“This is a little more back to our roots,” Joe Gatto told me during a recent interview I had with him and Sal Vulcano. The two, along with James “Murr” Murray and Brian “Q” Quinn, are part of the hugely popular truTV hidden-camera series Impractical Jokers. All four men are spinning off that success with the new series Jokers Wild. Don’t worry; the group is not abandoning Impractical Jokers, and new episodes of Season 3 will begin on the same night as the Jokers Wild premiere, Sept. 25.
Some fans might find the new show a change from what they have come to know from the group, but as Joe alluded to, Jokers Wild is a return to their roots as founders of The Tenderloins Comedy Troupe in 1999.
“Our roots are in improv and sketch comedy,” Joe continued. “We sort of just found our own voice with Impractical Jokers as our take on the hidden-camera show.”
“The only similarity [between Jokers Wild and Impractical Jokers] is that it will star us,” Sal told me. “But other than that, this is contained in a studio, for the most part, with our studio audience. It is a variety/sketch show, so this is a mix of sketches, and we have guests, we do pieces in-studio and there’s also an element where we go out to remote and do field pieces, like we visit Medieval Times. We play ourselves, so it’s kind of a mixed bag of a sketch and a variety show.”
“This really was a lot of fun for us because we got to get back into writing sketches and producing sketches and stuff,” Joe added.
Diehard fans of the group who have seen their live, touring shows might be more familiar with this aspect of the group.
“There’s nothing better than being in front of a live audience,” said Sal. “You get that immediate gratification, immediate connection. … You never know how they’re going to react, and you’re really feeding off a crowd.”
“It feels more like a rock concert than a comedy show,” Joe offered as a description of the group’s live shows. “It’s just awesome to have such diehard fans.”
“It really is a unique situation we fall into,” explained Sal. “We’re really a hybrid; depending on who you ask, our identity to people is different. Some people think we’re comedians, some people think we’re actors, some people think we’re reality television people. …. The fact that we travel together, and there’s four of us, we have this dynamic like a band, almost.”
“We’re comedians doing a bus tour together,” added Joe, “so it’s kind of weird to be on a bus like a band, touring as comedians with people knowing us from a reality show. So it’s like a really mixed-up blender situation of a margarita of funny.”
It’s that thrilling, live-performance dynamic that they try to capture with Jokers Wild. Along with not knowing how a live studio audience will react, Sal also wondered how viewers at home may react to Jokers Wild. Will they take to it, or just want more of what they have come to love with Impractical Jokers?
“It’s interesting to see how viewers will react,” Sal said. “One thing we’ve learned from touring and the show, we have a very loyal, rabid fan base. They’re very loyal to us, and they also feel like they know us because we play ourselves. So when we meet them in person or on the street, there’s this immediate familiarity and connection with us. So it’s going to be interesting for me to see the dynamic of the new show, because, in one respect, people just want more of us. Anything that they can get that we do they’re eating it up. And on the other hand, they don’t know us in this capacity per se. A lot of them don’t. Some of them do, the ones that have become deeper fans of us. But people that just know IJ, I do wonder if they’ll be pleasantly surprised, if they’ll be like, ‘We love them so much in their real environment.’ So I’m really excited to see, once this airs, what the response is.”
“We were excited and nervous to do this,” Joe added, “because people don’t know us for that. We had confidence, because this is where our roots were. It was like riding a bike for us; we really enjoyed it.”
One thing that viewers should take to is the fact that the gang pretty much plays themselves, or, as Joe said, a “hyper-reality” version of themselves.
“In this [Jokers Wild] universe,” Joe explained, “anything can happen. So we go from invading Medieval Times to settle a debate, all the way to Sal envisioning me when he’s getting romantic with a girl (laughs). Basically, we can do whatever we want, but we’re always ourselves.”
“I had to kiss Joe in multiple sketches,” Sal laughed. “In the six short episodes I’ve had to kiss Joe three different times! It definitely is hyper-real.”
“We’ve been friends for 25 years,” Joe added, laughingly, “and haven’t kissed once; in six episodes of a sketch show we’re like two teens on prom night!”
That longtime friendship among all the Impractical Jokers/Jokers Wild gang seems to be another reason why their chemistry works so well, with each other and with fans.
“We are truly friends,” Joe said. “It’s kind of crazy; in a lot of aspects we agree on what’s funny. So it’s fun to see what each of our takes is on what’s funny.”
It’s good that the group gets along, since they had an intense, but fun, workload filming the six-episode Jokers Wild while also shooting the remaining Season 3 episodes of Impractical Jokers (the latter series has been renewed for Season 4, which will come back early next year, Joe says). But as hard as the work may be, they certainly seem to love it.
“We’ll do this till the day we turn over and die,” Sal said. “There’s not too many opportunities to do something you love, which is comedy, with your best friends on your own show. And we’ve got that opportunity now. This is the second time. It’s surreal, and something that we hope to be doing for a real long time.”
Impractical Jokers returns with new episodes Sept. 25 at 9:30pm ET/PT on truTV.
Jokers Wild airs Thursdays at 10pm ET/PT on truTV starting Sept. 25.
Top photo: Jeremy Freeman/truTV
Second photo: Ali Goldstein/truTV