Imagine your three best friends knew you were deathly afraid of skydiving, so they tricked you into facing that fear – on national television.

For Joe Gatto, James “Murr” Murray, Brian “Q” Quinn and Sal Vulcano, the real-life best friends who star in truTV’s “Impractical Jokers,” it’s just another day – albeit a fun one – at work.

The foursome met while attending an all-boys high school on Staten Island, where the testosterone-driven atmosphere was ripe for cracking jokes. “We became very good at the art of pranking,” says Gatto.

stage-24287_039_0031_CC_9903_Their fondness for pranks led them to form the comedy troupe The Tenderloins after they graduated from college. Now they’re earning a living making each other and audiences laugh, and the foursome is bringing their unique brand of humor to The Borgata Event Center on July 30 and 31 for two shows combining stand-up, stories from the set and footage from their TV show as part of their “Where’s Larry?” Tour.

In each episode of Impractical Jokers, now in its fourth season, the guys dare each other through a series of humiliating public pranks caught on hidden camera, all with the sole purpose of making each other – and viewers – laugh. As each one attempts the challenge, the other three watch behind the scenes via hidden camera and mock him non-stop.

“Our show, at its core, is about embarrassing each other – it’s not about getting the public mad,” says Gatto. “It’s our version of a prank show; we’re just making ourselves the butt of the joke.”

That might mean the guys challenge each other to whisper “sweet nothings” to total strangers at the supermarket, steal food from people at a buffet or share offensive text messages out loud in a waiting room.

In one episode filmed last year at The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, the Jokers posed as bellhops and challenged each other to get a tip from the people they “helped” to their rooms. Awkwardness ensues as Gatto ends up mooning out the balcony window, Q creepily tells a couple their room is their final resting place, Murr unpacks a woman’s lingerie (which comes as a surprise to her significant other) and Vulcano brings extra towels to the room before borrowing one of them when he pretends to take a shower.

“There are so many games and things we do that are simple social experiments, like trying to hold a stranger’s hand for as long as you can. We always try to push the envelope with new games and new ways to do stuff. You never know how a person is going to react,” says Gatto. “We find real comedy in those moments, and our favorite part is the way the general public reacts. That’s the secret sauce of the show, in my opinion.

“The people who are involved are just usually like, ‘This guy is crazy.’ That’s the reaction we want. We don’t want to make people mad – that’s not what our show is. When you realize they’re along for the ride, you think, ‘Oh, can I get them to do this? I can! Now can I get them to do this? I can!’ You keep trying to see how far it can go, and all you hear is your friends yelling, because they can’t believe what you’re able to pull off with this person.”

On more than one occasion, Murray has also expressed his disbelief at how far the general public allows them to go with their challenges, telling fans of the show, “I’m continually amazed by how little people react to things. I thought we would get punched far more than we do.”

And while they don’t usually face backlash from the people unwittingly involved in their pranks, whoever comes out the loser of each challenge has to face a punishment designed by the other three – and that’s when things get playfully abusive.

“It’s turned into a revenge thing, knowing everything that has happened to you during punishments. You’re trying to do one better and get your friends back for what they’ve done to you. We have a general agreement that we can’t say no to a punishment, so we trust each other to make sure it’s something you think we would do or we think won’t kill each other,” says Gatto. “But most of the time we try to kill Murr as best as we can.”

That attitude is obvious in the now-infamous “Skydiving is for Losers” punishment inflicted on Murr during the third season of Impractical Jokers.

“Murr is terrified of heights, so we knew this would be a great punishment for him,” says Gatto. “We decided to pretend we were filming a challenge, but we had to find a place and get the whole production team there, thinking we’re there to film a challenge. And then when we filmed the intro, we turned it into his punishment. It’s one of the best moments of our show.”

24287_002_0032_CC_3909_Murr’s attempts to leave and tearful pleas to avoid the punishment fall on deaf ears, as Gatto, Quinn and Vulcano continue to mock him and laugh at his expense up until the moment he’s forced out of the plane. Murr – who is visibly terrified during the segment – has told viewers, “What’s not on TV is my full-blown breakdown before I got on the plane. I locked myself in the bathroom and sent goodbye texts, no joke. I was in full-blown tears. I was crydiving.”

The painful punishments don’t stop there. In another episode, Quinn’s punishment was teaching a sex education class – to his parents. The guys have also made Murray pose nude for an art class and forced Vulcano to sit in a quiet cafe while pornographic sound effects blared from his computer.

“One of my favorite things in the world is making Sal cringe. I’ve been doing it for years, and I still really love it because I just don’t care, and he does. We are at opposite ends of the spectrum,” says Gatto. “It’s the best to show the world how much fun it is to make your friends laugh that way.”

This entertaining dynamic between the foursome is precisely what makes Impractical Jokers so successful, says Gatto. “It really is an intense relationship that we have. We’re business partners, we’re best friends, there’s creative differences and there’s also the fact that we care about each other. It’s a really, really interesting dynamic that you don’t see anywhere. Viewers feel like they know us by hanging out with us every Thursday night.”

What viewers might not know is that Gatto, Murray, Quinn and Vulcano shot a number of failed television pilots over the years with networks like Spike TV and A&E before finding success with Impractical Jokers.

“We had our day jobs through the first season of the show. We were doing both jobs – I was the only one who had quit my job to jump all in, but Sal, Q and Murr were still doing their thing, because basically, you can’t believe that this is going to be your job,” says Gatto. “Think about it: someone says to you, ‘I will pay you to make your friends laugh on TV.’ And you think, ‘Yeah, right.’ We still look at each other, and we’re like, ‘We’re at work right now. It’s insane that we’re at work right now.’ The stuff we get to do and pull over on each other is really amazing.”

Though they’ve been up to their hijinks on Impractical Jokers for four seasons, Murray has told fans, “There’s no shortage of social faux pas to draw from. And the other reason the well never runs dry is the fact that we’ve been best friends for 24 years and have 24 years of history, jokes, photos, videos and embarrassing secrets to pull from.”

Gatto sees no end in sight to their antics, either. “We are, literally, always laughing at something. People who hang out with us when there are no cameras around feel like we’re being filmed, because that’s just who we are,” says Gatto. “We’ll do anything we can to make each other laugh.”

June 2015
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