Impractical Jokers: Joe Gatto Interview

We chatted to The Tenderloins and Impractical Jokers' Joe Gatto about filling stadiums, punishments and scary bikers...

There’s no way I’m attempting to interview all four of the Impractical Jokers at the same time again. Not after last time. Things got out of hand.

Improv group The Tenderloins, stars of the TV show Impractical Jokers, are returning to the UK in January 2017 for more performances of their live show. The tour is selling well and so they’ve added extra dates and are doing some press to promote them.

So when the opportunity for an interview slot came up, I decided I would specialise. Phone interviews can be tricky because of the delay, the disruption and the detachment, and I decided that if I could get just one of the Jokers, I’d end up with something more manageable and focused. And when you’re covering something as fun as comedy, the words you should be striving towards are ‘manageable’ and ‘focused’. Ahem.

I got onto the phone with Joe Gatto, perhaps the silliest and most shameless Joker. This is how our chat went.

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So, I went to see you guys perform at the Kentish Town Forum in London this year. You’re playing the O2 for your next tour, which I think has something like ten times the capacity. Would it be fair to say that you underestimated the demand last time?

No, it was just a matter of availability, actually. We knew we had a big fan base over there in the UK and we were excited to get over there. We didn’t want to wait until it was available because, as you know, we booked it for January of 2017. We wanted to at least get over and get in front of the fans a little bit. So we were able to do that and, of course, when we saw how mad everybody was that the tickets sold out so fast we knew that we needed much bigger venues. That’s what made us end up at the O2 and we’re excited for that.

Has the demand, even still, surprised you, because you sold out two shows at the O2 super quickly. You have a third show on sale now. Had you anticipated that level of demand?

Ah yeah, we couldn’t believe it when we had to add a third show. It’s a thing for us, being over here and having such a crazy fan base over there. We just filmed an episode over there and so we were able to spend some time in the UK, and it was so much fun just to be with the fans and see how popular we were and get to talk to people. For four guys from Staten Island, it totally blew our minds.

Did you find that the UK people reacted any differently to the pranks? Was there anything that was noticeable to you?

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Yeah, definitely. It was funny because the dynamic switched for us. Here in New York we have about 50% New Yorkers that end up being on our TV show and then the others are from out of town. In the UK, we’re the tourists. It’s funny to see how smart the UK people are in trying to help us or genuinely listening to us and not getting annoyed with us.

Going back to your live shows, when I’ve mentioned seeing the live show before people don’t seem to know what to expect from it. I wondered if you could tell me how you explain it.

It’s our version of a stand-up comedy show where it’s the four of us on stage, together, telling stories from our lives, our friendships and also it’s a multimedia experience where we show hidden camera challenges that we’ve filmed just for the live show, so you can’t see them anywhere else.

Are there any plans to release the shows on DVD? I know the next UK shows are the ‘Santiago Sent Us’ tour, and the ‘Where’s Larry?’ show had a clip of Q accidentally posting his phone number on Twitter that I need to have.

I’m not sure if there are plans. There’s always stuff in the works at the network. I know that everybody loved that clip, that was one of the favourite moments of that ‘Where’s Larry?’ tour show. It was so fun to mess with him like that and then everybody got to experience basically what we do in real life.

That part wrecked me during the show. Alright, so, I wanted to ask you a few bits about the TV show as well. How much shooting goes into a twenty minute episode?

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It’s basically three to four days shooting, depending on how many challenges end up in an episode. We shoot one challenge a day, with the punishment being its own day. So it’s about three days shooting. So, for example, season 5 that we’re shooting now, we started last October and we end in July, and that’ll get us twenty-six episodes.

And then how long does it take to edit each one?

The editing, normally the cycle is about four to five weeks. We basically edit them a la carte, so after we film a challenge on the day it goes into the edit. We polish that one until it’s show ready and then we start putting together the challenges.

I know that prior to the Impractical Jokers show, you guys had done two scripted pilots. How difficult was it to find a format that allowed you to use your spontaneity?

Oh, yeah. This is our home run comedy. This is our form. This is really the best way for us to be funny, in my opinion, because we’re just being us. We’re improv comedians, we’re not necessarily actors, we don’t come across that way. In this show you get a real taste of our personality and friendship.

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The secret ingredient of the show is that it’s more of a friendship show than a hidden camera prank show because you see us interact as real friends of twenty-six years. So we had a couple of failed attempts at scripted pilots that just never took because it was a bit different for us to get that type of format. This embarrassment comedy is how we’ve been making each other laugh our entire lives. We just turned the cameras on and did our thing.

Please correct me if I’m wrong on any of this, because I’ve listened to all of the Tenderloins podcasts, but my memory is just terrible and I may have confused things. Am I right in saying that you were originally reluctant to pursue a television show?

No, well, we had a couple of failed attempts at the TV show, and then, going down the scripted avenue, we just were not seeing eye-to-eye. I didn’t want to do that anymore. I wasn’t comfortable with how I came across in those and I wasn’t comfortable with that format. I had a job that was taking up a lot of time.

We weren’t agreeing on what we needed to do. That’s what that was. It’s not that I didn’t want to make a TV show, it’s just that I wasn’t feeling that type of format. And then once we came up with the format that would be Impractical Jokers, we all loved it. But yeah, I was ready to pull the plug on any of the projects that weren’t that. I wasn’t interested in being in sketch comedy any more.

One of my favourite punishments from the show involved you interviewing a gang of bikers. I wonder how often, either by instinct or by logic, do you feel unsafe or genuinely frightened?

That was definitely one of the most intense situations I have been in, but they’re human beings, they’re guys. I was interviewing them, they knew there were cameras around, so I didn’t think they would do anything super stupid. But it definitely was an intense room. It got really uncomfortable.

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As far as personal safety goes, for the most part we make ourselves the butt of the joke so we never really do anything to get people angry. That’s not our show, our show is trying to look like a fool in front of the public. So we don’t really get people to that place, like with a Punk’d TV show, or something where we’re trying to get people angry, that’s really not what our show is about. And we come across a little crazy, which I think helps us. People aren’t sure how to handle us.

We’ve been doing this a long time now, we’re pretty good at reading people.

Again on the subject of punishments, when you personally come up with one, what’s your next step, or what’s the process that you follow?

It really depends on the punishment. Before I get the other guys too excited on something sometimes I’ll go to the production team, I work pretty closely with production, and be like ‘hey, can we get a helicopter?’ and try to figure it out. If they say ‘yeah, it might be possible’ and they figure it out, then I’ll go to the guys and pitch them the idea to see if they like it, so I’m able to answer when they’re like ‘Oh, we can get a helicopter?’, ‘Yeah, I talked to production, we can.’

I normally try to figure out if what I want to do is possible and then I’ll go and tell the other guys.

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Who’s the most difficult to punish, do you think, out of the troupe?

Sal and Murr are definitely the easiest out of the four of us to punish. I mean, there’s so much to pick on with them. I would say that Q and I are on the other side of the fence. Q is somewhere in the middle, because he holds a lot of things dear in his life, so it’s kind of funny. But I think that Sal and Murr are far and away easier to punish than Q and I.


Sal’s scared of everything.

I find Sal the most relatable, I think, because he responds how I would expect to.

People can see the nerves on his skin when something is happening. You can see his skin literally crawl when he has to say or do something, or when he has to put up with some punishment.

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I know, as you’ve said, on the show you’re usually the butt of the jokes, but amongst yourselves there are presumably lines that you won’t cross. When you find a line like that, where you decide that something is probably off limits, how tempting do you find it to cross it?

Well, at the end of the day we’re still friends. Sometimes somebody will come up with an idea and you’ll have to stick up for your friend, because the person can’t stick up for themselves, because they lose, right? You have to be the voice of reason with the microphones or when you’re coming up with the punishment.

The way we used to do it – but everybody caught on to it – is if we had an idea and we thought it crossed the line, we would just use it for another guy. So there was an episode where we broke into Sal’s house when he was on vacation and we filmed videos, and then he gave a presentation but he didn’t know that we broke into his house and he showed those videos in his presentation. And he couldn’t believe that. Like, I was rolling around naked on his couch, Murray was eating his peanut butter with his finger and so it was kind of like we were messing with his home.

So for that idea, Q actually went to Sal and said that he had the idea to do that to Murray and Sal thought it was a great idea. If it’s good for Murray, it’s good for him. That gave us permission to punish him. But now we all caught onto it so we all say no to every idea that gets pitched to us. *laughs*

With you being on your fifth season now, and at over a hundred shows, how difficult is it to come up with ideas that keep the show on its toes while still maintaining the identity you’ve built for it?

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We’re amazed. As you say it’s a hundred episodes, but then you think about all the ideas we have to come up with. It’s three challenges on a show on average, so that’s three hundred ideas we had to shoot, and inside those ideas, there’s ten-to-fifteen jokes, so there’s so much content and so much that goes into it. But most of the challenge is trying to pick a good format that really brings it out for us. We’re excited to try something new.

We’ve just gotten a little bit more ridiculous in what we’re trying. Like for instance, in this season one of my favourite things we’ve filmed, it was called ‘Jingle Bell Jacket’. We played this game in the supermarket where we attached hundreds of bells to a vest and you had to wear the vest and sneak up on someone and do an action without them catching you. So I had to flip somebody’s cart over without getting caught, and then Sal had to do something else. It was just so simple and silly in its idea and it panned out to be so fun.

So little things like that that we’re still inspired to do that stuff after five seasons, it’s crazy. The ideas haven’t stopped yet and we’re still having fun doing it. We always said ‘When we’re not having fun doing it anymore it’s over’. So hopefully there’ll be a season 6!

I hope so too! Continuing on the subject of how long you’ve been running, how often will one of your fellow Jokers surprise you?

Not as often as you’d think. We have so many bodies working at once. You’re out there by yourself, the other guys are in the earpiece, coaching you through the comedy in the way that makes you feel embarrassed best, so if somebody starts going the wrong way with something we’ll pull them back a little bit. Like ‘Don’t do that to this woman, she’s too old.’

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You guys did a live episode. I know it was a little while ago but it only showed over here in the last month or so.

Oh yeah, the tightrope.

Yeah. How exciting was that?

That was so much fun to do. It was interesting because so many people turned up for the live event, which was really cool. We had 5000 people come up, which was about 3000 more than we thought were gonna show up. So when you get to the top of that high wire, you look around and fans were screaming in support and just having so much fun. It really was a good time.

So, you’ve done your live performances, your live television episode, and then you’ve done a cruise as well.

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Oh, the cruise was great. We did that went from Miami to Mexico, and that was just a boat full of fans that were really great to interact with. We had a lot of our celebrity friends there and we got to do karaoke with the crowd. We filmed a live special.

The good thing about that, which was all of our favourite part, was when we film the TV show when someone’s a fan, it’s not a good thing because we can’t use them for the show. It’s not like ‘oh, thanks for being a fan’, it’s like ‘you’re ruining what we’re doing, get out of here’ because we don’t want anyone to recognise us. That’s the flipside; we actually got to hang out and show our appreciation and party with fans which is really a different dynamic for us and a lot of fun to do. Across the board, I think everyone had an amazing time.

You guys are experimental in what you’ll try. Do you feel, and I hate to use the term ‘brand’, but protective of your brand?

Yeah, there’s definitely a brand to it. I think people definitely associate it to us. Like whenever a new show comes out that has any element that feels like ours, people just take to Twitter and Facebook and social media and just rip it apart. It’s interesting to see that happen, because our fans are very protective of what we’ve done because they know us. We’re us on the show, we’re very accessible as far as celebrity goes; we respond on Twitter, we spend time when people see us, we meet people after shows. So it’s a very territorial thing for our fans when they get venomous if something rubs them the wrong way.

I’m coming to the end of my time so I wanted to fire you two quick questions. I know there’s talk of a movie happening. Is there anything you can say about that?

It’s nothing more than I hope it does. The movie business is a much different process and there’s a lot of cooks in that kitchen. It’s very much out of our hands, other than we said we wanted to do one. So now it’s basically just everybody who makes a movie talking about it. So we’re hopeful that it’ll happen. There’s been a lot of good talk happening, but Hollywood’s a very different animal than television. Hopefully it will. We haven’t had anything that has been like ‘oh, this isn’t going to happen!’ which is good. It’s been some encouraging obstacles conquered but there’s still more to go.

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Normally when we interview anyone we ask them their favourite Jason Statham movie, but you were kind enough, when I spoke to you earlier in the year, to answer that with your amazing story of having nosed him (nosing is the act of covertly touching someone with your nose). So I thought instead I would ask you who would your ideal nosing be? Who would you like to nose?

Umm, if I could nose anybody… I guess over there it would be Ricky Gervais. He’s a hero of mine. I consider him an idol, I love everything he does. So to be able to place my nose on such a Brit legend, that would be my pick.

Joe Gatto, thank you very much!

Impractical Jokers returns to Comedy Central in August. By UK season division, this will be considered season 9. Tickets for the live UK shows are available here.