'Impractical Jokers': TruTV's New Hidden Camera Program (VIDEO)
Face it: Being able to play pranks on your friends that make them look stupid in front of strangers is one of the simple joys in life.
And that's how it's been for James "Murr" Murray, who says he and Sal Vulcano, Joe Gatto, and Brian "Q" Quinn have been pranking each other since they attended Monsignor Farrell High School in Staten Island, N.Y., more than 10 years ago.
As is common among teenage boys at an all-boy high school, trying to get a laugh was sometimes more important than getting good grades. Murray says he and his pals would go to great lengths to impress each other -- even putting their snotty nostrils on each other and the teacher.
"Ever since high school, Joe's been doing this thing called 'The Nose' where he rests his nose on their body without people noticing," Murray told HuffPost Weird News. "I can remember back in high school when Joe would see the teacher passing by in class and put his nose on her."
The guys are still nosing each other -- which may explain why they are all still single -- but the biggest joke that the four pranksters have ever played may be on the TruTV network, which they convinced to pay them to put on a show where they humiliate each other -- which they'd probably do for free.
The end result is "Impractical Jokers," a hidden camera series debuting Dec. 15 where the quartet compete in awkward and contrived contests in front of unsuspecting bystanders.
For instance, one episode takes place at a White Castle fast-food restaurant and each guy takes turns working behind the counter, with the object being to get the biggest tip. The catch? While a guy is working the registers, the others shout ridiculous directions through an earpiece, such as "Don't engage in eye contact with the customer"; "Turn everything the customer says into a rhyme"; and "Stand like a statue staring at the customer's $20 bill for 45 seconds without moving."
Some customers shake their heads, some try to pretend everything is normal and some laugh. Amazingly, some of the customers leave tips despite the obviously poor customer service.
Gatto says one of the joys of doing the series is really pushing his friends' buttons to previously unheard of levels by taking advantage of their weaknesses, such as Vulcano's fear of germs.
"Sal definitely has what might be called 'touching people issues,'" Gatto told HuffPost Weird News. "So we make him invade people's personal space whenever possible. On the other hand, [Quinn] has a demeanor that changes when he's around attractive women."
It's not long before they veer into disgusting territory that would revolt "Fear Factor" contestants.
"They made me pick up raw shit from a rottweiler in my hand and hold it while talking to people," Vulcano said. "In the past, they would have just thrown it at me."
So how did four guys whose previous jobs include being a breast pump salesman and a systems analyst for Prudential get a TV show?
Murray has seen the potential of his pals' pranking for years. He secured a development deal from Spike TV for a scripted sitcom based on their hijinks, but that show fell through. He said he thinks the hidden camera format suits his friends' antics better.
"We needed to find the right format," Murray told HuffPost Weird News. "Thing is, we've been doing this for years, but when it's on camera, the embarrassment is amplified."
Murray admits that the fact that he and his motley crew are actually getting paid to do the sophomoric stuff they did back is a bit of vindication to his family.
"I told my nieces and nephews I was going to do a TV show last Christmas and they called me a liar," he said. "They didn't believe me until they saw the commercials a few weeks ago. Now I'm the favorite uncle again."
Gatto says that they try not to cause each other much bodily harm -- emphasis on the word "much" -- but there have been some close calls.
"We were at the TKTS booth in Times Square, where there is always a long line," Gatto said about the stand selling tickets to Broadway shows. "Sal had to cut in line in front of this older guy and the guy threw him out -- and Sal had to keep doing it."
Murray has mixed emotions about performing stunts that might bother the innocent bystanders around them.
"I do like to see how much I can talk around people in a given situation, but I'm still raised to be a gentleman and get caught up easily in helping people," he said. "So I genuinely want to give good service even when I'm at White Castle and my friends are telling me through an earpiece what to say to the customer."
Vulcano admits he also has a soft spot for the folks who are unwitting witnesses to their mayhem.
"I do think I have a guilty conscience and that allows me to get away with it more," he said. "Sometimes for me the only saving grace is when I get to reveal what we're really doing. Like the time I was sitting in a park and had to tell a mother her newborn baby was ugly. Nothing in life prepares you for that."