My first foray in to The Impractical Jokers was actually through watching the spin-off by their British Counterparts, a show I stumbled across some 5 or 6 years ago. I found myself laughing almost immediately and the cringe factor was at times almost unbearable, but it was like a morbid curiosity. I was drawn in. I couldn’t look away and I found myself wanting more. So, I was saddened when it ended after three seasons.
At the time, I think, I had decided that I wouldn’t like the American version. I had persuaded myself that theirs would be too brash, too slapstick and over-the-top for my British sense of humour. And so at the time, I didn’t even look in to them, even though I began to hear their names mentioned more and more by friends and colleagues.
Well, as it turns out, I’d love them even more. Catching their show one fateful afternoon on Comedy Central, I laughed harder and longer than ever before. And as it turns out, being a little bit behind the times worked in my favour, as I now had 5 or 6 seasons to catch up on. Like coming in to Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad a few season’s in, I was able to sit and binge watch episodes, one after the other. The earlier seasons, my favourites if I am honest, were quicker paced, with lots of games/dares and ever so slightly more cringe and crudeness. The later episodes, although still brilliant, are more high-brow and mature, but with the odd throwback to days gone by when the Jokers were possibly more carefree (and had less money). Amongst those episodes there are some legendary dares, punishments, quotes and events that will live on among fans long after The Impractical Jokers show comes to an end (please keep going guys). And so my love affair with the Impractical Jokers, aka The Tenderloins, began, and continues to this day.
For those not in the know, The Tenderloins are an American comedy troupe composed of Joseph Gatto, James Murray, Brian Quinn, and Salvatore Vulcano. The comedians are four lifelong friends who met during their freshman year at college in their beloved Staten Island. And their friendship shines through, it’s part of what makes the show so appealing and so watchable. You want to be their friend too. The format of the show, similar somewhat to other hidden camera shows (Jeremy Beadle anyone) but with a slight twist on the genre is great, but the four characters of the show, each so different, is what takes it beyond great and makes it the success it is.
That’s my opinion of course. Ask someone else, and they’ll say, ‘No I haven’t heard of them’ or ‘No, I don’t like them’ or even, ‘It’s just too cringeworthy for me’. They are a bit like Marmite, you either love them or you hate them (you can’t really hate these guys, not when you get to know their characters).
And so, after a couple of years of binge watching, catching up sadly on all the episodes (I used to occasionally happen across one I hadn’t seen and it was like finding a lost Christmas present under the tree) and waiting for new episodes, I heard that they were to be touring and coming to the UK. This was my chance to see them live. And so I booked tickets to see them at The O2 with my partner who has often laughed along with me over the years. Even my 9-year-old daughter sits with us, laughing along, although ruder tasks have to be left unexplained.
I already had it in my mind that I wouldn’t laugh as much at the stage show as I do watching the TV show. I’m embarrassed to say that at times I have watched the show, with my partner sat next to me and I have been in such hysterics that I can’t breathe and my eyes are streaming, even attempting to hold it in, so I don’t look like an idiot, but it is impossible. Nothing beats laughing like that. It’s like a drug. But doing stand-up on stage, I just didn’t think it would have the same effect. And I was right. But it’s no fault of the tour, or the Tenderloins, it just is what it is. You can’t recreate the brilliant serving behind a restaurant counter or shopping mall scenes up on stage. And I think knowing that the scripted stories and subsequent scripted laughs and reactions from the jokers were somewhat put-on took something away from it. It was nowhere near as funny as the spontaneous reactions and laughter of the Jokers in the show, another vital ingredient of what makes the show so great and the guys so lovable.
There were many moments of laughter and joy though, mostly from the unscripted bits, or the recalling of fan’s favourite parts and quotes from the show, heckling from the audience or the merriment and buffoonery of the Jokers (mainly Joe) when they remained on stage for a few minutes at the end. For me it was as much about showing my support and seeing them up close as it was about watching the routine. I enjoyed the clips on the big screen, bonus unseen footage if you like, which you crave when you have caught up with all the episodes and there is no mistaking their talent. Sal is a master on stage, it comes naturally to him as a stand-up comedian in his own right and Joe is just so funny and infectious, you can’t help but love him. Q retold stories so well and I’ve always liked his affinity to the UK (the British Invasion episodes filmed in the UK were some of the best for me) and he is never short of a Union Jack t-shirt. Murr, I felt, was a little quiet but that last bit of footage starring him at the end. Well I won’t say any more and spoil it for those who haven’t see it. He is such a likeable, loveable character that he is immediately forgiven.
The Jokers remain down-to-earth, humble and modest (even with more than 1 million social media followers apiece) and they appear to love their fans as much as we love them. Joe must have shouted, ‘We Love you’ hundreds of times in the closing minutes up on stage. Sal threw stuff in to the crowd, not sure what it was but I missed out, before finally offering up Murr’s laptop, who in turn gave a defiant, ‘No, Sal, don’t do that!’ I came away happy, happy to have seen them, happy to have laughed at their stories and to be able to say, ‘been there, seen it, done it’. Hopefully one day I can do the same again, just not on the 4 day Jokers Cruise for jokers and lucky fans alike that sets sail from Miami, ending in the Bahamas, in February 2020.
The Impractical Jokers, aka The Tenderloins, will always have a special place in my heart. They have made me laugh longer and harder than anything I can ever remember. They are a joy to watch and I pray they continue to keep doing what they do together in one form or another. Please come back to the UK (more Pub scenes please!!) especially when you get far too recognised in the US (disguises?).