (after initially selling out one night, they added nights), so they haven’t exactly been slumming it. But Vulcano indicated that things are about to amp up a notch, and when I asked him if Madison Square Garden was a possibility, he didn’t say no. “I don’t know, I hope. It’s all about what is the best course. It’s so tempting to have the possibility to play there, but you also want to do whatever is best for the show itself, the fans, and there’s so many different factors but you know….we’ll see. Listen, this all comes crashing down…. I could say the sky’s the limit and I have a billion more things to wish for, and then one day it will all be gone and I’ll be sitting alone in my house in the dark eating Ramen.”
Is there a movie in the works? Well it’s definitely on the table, but again, Vulcano said he didn’t want to jump ahead of things. “Again, not wanting to put the cart before the horse but we’re knee-deep in it trying to get it done and, knock on wood, maybe we can get it done this year and it all works out. We have an intention to.” Since we talked, Murr told Den of Geek that a movie is in the works, or at least they’re close enough that they’ve taken the month of August off form touring to start shooting.
Despite the gigantic success of the show, Vulcano says his Staten Island roots are intact. “It’s where I am right now, sitting in my kitchen in Staten Island.” The four stars of the show aren’t the only ones from Staten Island. “Our whole staff is from Staten Island. We took all our friends. Camera men, writers, a lot of people think it’s just the four of us and they’re like how cool is it to work with your friends? And they don’t realize we have a crew and staff of 40, 50 people and more than half of those are our friends from Staten Island. It really is like a group effort.”
Follow Sal on Twitter @SalVulcano, and watch Impractical Jokers on truTV on Thursdays at 10pm.