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The untold truth of Impractical Jokers

With all due respect to everything else on the network's schedule, the best thing on TruTV is Impractical Jokers, a hidden camera show featuring four lifelong friends challenging each other to take part in embarrassing situations, with whoever buckles forced to suffer public humiliation. Since the days of Allen Funt messing with people on Candid Camera, getting a good-natured laugh out of unsuspecting marks has been a proud television tradition, and for good reason—in the right hands, this type of thing can be very, very funny. After multiple seasons of Impractical Jokers, we've come to feel like we know these guys—a familiarity that's only deepened because of the revealing nature of the show, which leaves very few parts of the Jokers' private lives off-limits from being on public display. Still, there are plenty of behind-the-scenes stories that even hardcore fans aren't aware of, and with that in mind, here are a few things you may not have known about America's funniest friends. This is the untold truth of Impractical Jokers

Jokers: The Next Generation

In the original pitch for Impractical Jokers, the team wanted to have none other than Star Trek: The Next GenerationX-Men, and Royal Shakespeare Company alumnus Patrick Stewart provide the voiceover narration for the show. As fans are aware, it didn't work out — but it was a pretty inspired idea.

Murr shared the curious note during the "Ask A Joker" web chat following the final episode of the fourth season. "When we first created the show, we wanted the narrator to be Patrick Stewart, and we wanted him to hate us," he revealed. "Like, he'd introduce every challenge like, 'These d—- are at it again! Let's see if they screw up another time!'"

Instead of getting Stewart's dulcet tones yelling the boys down — which, let's face it, probably would've been more distracting than anything — they ended up with the tag-team duo of Drew Patterson and Bill St. James, the underappreciated glue that holds the freewheeling show together.

Stewart did end up making an appearance in the show in a roundabout way, however — or at least his visage did. During the premiere of the fifth season, the guys headed out to New York's Madame Tussauds wax museum, with Sal scoring a shot with Jean-Luc himself. He seems a little distant.

Full Cup

Between 2010 and 2014, Joker Sal Vulcano was a part owner of Full Cup, a beloved music venue and bar in his native Staten Island. Unfortunately, the location ran into financial trouble in 2014 and rebranded itself as Hashtag Bar in early 2016. Sal was quick to mention the bar in his 2013 Reddit AMA, but once the bar started to crash and burn in 2014, he made a public statement saying he hadn't been involved in operations for more than a year and ditched his old business partners, taking his finance degree and leaving them without a business manager.

MurrTV

In their tour documentary, the Jokers credit James Murray with being the unstoppable force behind getting Impractical Jokers on the air. Despite being a reality TV star, Murr still maintains his day job as the Senior VP of Development at North South Productions, which explains why he's the only Joker too busy to have his own podcast, even though he could host one in any of the 17 languages he claims to be able to speak.

Danged!

James "Murr" Murray is the most professionally put-together of the Impractical Jokers, with his position as a seasoned producer suggesting an ample amount of showbiz savvy. Of course, no matter how talented people end up being in their given field, it usually takes them a lot of work to get there — and what comes before success can often be really, really rough.

Murr got a harsh reminder of his indie film roots on the show when he was presented with his disastrous first feature film Damned!, which he wrote, produced, and directed for release in 1998. As part of a punishment Murr had to endure in the season four episode "Damned If You Do," Murr was forced to watch a packed screening of the movie, and afterwards endure a Q&A. 

Following the misadventures of a modern day teenage Jesus, Murr's debut is amateurish and embarrassing. The most incredible thing about it is that the movie apparently cost $30,000 to make, but it looks like only 40 or 50 bucks actually ended up onscreen.

After Murr's shame was made public, TruTV uploaded the entire 52-minute movie to its website for free streaming, kicked off with a new intro from a good-humored Murr. If you want to see the story of the Bible, but with a lot more butt rock on the soundtrack, you (and only you) should definitely check it out.

Q's first girlfriend

Astute viewers will note that Q has mentioned that his first girlfriend spent some time in prison, and that she's the half-sister of an A-list celebrity. Out of respect for the delicate family situation (and possibly the looming threat of Scientology), Q's never mentioned her by name on the air. However, dedicated Redditors have used information from the show and Q's podcast to limit the possibilities to a very specific area at a very specific time, and deduced that Q dated King of Queens star Leah Remini's half-sister Elizabeth, who was arrested in 2005 for felonious cocaine trafficking. But you didn't hear it from us.

Slap attack

Even though most of the pranks on Jokers are designed to only embarrass the four stars, there have been plenty of times when they've almost come to blows with the unsuspecting public—and twice when they did. Anyone who watches the show knows that all four friends are really polite, respectful guys, but Sal was once slapped when he was forced to tell a woman that her baby was ugly, and also choked by a man whom he'd cut in line as part of a challenge. Apologies were quickly dispensed, and neither segment aired.

Shut down at the ball game

So much of the tension from watching an episode of Impractical Jokers comes down to peoples' reactions to the pranks. You know the feeling we're talking about. Is this the mark that's going to throw a punch that lands? That sort of thing.

Turns out seeing someone absolutely lose it on the Jokers is actually extremely uncomfortable. According to Joe, speaking in an October 2017 "Ask the Jokers" aftershow, the angriest person the production ever encountered took place at the Citi Field during an episode called "Take Me Out of the Ball Game."

The prank, a punishment for Joe, involved stealing baseballs autographed by Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard from the weakest, funniest victims — little kids. The sight of Joe strolling around casually robbing young baseball fans and their parents is one of those "I can't believe what I'm seeing right now" moments that the series is so good at, but things went completely off the rails when one mark went full mama bear on him.

Asked if anyone in show history had ever been as mad at him as the mother was, Joe (and executive producer Pete McParland) responded with certainty. "No," he said. "Never, ever, in a million years has anyone been that upset at anyone on Impractical Jokers."

According to Joe, the mother was so furious that it derailed the whole production. "Our crew did not know what to do," he said — a surprising admission, considering this was a sixth-season episode.

Famous friends

Joe Gatto and a couple of non-Jokers friends host the PBR Podcast, and in 2015, they included AT&T girl (and Impractical Jokers fan) Milana Vayntrub as a guest. She was supposed to appear in a July 2015 episode featuring Sal's hilarious haunted house punishment, but her scenes were cut before it aired. Joe continues to tweet about Milana's charitable efforts, and coincidentally, Joe's own baby daughter is also named Milana.

Sal's tats

One of the most memorable punishments in Jokers history involved three of the Jokers getting tattoos determined by Joe Gatto, who was the only winner of that week's challenge. While Q and Murr's tattoos were meaningful to their lives in a sarcastic way, Sal's tattoo was a huge picture of Jaden Smith on his thigh. Viewers will also notice that Sal already had quite a few tattoos at this point, including tribal bands around his calves. His arm tattoo, however, has a pretty deep meaning to him: it's song lyrics dedicated to a friend that he lost in 2011. Kinda makes that Jaden tattoo look especially cruel.

Sexist or racist?

The cringe comedy element of Impractical Jokers simply cannot be understated — it's part of the show's very bedrock. For people who empathize deeply with others' embarrassment or indignation, the show can be borderline torture to watch. The absolute worst moments — the ones where you really feel for the mark, and almost turn on the Joker — involve the times when one of the guys gets forced to antagonize a mark on the basis of their very identity by throwing out racist quips or acting like a boorish, sexist simpleton.

In an "Ask the Jokers" segment following the 23rd episode of the sixth season, Joe was asked by a viewer whether it's more difficult to pretend to be sexist or racist. At first, the Joker demurred — "I'm trying to think of the right answer here," he said, "Because either way feels like a trap."

Joe moved on during the Q&A, but the question stuck in his mind, with him concluding after a couple of minutes that "it's probably harder to pretend to be sexist." Which in the end, isn't too surprising of an answer. These are Italian boys from Staten Island, after all. Of course they defend the honor of their mothers and their sisters. 

Crydiving

Murr's most notable punishment, and the inspiration for his tattoo, was being forced to skydive despite a serious fear of heights. On air, we see Murr run and threaten to quit the show, but what we don't see is the hour he spent locked in a bathroom, refusing to come out while he sent farewell texts to his friends and family, sure that he would not survive the experience. Both Murr and Sal share a fear of heights, which they'd face again during their later charitable tightrope walk.

Brian's swollen brain

There were a few Jokers episodes where it was very clear that Q was suffering from an illness, and at least one challenge that Q was allowed to skip because of health concerns. Viewers didn't know that Q's problems were far worse than the flu, and after a battery of invasive tests administered by four doctors, a regimen of serious antibiotics, and a misdiagnosis of Lyme disease, Q found out he was actually suffering from serious encephalitis and meningitis. The difference between pre- and post-near-death Q is about 15 pounds, and Jokers filming was put off for at least a week.

Comic Book Man

AMC's Comic Book Men almost featured another member, but Brian "Q" Quinn was stuck in TruTV's contractual grip and couldn't join his good friends on Kevin Smith's nerdy version of Pawn Stars. Q, a lifelong comics fan, appears regularly on a podcast called Tell 'Em Steve-Dave with Comic Book Men's Walt Flanagan and Bryan Johnson, where the trio discuss their efforts to remain decent humans in a world of increasingly difficult people. You know, your average middle-aged man complaints.

Comic Q

As the resident comic book fan on Impractical Jokers, Q gets some perks that other people in the cast can't access. For one, he probably understands the origin story of Cable. But more excitingly, he's also gotten to share some space with Cable's pal Deadpool in the pages of a real-deal comic book.

Thanks to a personal connection with writers Nick Giovannetti and Paul Scheer, Q appeared in the pages of December 2016's Spider-Man/Deadpool #12, his likeness drawn into the comic in an extremely detailed fashion.

"Dream come true to be officially canon in the Marvel 616," he wrote — "616" referring to the universe that serves as Marvel Comics' primary continuity. "And that IS me," he assured readers, as though they wouldn't be able to instantly recognize his familiar, uh, severed head. "I had to sign an appearance form. My boy Todd Nauck drew it."

For a comic book fan, it's one of the coolest Christmas presents you could get — but the fact that the one-page appearance ends in a death by decapitation from a buff, shirtless Santa Claus? That's one of the coolest things that could happen to you ever

The global joke

One of the reasons Impractical Jokers has been able to break 200 episodes and notch a feature film (not to mention air on TruTV for what feels like every day, all day) has to do with how universally relatable the central concept is. 

Just about everyone gets some kind of kick out of watching pranks or practical jokes from a safe distance, but not every person has the same sense of humor. When you start talking different cultures and countries, the gap between tastes in humor gets even bigger — so why not strip things down to the bone and put a local spin on it?

Impractical Jokers is notable for having a diverse catalog of international spinoffs, with localized takes on the Tenderloins' formula reaching from to Brasília to Beirut.

By this point, the Impractical Jokers series has branched off 11 unique versions across five continents, with local versions having been produced specifically for Egypt, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and even the Canadian province of Quebec. 

International crossovers, as you might imagine, are few and far between, though Murr has appeared on the Brazilian and Belgian versions, and met the guys who do the UK version of the show. Who would have thought this foursome of dorks from Staten Island could make such a global, impractical empire?

Focus on the background

One of the accusations that's dogged Impractical Jokers over the years is the same one that gets lobbed at every reality show, that being: "This is fake." In our modern-day world of entertainment that's overproduced to within an inch of its life, it's no surprise the savvy viewer is always looking for the puppet strings.

For the most part, these accusations are generally baseless — just gut suspicions informed by the outlandish nature of some of the crew's daring pranks. But sometimes people have receipts that raise real questions — like when they spot the same extras participating in completely different episodes. That's just the kind of reality TV shenanigans that could make anyone's eyebrows raise.

Fortunately, you don't have to be too skeptical about the show's honesty. Writing in a 2018 Reddit "Ask Me Anything" thread, Q addressed the issue head on, stating unequivocally that "We don't use actors."

Instead, Q said, "We use the people who go to focus groups a lot and sometimes the same person shows up. But they never realize they are on the show for some reason."

Provided what Q's saying is 100% true, it's a pretty reasonable explanation for why you might see the same face once or twice during a TruTV marathon. It's also kind of inspiring — may we all reach such levels of leisure as these focus group hobbyists, just showing up game for whatever for the sake of filling out the day.

The last resort? Cash

The whole point and purpose of Impractical Jokers is to perform bewildering acts in public for the sake of getting the funniest footage possible. Once the production gets that footage, they'll go to just about any length to make sure they can use it.

In order to take footage of people and beam it out across the world, the production has to get signed releases from every mark they want to use onscreen — which can be a pretty tricky proposition when you've just spent five straight minutes royally pissing them off on purpose. 

Sal broke down the process of getting permission from people in a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" thread in 2013. Asked if the production compensates people they offend when they're paying customers at, say, a restaurant, Sal said that they don't — mostly.

"Usually people are pretty cool when they find out it's a show," Sal wrote. "The few who get mad we try to convince otherwise, or they get blurred, or cut from the show. On rare occasion[s] if the person was gold, we try and throw them a few bucks to coerce them."

Our advice? Keep that little bit of info in the back of your mind, just in case the Jokers ever happen to pull a prank on you. No matter how you really feel about it, your best move is to get mad, stay mad — and get paid.

Joke's on Hollywood

In March of 2018, it was announced that the team would be taking on the big screen in their first feature motion picture. (It only took the Jackass guys three seasons, but hey, they had politicians after them when they were on TV.) Finally, the boys from Staten Island will be able to practice their pranking without censorship — and the world might not be ready.

The announcement came at the same time that the series was renewed for a 26-episode eighth season, promising fans of the show more content than they might know what to do with. By the time that order's through, the team will have produced 237 episodes of the little prank show that could. Even without the movie serving as a cherry on top, we've come a long way from the days of The Little Slutty Mermaid.

The plot of the movie, as much as something like this could even be said to have a plot, will apparently revolve around a humiliating incident from the boys' high school days that inspires them to take a road trip, pranking their way across America for a chance, somehow, at redemption. Does it make sense? We're not sure. Does it need to?

Our Italian job

Any fan of Impractical Jokers will tell you that the real pull of the series, after you watch it long enough, isn't necessarily the prank reactions or the elaborate set pieces the guys come up with. What keeps you coming back are the relationships between the cast members, who've been hanging in other's orbits for so long that it's almost surreal.

Speaking in an appearance on Jim and Samthe Jokers addressed the question of whether being in each other's companies so often caused friction in the group, and whether or not they got on each other's nerves. According to Joe, they don't really have arguments, except occasionally over business decisions they may have different approaches for. But when it comes to social stuff, they're even keel. "We can literally joke about anything," he said. 

Murr pointed out that they're all from Italian backgrounds, growing up experiencing an intimate way of living other people might not be familiar with. "We were raised in loud households," he said. "We have a shorthand, talking to each other. So other people from the outside look at us, it seems like we're screaming at each other. We're just being passionate."

It's a chemistry that's working in their favor now more than ever. With the show set to continue through 2019 and a massive back catalog to their name, their friendship and rowdy fellowship has built them a legacy that will last — and there's nothing impractical about that.