Adam Green on His Very Practical Love Affair with Impractical Jokers

The horror and comedy director puts his heart on his sleeve as he talks about how four new hilarious "television friends" came into his life.

The thing that I love most about Talkhouse Film is that the pieces are never about reviewing a film or television show but are instead all about one artist celebrating another artist’s work and relating to it through their own craft. I was thrilled when my Star Wars: The Force Awakens piece (about how Star Wars has taught me to always say “yes” when faced with a challenge in my career) received such a positive response from readers last December. However, when I was approached a few weeks ago to write another Talkhouse piece, I sadly knew that my current workload just couldn’t allow for it. But as I started composing my response, I stopped to think, “What would I have written about if I could have written about something right now?” Given that Impractical Jokers has been a full-blown obsession of mine for the past few months, it was not only instantly obvious to me that I had already chosen what I’d write about … but that I was also already two paragraphs deep into the piece. So to the various producers who have been waiting on me to do my real job(s): I sincerely apologize. The unbridled love that I have for my “television friends” Sal, Murr, Joe and Q just had to come first. And hey, if I hadn’t been preoccupied with writing this, I would have been preoccupied with forcing you to watch “just one more hilarious thing from Impractical Jokers,” and you know it. So perhaps just consider this piece an impractical win-win? (Please?!)

Migraines are the absolute worst. If you’re one of the lucky people who get to go through life without the frequent mental fisting of crippling headaches, let me describe just what kind of fun you’re missing out on. The average migraine feels as if your head is being crushed in a rusty vice while an evil Keebler elf drills all of your teeth at the same time and violently humps your eye sockets from the inside of your head. Add in a healthy dose of nausea and you’re starting to get close to what it feels like to suffer from migraines. They come out of nowhere and sometimes stick around for days. About two months ago, I was riding out a migraine storm on my couch with an ice pack on my eyes and flipping through channels in search of something soothing to watch/listen to. I couldn’t possibly have been feeling worse, so you can only imagine my displeasure when I came across a show with the sounds of four men laughing hysterically at, well, themselves. So of course I changed the channel, right? Nah. When you hear people laughing that hard, it’s human instinct to want to know what is happening that’s so funny. Ever the glutton for self-punishment, I forced my bleary eyes open to see what could possibly have these four men laughing so much they were literally falling over each other onto the ground. Less than five minutes later, I was laughing so obnoxiously hard along with them that my cat Tyler bolted from the living room, my dog Arwen was staring at me and shaking in a mixture of confusion and fear, and best of all, the evil elf inside my head (we’ll name him Cranjis McBasketball) had fucked off to ruin some other poor bastard’s day.

The show was truTV’s Impractical Jokers and it only took one episode for it to become my new favorite comedy on television. Thankfully for me, I’m late to the game so I’ve been able to binge (and I mean binge) the first four seasons while I pace like a tiger in a cage waiting for new episodes from season 5 to air on Thursday nights. Before I go any further with what will undoubtedly turn into verbal fellatio, am I really saying that Sal Vulcano, James “Murr” Murray, Joe Gatto, and Brian “Q” Quinn are so hilarious that they can actually cure migraines? Well, they cured mine, so … yes, I’m really saying that.

For those of you who may not have seen it (yet), Impractical Jokers is a hidden-camera show in which four lifelong friends compete in various challenges that they themselves have created in the hopes of embarrassing each other for their own amusement. The challenges usually involve one joker in some sort of public scenario (for example, posing as a fast-food employee, teaching a dance class, leading a seminar on a topic that they know nothing about, or just standing on the street in New York City) while the other three jokers speak into a microphone patched directly the ear piece of the unfortunate guy in the field. The guy up at bat has to do or say whatever the other guys tell him to do because “if you refuse, you lose.” The comedy comes more from the four jokers’ responses and from watching how they attempt to handle each task than it does from the reactions of the innocent bystanders subjected to their antics.

At the end of each episode, the joker who’s lost the most challenges gets punished by the other guys. The punishments take each episode to a whole different level of hilarity as the loser is subjected to something incredibly embarrassing or forced to do something that requires them to face their own personal fears. To be clear: this isn’t Jackass. It’s almost always far more creative than just getting kicked in the balls or doing something disgusting, and it’s always hilarious. Best of all, the guys’ antics are never mean-spirited and the joke is always on them. They’re not assholes, they’re naturally funny comedians and the kind of guys you want to spend as much time with as possible. At this point I’ve purchased and watched every season on Amazon, watched the unfortunately short-lived spin-off show Joker’s Wild, and I’ve watched all of their early sketches on their YouTube channel. I wasn’t kidding when I said I was obsessed!

At my production studio, ArieScope Pictures, I’ve been forcing everyone I work with to continually watch clips from the show. Walk in there and I will sit you down Clockwork Orange-style and make you watch Impractical Jokers until you are just as obsessed as I am. Just a few weeks ago, my best friend Joe Lynch returned from Serbia where he had been shooting his latest film for the last three months. Before he could even get a word out about his adventure, I made him watch a few clips from Impractical Jokers and he was laughing hysterically along with me.

In an era when keeping up with all of the terrific television shows I want to watch has become a full-time job, the last thing I’d ever spend my precious TV time on is a standard hidden-camera, prank or reality show. Though Impractical Jokers may at first glance appear to be all of those things, it is so much more thanks to the comedic genius, the balls of steel and the genuinely wonderful personalities of its four main “characters,” who are the show. Remember the part about “four lifelong friends?” That’s the biggest strength of the show. Them.

Sal Vulcano, James “Murr” Murray, Joe Gatto and Brian “Q” Quinn, who make up the comedy troupe the Tenderloins, have been best friends since grade school and doing comedy together almost as long. While their improv skills, fearlessness, and comedic sensibilities are all top-notch, it’s the guys’ personalities that make Impractical Jokers so incredibly delightful to watch. It only takes a few minutes to start laughing and enjoying the show, but the more you get to know Sal, Murr, Joe, and Q as real people – with real insecurities, phobias, hang-ups and interests – the more hilarious the show becomes. And we all know the massive difference between smiling and saying “That’s funny” … and laughing out loud until you start making sounds that you didn’t even know you could make. Impractical Jokers is truly that funny.

This isn’t a review, so I’ll take a break from my fanboy ranting and get to the point of this piece, which is why I relate so deeply to a show as offbeat as Impractical Jokers, and to what the Tenderloins do as artists.

For those that don’t know, in addition to being a filmmaker I am also the creator, show-runner, writer, star and one of the directors of a television show called Holliston. It’s a multi-camera sitcom about four friends who are struggling with the post-college world, each chasing the impossible dream of becoming something that the odds tell them they will never be. Adam and Joe are trying to become horror filmmakers, Laura dreams of becoming a successful painter, and Corri is trying to become a famous singer. Holliston is directly based on my own life, so much so that the four main characters all go by our real names on the show. It’s been my biggest passion project for almost two decades now and after 13 years of “almosts” at various networks, in 2012 Holliston premiered on FEARnet, with a second season being ordered the morning after our second episode aired. As a guy who earns his living making movies and television shows in the horror and comedy genres, I know all too well that there are no two genres of entertainment more polarizing. What’s scary to one person can be utterly laughable to the next and what’s hysterically funny to another can be offensively lame to someone else. We all may not have the same sensibilities when it comes to comedy, but one thing that I believe we all can agree on is that we all like good people when we find them. And Sal, Murr, Joe and Q are great people. They’ll either remind you of friends you already have or make you wish you had friends just like them.

In all forms of entertainment characters are everything. Everything. It doesn’t matter how funny the writers in your writer’s room are (I don’t have a writer’s room on Holliston – it’s just me), how expensive and extravagant your set pieces are (if you knew how low our actual budget is on Holliston you’d vomit on yourself), how crazy your storylines are (in season 2, my character didn’t realize he was dating an 11-year-old girl), or how big a household name your lead actor might be (our guest stars are consistently bigger “names” than anyone in our main cast). Without endearing characters, your show will never be great. Impractical Jokers soars on the charm of its four main “characters” – four dudes who put themselves out there as openly as possible and who are even more willing to laugh at themselves. Of course, they also happen to be extraordinarily funny, but it’s the personal connection to them that I (and millions of fans of their show around the world) have responded to so greatly.

Impractical Jokers is the absolute perfect vessel for who they are and right now they are doing something that few comedians can pull off as well as they can. I can only imagine how many more traditional comedies or scripted sketch shows the Tenderloins developed over the years (Jokers Wild is just one example) that didn’t work out for one reason or another before they stripped it all down to basics and struck gold with Impractical Jokers. Remember, just because you’ve only recently discovered certain comedians that you enjoy, it certainly doesn’t mean that they came out of nowhere and that there weren’t dozens of near misses and devastating heartbreaks along the way for them that you weren’t there to witness.

As I mentioned, Holliston took 13 years before the first season premiered. Every time the show was set up at a network (from major broadcast networks to cable networks), that network would suddenly undergo a corporate merger that would kill the show in its tracks. When Holliston finally did come to fruition, it was on FEARnet, a new cable network. When ArieScope licensed Holliston to FEARnet, the initial projections were incredible for how many millions of homes it would reach. As fate would have it, FEARnet’s carrier deals ultimately fell through and the channel was barely accessible anywhere across the country. Despite that massive hurdle, Holliston found its way and fans connected with us. The cast and I tirelessly toured, performing episodes live at various genre conventions, and (thanks to our audience’s loud word of mouth) Holliston’s loyal fanbase continued to grow and grow.

However in 2014, just as I was in the middle of writing season 3, we suffered the tragic death of one of our lead actors, best friends and brothers, Dave Brockie. (Dave played my character’s closet-dwelling imaginary alien friend, Oderus Urungus, and was also the lead singer for GWAR for 30 years). You would think that things couldn’t get any worse, but just three weeks later FEARnet was dissolved in a merger between Time Warner and Comcast. I wasn’t just knocked down to the mat this time, I was fully knocked out of the ring. For the next year and a half, I was so leveled with mourning my friend’s death that I couldn’t leave my house, let alone write. I spent my days hiding in my bedroom, at various doctor’s offices, or speaking to a therapist while I struggled with the crippling depression brought on by all of it. However, like all fighters in this sport, eventually I picked up the pieces and started moving forward again. (Ask anyone who does this for a living, the one thing we all have in common is that we’re all too stupidly determined to ever know how or when to give up.)

So, 17 years after Holliston’s journey first began, I am now writing season 3. Look up the Tenderloins’ history and you’ll see that the debut of Impractical Jokers in December 2011 was not even close to their first swing at the bat. They’ve been at this for a long time, something we most certainly have in common. But aside from having long journeys in common, where’s the relation with what the Tenderloins do on Impractical Jokers and what I do with my own work in the genres of horror and comedy?

I thought I’d never ask! (Yes, we’ve finally arrived at that fucking point I said I’d make earlier.)

No matter the project, my own personal style has been and always will be to pour as much of my real self onto the screen as I possibly can. While Holliston may be the most obvious example and while I pretty much played myself in my docu-reality-style monster movie Digging Up the Marrow that came out last year, I’ve consistently put my real self out there in everything I do. The three Hatchet films were my deeply personal love letters to the slasher films I grew up on. The personal stories told by each of the three main characters trapped on a ski-lift in my 2010 thriller Frozen are all true stories taken from my life. Whether it’s The Movie Crypt podcast, in which Lynch and I candidly discuss what it’s really like making a career in entertainment, or my Scary Sleepover web series, in which artists and I confess our deepest personal fears, I have always shared myself as openly as possible and continually made myself vulnerable through my work. With Impractical Jokers, I randomly found the show because of the terrific laughs but I connected with it because of its four very real main guys.

I’ve been so very fortunate to get to do what I do for a career. Though I still haven’t got that mythical huge budget or a $25 million theatrical marketing campaign, my work has still succeeded thanks to people around the world who gave me a chance, heard what I was trying to say and connected personally with what I’ve been willing to share. After all, isn’t that connection everything we’re hoping for as artists? That someone out there will “get us” and enjoy what it is we work so hard to create? Our creations are who we are. It doesn’t matter if it’s as literal as playing yourself on screen or expressing your thoughts, hopes, fears and pain through a fictional universe and its fictional characters – in the end, we’re all just ourselves, saying whatever it is we have to say.

And it’s fucking hard to do, man. I’ve transformed painful moments from my life into a situational comedy for others to laugh at. That kind of thing is some people’s worst nightmare, but for me that laughter is my therapy. When you learn how to laugh at yourself, you find your place in all of this bullshit and learn how to deal with the things that hurt. If the world is a stage and we’re all just characters on it, then who better to portray but our real selves? The Tenderloins and I may create and entertain in different formats, styles, genres and mediums… but the one major thing we have in common is that we are our own best material and we put ourselves out there with what we do, for better or for worse. I hope you always keep doing what you do, Sal, Murr, Joe and Q. I hope that you guys never stop being you.

And to you, dear reader … be yourself in everything you create. Learn how to laugh at yourself and don’t ever give a shit what anybody else thinks. Hopefully you’ll see that you’re practically awesome just the way you are. Practically.

Adam Green is an award-winning writer, director, actor, and producer best known for horror films like 2010’s snowy thriller Frozen, the Hatchet franchise, 2015’s Digging Up the Marrow, and his sitcom Holliston, which is now in development on its third season. He’s also run his own production company, ArieScope Pictures, for the past 17 years and every week creates original online series and short films for its website. His podcast (with fellow filmmaker and real-life best friend Joe Lynch) The Movie Crypt was ranked by Entertainment Weekly as one of the “Top 20 Podcasts To Listen To” in 2015. He’s looking for a white guy named Ja’Crispy and his favorite song is Senora Lanza’s “Shut Your Face, Grandma.”