Impractical Jokers: The Movie starts showings tonight, and it’s going to be an adventure, a wild road trip movie with a side of public embarrassment. But there’s a story behind the story – the one of the Impractical Jokers themselves, aka the Tenderloins, for whom this movie is a new high point in an adventure that’s far from over.
This isn’t just four goofballs from Staten Island screwing around; that’s part of it, but there’s also something to learn from and appreciate when you look at how they got here. Joe Gatto, James “Murr” Murray, Sal Vulcano and Brian “Q” Quinn have essentially been working toward this moment for most of their lives; they’ve been best friends since their days at Monsignor Farrell High School and performing as The Tenderloins since 1999. And they’ve found worldwide success publicly humilating each other for our entertainment ever since.
It’s to their credit that they make it all look easy. When we see an episode of Impractical Jokers, we see the laughs, the witty comments, the workplace in which people are getting paid to be funny. But underneath that are guys who scrapped and fought to get ahead until TruTV announced Impractical Jokers in 2011. If you’re counting, that’s 12 years of hard graft. And they’re still working hard: they aired their 200th episode last week, while they do at least one live tour a year, just finished a cruise, and also star in TBS‘s game show The Misery Index. All of which sounds like fun too, until you start to count the amount of working hours (for both themselves and their incredible crew), the time spent away from loved ones, the effort it takes to come up with new challenges or new live show gags or just to be “on” enough to wow the audiences who’ve spent their hard-earned money to come see you.
Even the movie is an example of how hard they’ve worked. Impractical Jokers: The Movie was filmed in 2018, then got stuck sitting in corporate limbo when Turner (which owns TruTV) merged with Warner. It’s only now that the dust has settled on the WarnerMedia merger, almost two years since the movie started shooting, that people are getting to see it. And that’s only in a limited release; the Jokers have stated publicly that they need fans to get out and go this weekend if the movie has any hope of expanding.
But in a weird way, that’s almost appropriate for these guys. Joe, Murr, Sal and Q have never had anything come easy for them. They’ve always had a challenge put in front of them and powered through it (might be why they are so good at coming up with challenges for each other). And if the fate of Impractical Jokers: The Movie rests with their fan community, well, it’s that community they’ve built which makes them more than any other comedy troupe.
People say that comedy has the power to bring us together, and the Jokers exemplify that principle. The core idea of their show is that the joke is on them; they want us to laugh with them, not at other people. There are lines that they don’t cross, and the only people truly in their crosshairs are each other. Not to say that they haven’t done terrible things to one another (we’re glad Murr’s eyebrows grew back), but they make the viewers feel like part of the friendship instead of potential targets.
We’ve watched that expand over the years, and it’s something that people should sit up and take more notice of. Next year it will be a decade since the first episode of Impractical Jokers, and we’ve gotten to meet and to know members of their fantastic crew, who’ve become personalities on the show in their own right. From showrunner Pete McPartland to assistant director Dan Cast and everyone in between, these people are legitimately funny and the stars of the series have made a point of including them on-camera. It’s the best thing they’ve ever done with the show.
They’ve also welcomed in their fans and even total strangers. They’ve found ways to bring fans along on every part of their journey, but they also reach out when they can do something to help, too. Joe Gatto recently tweeted trying to find a buddy for an Impractical Jokers fan who didn’t want to go to the movie alone. That wasn’t a promotional stunt or something that would make his life better; he was doing it to make someone else’s life better. And Murr, Sal and Q are the same way. Each of them has charities that they’ve supported, most notably through the Impractical Jokers live shows. They are always giving back in one form or another, whether it’s through walking a high-wire on live TV or just doing what they can to raise awareness or brighten someone else’s bad day.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with the Jokers several times over the years, from when the show was still relatively young to just earlier this season. They might be celebrities now, but they’ve never stopped being those down to earth guys from Staten Island. They remember people’s names, take time for photos, and ask how you’re doing when they see you again. And their mission is still the same as it probably was back in high school: they just want to make us a little bit happier, and they don’t care that the way they do that is by publicly falling on their faces.
So Impractical Jokers: The Movie is here, and it’s probably going to be great. But we should also take a moment to think about how cool it is that these four guys who just wanted to make people laugh, and who were willing to put in decades of hard work, are now movie stars. They’ve made it to the top simply by being themselves and never changed on the way up. That’s a story as memorable as any movie, and this is just the high point so far. Is it too early to ask for a sequel?
Impractical Jokers: The Movie opens in select theaters Friday, Feb. 21. You can find a list of theaters and buy tickets here.
Article content is (c)2020 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr.