Four friends who’ve been making people laugh together in some capacity since high school formed The Tenderloins Comedy Troupe in 1999, performing the live circuit for several years before crossing over to the web and then to television. While NYC natives Sal Vulcano, Joe Gatto, James Murray and Brian Quinn had some notable successes – like their $100k win on NBC’s Carson Daly-hosed sketch comedy competition, It’s Your Show — nothing approaches the gut-busting hilarity of the hidden camera/practical joke show they created and now produce, write and star in: TruTV's Impractical Jokers, which finds the fellas competing to embarrass each other and playing to each others’ weaknesses via improvised dares, stunts and challenges with the unknowing (and sometimes uncaring, bemused, amused or downright irritated) public, making for some classic moments of humiliation.
Ruth Eckerd Hall on the Road brings The Tenderloins to Tampa Theatre on their “Where’s Larry?” Tour; their live show is a mix of stand-up/ribbing, never-before-seen hidden camera footage and stories about their experiences, not to mention some good-natured audience-Tenderloins interaction.
I talked to Brian aka "Q" yesterday while he was holed up and snowed in at his Staten Island home. Check out the resulting Q&A after the jump, and see Tenderloins on their "Where's Larry" Tour this Fri., Jan. 30, at 7:30 or 10 p.m., Tampa Theatre, downtown Tampa; tickets are $49.50.
So how did the idea for Impractical Jokers come about? Did it grow naturally out of you guys always kind of messing around with each other?
Brian Quinn: Every pilot that we had made — we shot two pilots before Impractical Jokers — we were always playing ourselves, and a lot of the sketches that we do we always play ourselves. You know we’re not the best actors in the world, so we were just like “Hey, let’s make a television show that puts our friendship on display."
You know a lot of it comes from how guys are with each other. We hear it a lot, it’s one of the biggest compliments we get which is: “You guys remind me of my friends, you do the shit that me and my friends do.” So you know, it’s really putting out these universal rituals, you know, on television. Does that make sense?
Do you think that’s why people go along with it? Because you guys are like people we all know, ultimately?
Uh, what like people on the show or people at home?
People on the show. I mean, each of you guys remind me of someone I know, individually, so I imagine it’s kind of like that when you meet people on the street.
It is. You know the trick of our show is, we don’t try to make anyone else look stupid or feel stupid.
Except each other.
Except each other, so when we go up to people on the street there’s never a reaction of like anger, it’s always like “Whoa what’s going on?” We try to toe that line pretty well.
So yeah it’s more about — You read about the show and it's sounds like you're pranking people on the street, but really you’re pranking each other and these people are just kind of like innocent bystanders who end up becoming participants.
Right. Exactly. They’re like the audience. That’s it, that’s the whole hook of it.
So tell me about how you exploit each others' weaknesses? I’m sure you all have ideas about what each of you individually are always going to refuse.
You actually come to rely on it after a while. Think about if you were screwing around with your friends, you would know exactly how to get them — this season, we’re pulling out things, video and stories from way before — from like freshman year of high school.
Tell me a little bit about your respective weaknesses. I know it seems like lately, Joe’s has been his wife. Is he the only one married out of you guys?
Yeah, Joe’s the only one that’s married. The rest of us are not yet, which is gettin’ a little weird ‘cause we’re hittin’ 40. ... Let’s see, I mean, look, Murr is an egomaniac. It’s easy to kind of play off that. He always thinks he knows the answer — he has a lot of blind spots that guy — and Sal is afraid of everything. I always say Sal is like an 80-year-old black woman in the body of a young white man. It’s always like his hands are in the air, his hands are a-flutter, so Sal’s just one big walking weak spot.
And he’s a germaphobe.
Oh yeah he’s a germaphobe. He’s afraid of cats, he’s afraid of kids, he’s afraid of everything. I don’t know how he’s gotten this far in life.
Tell me about what we don’t see. You obviously have to get permission from the people involved to show their faces and get forms signed and stuff like that ...
Anybody on the show whose face you see, that means they agreed to be on the show. If their faces are blurred, obviously that means they haven’t signed, which will sometimes kill a bit. That’s rough, sometimes it won’t work unless you can see their faces and we’ll have a great bit, but we can’t use it because it’s just not legal to. But I don’t mind the blurred faces, because it’s kind of the language of the hidden camera show. People know it when they see it.
How do you get permission to get into all these places like dentists’ offices, businesses, fast food joints ... ?
We have a team that that sorta reaches out — I mean it’s a lot easier now because we have people that are just fans of the show, so they want us there.
What are a few of your most mortifying moments? I mean obviously it’s mortifying every single episode, but there’s probably a few that stand out in your mind.
I mean, the worst one was when I had to teach Sex Ed to my parents. That was fucking bad. I had to get a tattoo, that was bad, too.
But you know, I tend to think more on the stuff I’ve done to the other guys than about the things they’ve done to me.
What are a few of your favorite jokes you’ve played on the guys?
Well, when we broke into Sal’s house when he went away on vacation. I liked that one because it freaked out his neighbors because they didn’t know that he lived there, so they just saw these three guys naked in the window dancing around, and somebody else filming it outside, so it was pretty good. Throwing Murray out of an airplane is always a good one—
Yeah he was pretty scared. That was pretty authentic fear happening right there.
It was crazy, and then in the season premiere that’s coming up Thursday night, we dressed Joe as a mermaid and made him drag himself along Miami Beach, which was pretty fun, I thought.
Does it ever get less embarrassing or are certain things going to be forever humiliating to you no matter how much you do them?
No. Just when you think you get used to something, the guys always come up with something you didn’t see coming. So it doesn’t get easier, it just escalates.
Like, the stuff that embarrassed me in Season 1 I could do right now, no problem, but we keep finding ways of one-upping each other.
Are there certain things that always, without fail, make people made — like, as soon as one of the guys says “Hey, do this,” you know they’re going to get mad about it?
No. I mean sometimes Murray is the one that pushes things too far. He’ll be like “Throw this at someone” or something like that.
Or like Sal shooting the guy with the water gun in the park. That’s definitely something that’s gonna make somebody mad. Or at the buffet, when you guys were taking food off of peoples' plates. Food things seem to make people mad.
Yeah there are some times we know that certain things are gonna bother people. But then it’s on us to make it embarrassing to us. You know what I mean? That’s the trick of it. How to turn it around. How to make them not even get mad to begin with, you know?
How much has changed from the first season to now? Are there certain things that you’ve learned about what works and what doesn’t?
Just now we’ve learned that the more personal we get with each other, the more the audience seems to like it. They’ve invested in us fucking with each other.
They know you now.
Yeah, so they like to see those character moments when we’re really fucking with each other character-wise — they just love it like, if I know something is gonna hit home for the guys, I know the people watching are gonna really enjoy it.
What else can people expect, other than Joe in a mermaid costume, from the fourth season?
Oh my God. Well, we have a few travel episodes, we have the show in Miami, we have one on a cruise ship ... but again, the main thing is just gonna be escalation. Just making things get bigger and bigger.
Taking it to the next level.
What about the live show? What can people expect from your Tampa Theatre date?
It’s awesome, it’s actually a lot of fun, I love doing it. It’s all four of us onstage at the same time and we tell stories and we, you know, we make fun of Murray a lot and we show videos from the show and things that we shot just for the live stage that wouldn’t be shot for the TV show. So there’s a lot — you know we interact with the audience a bunch. We talk to them, we get in there and we mess around with some people. It’s a lot of fun. It’s like an hour and a half party.
Check out some classic clips from Impractical Jokers below, and catch the foursome at Tampa Theatre this Friday...