From friendship to international cruises: How Impractical Jokers expanded their comedy empire
When Brian “Q” Quinn, James “Murr” Murray, Joe Gatto, and Sal Vulcano first met in 1990, they were just high school kids joking around and becoming friends. Now, 30 years later, they’ve created an undeniable comedy empire.
The foursome are internationally known as The Tenderloins, and they’ve gone from entertaining themselves, family, and friends to touring the world with sold-out arena crowds, filming shows like Impractical Jokers and just-launched The Misery Index, and even launching their own cruises. They debuted hidden-camera TV show Impractical Jokers, in which they compete to embarrass one another (or at least to avoid embarrassment) on truTV back in 2011, and since then, their fandom has grown exponentially. Along with the show, which is returning for season 9 in 2020 featuring their milestone 200th episode, The Tenderloins also had a mobile museum installation that traveled to three tour stops this summer after an exhibition at the Staten Island Museum and The Impractical Jokers Cruise with Norwegian will set sail in February 2020. What other comedy groups can say that?
Amidst the tail end of their “Cranjis McBasketball World Comedy Tour” in Europe, EW got The Tenderloins to break down their unique trajectory to international success, how they built their comedy empire, and, oh yeah, that cruise.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s kick things off at the very beginning of this group. When did you guys first start embarrassing each other in public?
Sal Vulcano: We went to high school together so we met in 1990 and became friends. We’ve been together 30 years now and we turned that camaraderie and friendship into comedy. I don’t think any of us ever expected to do this and be here all these years later but it’s amazing to have this job that’s us messing with each other – for a long time we didn’t get paid for that!
How did you get the idea to turn that friendship and dynamic into an actual show?
Joe Gatto: This embarrassment comedy is the way we’ve been making each other laugh in real life and we just decided that with this show format, we could be us and put our friendship on display. The world just basically jumped on board with that camaraderie.
How has Impractical Jokers changed in all the years from when you first debuted on truTV in 2011 to now?
James “Murr” Murray: At its core, it’s still exactly the same. It’s still a funny comedy about our friendship but we have evolved the show as the years have gone on. The show has become more family-friendly, and that happened organically. As we were touring, we’d see at our live shows we’d see parents with their kids, the grandparents were there too, and we quickly realized it was a show that families were watching together.
Gatto: And the jokes that we’ve been able to pull off have been bigger as budgets have increased as the show got more and more successful. If you look at the first couple seasons what we were doing vs what we’ve been able to pull off now, we now can have a crazy idea like let’s have Sal survive a zombie apocalypse and we’re able to produce something of that magnitude.
Brian “Q” Quinn: Season 1 was more telling a person their breath doesn’t smell good.
You guys have turned one TV show into an actual comedy empire — how does one even go about expanding a show into something that can launch multiple international cruises?
Quinn: I gotta tell you, we didn’t plan for that! The fans of our show deserve all the credit in the world. We just put out what it seems the fans wanted to get. We have a really weird close bond with the people who watch our show, so it’s like, they like this? We’ll do more of this! It wasn’t a conscious business decision on our part to be like, let’s brand ourselves and try to sell that. It was more of a response to what people wanted.
Gatto: It was a natural thing for us because we had gotten our roots in performing live. When the opportunity presented itself to tour, and that has grown into a worldwide and international tour where people were coming out to fill comedy clubs and then theaters and then arenas and amphitheaters. The demand was there and we love that form of entertainment so it was a capitalization of both of those.
Murray: Things just happened — it wasn’t like, oh here are the seven things we want to accomplish. It happened as a response to opportunity — it’s good timing mixed with great fans.
What does a comedy cruise put on by you guys actually look like?
Vulcano: After a few seasons of Impractical Jokers we wanted to evolve the show so we started doing these on-location shoots where we take the crew to Texas or Miami or New Orleans, anything with a different feel and style to it than New York. One time we took a cruise and filmed a whole special episode on this cruise. That company and that cruise are what sparked the idea — they do these personalized cruises for rock bands and we thought, we have this very unique, avid, loyal following and our live shows play like concerts. Our fans dress like us, they have signs, they’re chanting. They’re rabid. Why not do a comedy cruise? This February, 2020, we’ll have our annual cruise. That really is a testament to the fans for sure. That’s thousands and thousands of people not just choosing to tune in or buying a ticket to see a live show — they’re planning a vacation around us, which is largely insane! It’s unbelievable and surreal. We live with them and perform for them and mingle with them. It’s that rapport that we have that we’ve fostered together with them that has led to even more opportunity.
Murray: The crazy thing about the cruise is that it’s become so international. It used to be that we just had American fans but we now have so many fans from Ireland, England, Australia. They’re flying across the world to spend a week with us which is mind-blowing to me. We didn’t even know if our comedy would translate but it did.
You’ve also spun off into a second TV series with The Misery Index (which debuted Oct. 22). How is that different from Impractical Jokers?
Quinn: The best part of Misery for us and I presume for people who watch the show is it’s not that different from Jokers. We’re still just being ourselves, we’re the same people we are on Impractical Jokers. It’s the same spirit and attitude with the four of us and our friendship on display on another show. It’s a traditional game show with the four of us ripping on each other. It’s more of what you already love about us.
Gatto: And the game is fun! So we get caught up in the gameplay. And to have [host] Jameela [Jamil] in the mix was a nice change for us too. She was an instant fit and it changed up the dynamic which was great.
Vulcano: The guys and I have known each other as of this year 30 years and we’ve been filming Jokers for a year short of a decade, so for someone to come in who we hadn’t met prior and just instantly and I mean instantly connect with us, it seemed like we knew her forever. We all got so lucky with that and adding her into the mix of us was such a nice breath of fresh air. She commands the show and she steers the ship and she does such a great job.
What plans do you have the future of the Impractical Jokers empire?
Gatto: We’re thinking of opening our own country — that’s the next big idea we’ve been having. It’s going to be in the Caribbean.
Quinn: My plan is the same it’s always been — to stumble around and luck into things. That’s worked so far in our careers, I don’t see any reason to change that. I’ll just walk outside my house and see where the day takes me.
Murray: Unlike Q I have every moment of every day planned out for the next 30 years. I can send you that Powerpoint if you’d like.
That would be great!
Gatto: I can send you the revised PowerPoint because I always have to change Murr’s plans because they never work.
Vulcano: We’re trying to do as much as we can and trying to have fun doing it. That’s the main goal. We take projects as they come so we’re always looking for more. We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing as the Tenderloins and just grinding.
Murray: We’ve got a movie coming out early next year and we’re really proud of it. It will be interesting to see how that affects the future for us too. Maybe we’ll do more movies in the future. It’s a great extension of the brand.