In high school on Staten Island, Joe Gatto was on the bowling team. He was also a "mathlete."
"I'm not afraid to admit it," he says. "I was socially awkward. I bloomed late."
That may be, but Gatto and three of his best friends, James Murray, Sal Vulcano, and Brian Quinn, have made a career out of social awkwardness, challenging each other to break the bonds of social decorum in the name of comedy. On their hit TruTV series, 'Impractical Jokers,' these improv comedy veterans use the old hidden camera trick with a twist – they make fools of themselves, not the people they encounter. Taking instruction from each other through an earpiece, the jokers take food off the plates of fellow diners, lick people's pets in public parks, and attempt to start ridiculous chants – "I'm so sexy" (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap) – in ballparks.
The show works, they suggest to 'Men's Journal,' because their friendship is real and the pranks they pull are an accessible form of comedy that anyone can try. "We get clips all the time from people trying stuff we've done," says Murray, known as "Murr," who once cleared out a coffee shop by opening a laptop that made incessant farting noises. The "I'm so sexy" chant is a particular favorite of the show's fans: "We've gotten so many video clips of people at big ball games trying to do it," says Murr. "We got one of kids at their high school graduation, with the whole audience chanting it."
The show, which airs on Thursdays at 10 pm, returned for its new season August 1. For budding impractical jokers, the hosts say it's critical to know how to defuse the situation after you've created tension among strangers – cutting to the front of a long line, for instance, by calling for an imaginary friend holding a space for you ("Larry!").
"We have no clue how the public is going to react," says Murr.
"The bread and butter of our show is not to get people mad," adds Joe. "If they're having a bad day, you laugh 'em up – yuk yuk."
So how to keep a confrontation from spilling into belligerence? "We have different approaches," says Murr. "Joe and Sal smile a lot – Joe with his baby blue eyes. I just try to confuse them. Hopefully they won't punch me."
The two friends laugh, of course.