Impractical Jokers' The Tenderloins bring hidden camera hijinx to Tampa

So, who's going to prank them back?

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feat. The Tenderloins

8 p.m. Fri., Feb. 3, 2017

Amalie Arena, Tampa

Tickets go on sale Wednesday, Dec. 21.

This is a joke: A weasel-faced man walks into a White Castle in a grey northeastern city. He orders food and hands the cashier a $20. The young cashier takes the bill and holds it up in front of his face. Freeze. A timer appears on the screen as the cashier maintains his mannequin-pose. Thirty seconds pass. A minute. Two minutes. Four. All the while, the customer stands uncomfortably, nearly as motionless as his tormentor, making sad little weasel-eyed glances to the left and right.

But that's not quite the joke. The real joke is happening in a room off to the side. There, three of the faux cashier's friends watch via candid camera and react with gales of wheezing laughter. They give a play-by-play of the situation's absurdity through their cackles, holding their sides, holding each others' sides. Their reactions to the misery happening out in the lobby are what really make the gag. They are showing us how to laugh at it.

That's the essence of Impractical Jokers, now in its fifth season on truTV. The buddy-buddy prank-joke revue is the brainchild of The Tenderloins, a comedy quartet based in New York. The popular show is currently on the road and will be at the Amalie Arena on February 3.

They're calling it The "Santiago Sent Us?" Tour. The title sounds suspiciously like an in-joke, and that's because it is. The Tenderloins' members — Joe Gatto, James Murray, Brian Quinn and Sal Vulcano — have been friends since Catholic school in Staten Island. Their act comes straight out of that arena of humor. It is a cheerful sadism. Their obvious bro-hood reduces the stakes of the comedy to a comfortable level: you know that no matter how deep things go, they will probably go out and slam a few Bud Lights afterward.

The general premise could have been hatched in any given cafeteria, and was in fact also hatched in mine. The guys try to coerce each other into doing a stunt in public. If the given trickster refuses, he is punished with an even worse task. If you refuse to steal food off of peoples' plates at the buffet, you might get your eyebrows shaved off. It's elemental stuff.

On The "Santiago Sent Us?" Tour, the boys will be serving a mix of stand-up, new videos, stories, and what they describe as "insight." It would be interesting to see this play out in the Amalie Arena. On their previous stop in the area, they played the Tampa Theatre — so they seem to have moved up in the world by about, oh, nineteen thousand seats. Impractical Jokers has quietly become a winner, ratings-wise: in the top five in its timeslot on cable in the U.S., and Comedy Central's number one show in the U.K. and India.

It's not hard to understand why. The act turns what could be brutally unpleasant ambush-comedy into something kinder. The public is usually scenery for the humor, not the butt of jokes; we are laughing at the Tenderloins themselves. Their gleeful JV-locker-room camaraderie holds the show together. That, and their delightfully ratty Staten Island accents. There's no question that The Tenderloins are on to a good formula, giving arenas of people a taste of their friendship's best jokes. Maybe we'll even learn what "Santiago Sent Us?" means... but nah, you probably had to be there.

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