New York improv troupe The Tenderloins have been hammering out comedy via long-form improv, stand-up, and sketches since 1999. In 2011 they scored big with hidden-camera/improv/comedy/competition show Impractical Jokers, now in its third season on truTV, a cable channel formerly better known for reality and reality-clip shows such as Operation Repo, Top 20 Most Shocking, Vegas Strip, and World's Dumbest. We spoke via telephone with cast member James "Murr" Murray about what to expect when the group appears live at the Lyric. (Joe MacLeod)
City Paper: Hello, good morning.
James "Murr" Murray from Impractical Jokers: Hey, it's Murr from Impractical Jokers.
CP: OK, I'm sorry, who am I talking to?
MFIJ: This is Murr, from Impractical Jokers.
CP: Now wait a minute, OK, somebody said I was gonna be talking to Sal.
MFIJ: Sal is stuck on a plane right now. I'm covering for him.
CP: OK, all right, so I'm completely unprepared to talk to you because I did not study your bio.
MFIJ: That's OK, we'll wing it!
CP: Your show is called Impractical Jokers, but apparently, according to my press materials, what you guys are gonna be doing at the Lyric is gonna be more "adult."
MFIJ: Well, the live show is uncensored. We're adults, occasionally curse, that's why we recommend it for 18-plus.
CP: My perception of truTV is that it's the network where there's people fighting and car crashes and this and that, and this time, the show that you do, is you put yourself in situations where you could be considered rude and stuff but you seem to keep it clean, kinda.
MFIJ: Yeah, we're a family-friendly show. (laughs)
CP: Which is kinda surprising for truTV, I think, I dunno, not to judge truTV.
MFIJ: Well, the network is changing, I think that's the old truTV, if you look at all the new programming they have, they're kind of using our show as the format going forward for the network, the kinda programming they'll be into.
CP: Not that I don't love clip shows of fights at soccer games, [but] I wasn't always tuning in—truTV always seemed to be the channel that was on at some horrible bar that I was at. If I'm in a rough bar, for some reason they got truTV on, just on, all the time.
MFIJ: Now we're on at all the awesome bars that you're at.
CP: I haven't seen a press release in a long time that mentioned MySpace, but you guys were number one on MySpace back in the day.
MFIJ: What? Our press release says "MySpace?"
CP: The press release says: "At the height of MySpace's popularity, The Tenderloins were ranked number one out of over 120,000 comedian accounts."
MFIJ: Wow, guess it's time to change that press release. (laughs)
CP: You guys won money on this Carson Daly show [It's Your Show].
MFIJ: It was a comedy competition NBC had, giving money away to the best videos they could find, and that competition kinda started us on this path, won the grand prize, won everything, and that got us a TV pilot, a sketch comedy pilot, which was shot but didn't go series, and that got us a second pilot, and another network, and then eventually we got to Impractical Jokers. There's a point where we won the competition on NBC where I was like, this could be the greatest day of my life. A hundred thousand dollars, but split four ways and taxed, so basically I bought a new couch with the money that's left. But this may be the best thing that's ever happened to us, as comedians, and then it's gotten better. (laughs)
MFIJ: For the entire first season of Impractical Jokers we all still had our day jobs.
CP: You're still a producer.
MFIJ: Yeah, I do it because the guys and I have created a business, we create other show ideas, and I use my job to go pitch those ideas. I'm "in the business," so to speak, so it makes sense for me to keep the job.
CP: You are your own vertical integration.
MFIJ: There you go. Very good.
CP: Were you guys in improv, or were you just funny guys who performed?
MFIJ: We did tons of improv shows for many, many years, we put up our own shows in New York City, we'd travel around and tour, do comedy festivals and things like that, we switched into sketch comedy and did that for many years. I think the switch to sketch comedy is when things took off for us, but Jokers is very much an improv show.
CP: Improv always seems to be the thing they did before they started to do the thing that they're famous for or that everybody likes. It's like school. Improv's like school.
MFIJ: You know what it is, I think it gets a bad rap because there's a lot of bad improv out there. You go to see the Upright Citizens Brigade perform, they're amazing, Amy Poehler is one of the best comedians out there, she comes from an improv background. I think there's a lot of bad improv out there, like there's a lot of bad stand-up out there, and it's got a bad rap, but for us, it's certainly our main skill set, and when you find the right form to put improv in, like Impractical Jokers is a format by which we improvise, then it works really well.
CP: I saw a clip where they put Sal—a lot of times these are competitions between you guys—he rolled up to a table with a couple of ladies sitting at it at a restaurant, and just sat down, and the goal was to see how long he could ride the pony before he got kicked off the table. So that's the improv exercise because he's gotta react to what they're doing, and survive.
MFIJ: Exactly, we truly have no idea how people are going to react, our show is a hundred percent real. I think that's one of the cool things about it, is that we are continually surprised by how the public reacts. The real hook of Impractical Jokers is that we're real best friends. You can't fake it, and that's why people like the show. We do what all best friends do, which is screw around with each other, and have fun and support each other and love each other. Having a show where the network's like "don't ever put that on TV," we can put it in the live show. We shot hidden-camera challenges just for the live show that you can't see anywhere else, and you never know what's gonna happen, we kinda wing it, too. If you love the TV show, you're gonna love the live show more, it's us in our raw form. As friends.
CP: And if I don't know anything about the TV show . . .
MFIJ: You're gonna be fine. ¿
truTV Presents Impractical Jokers Tour Featuring The Tenderloins at the Lyric Opera House on June 13 at 8 (sold out) and 10:30 p.m.