Joe Gatto and the “Impractical Jokers” gang are about to pull off a Jurassic prank.
“We’re on location at Universal Studios Orlando doing an episode” of the hidden-camera improv show, Gatto, 40, of Lynbrook, says by phone. “We’ll be working some attendance lines, doing ‘customer-satisfaction surveys,’ making the Jurassic Ride pretty uncomfortable.” The park itself is in on it, since — after 127 episodes, and season 6 premiering Thursday at 10 p.m. on truTV — “Impractical Jokers” has practically become “Respectable Jokers.”
Not that Gatto or fellow stars James “Murr” Murray, Brian “Q” Quinn and Sal Vulcano would say so. Like there was that time at the produce store Cross Island Fruits in Lynbrook when the police were called in.
“Sal was working the register,” Gatto says with his ever-present chuckle, “and we told him to take a picture of someone’s credit card. And he was photographing this woman’s card and she freaked out and called the cops. Her identity had been stolen a week ago — we didn’t know.” Gatto and the others stopped the gag and told her it was a comedy show, “and she didn’t care. She still called the cops.” he says, laughing. “The cops ended up being fans of the show. She didn’t press charges or nothing, but she stormed out and said, ‘It’s not funny.’ ”
That incident didn’t air, since the appeal of “Impractical Jokers” is that the joke is always on the four themselves. Each takes a turn with an improv task — say, getting a stranger in the park to give advice about a problem — and the others, watching on monitors and communicating via a hidden earpiece, toss out wacky suggestions while they crack themselves up. Whoever doesn’t succeed — if the stranger simply walks away — the others “punish” him with some embarrassing task, like having to get in a pool and announce he’s urinating (not really) in it, or submitting to having his hair, facial hair and eyebrows shaved off and getting his photo taken at the DMV.
They test the limits of each others’ comfort zones but in the ultimately good-natured way of childhood pals. “It’s the best day job ever,” Gatto says. “Your work is to make your friends fall down laughing.”
Native Staten Islanders, they met during freshman year at Monsignor Farrell High School, where they graduated in 1994. Gatto went on to earn an accounting degree at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University in Brookville and quickly realized, “I would have gone crazy in a cubicle looking at spreadsheets.”
The four friends had performed comedy throughout high school, and in 1999, keeping their day jobs, formed the still-extant comedy group The Tenderloins. Gatto moved to Los Angeles in 2005 — working in sales while trying to break in as a screenwriter and studying improv at The iO West Theater — but came home and took up with the troupe again while spending 16 years working at the infant-supply store Giggle in SoHo.
Their break came when their YouTube short “Time Thugs” won the $100,000 grand prize of NBC’s web competition “It’s Your Show.” That led to an unsuccessful pilot for the cable network Spike, and another they produced independently for the 2009 New York Television Festival. “That got some traction at Fox, but didn’t turn into anything,” Gatto says. They then devised the format that would become “Impractical Jokers” under the working title “Mission: Uncomfortable.”
Gatto moved to Lynbrook “about two years ago” with his wife, Bessy, and their nearly 2-year-old daughter, Milana. “My sister had moved out here eight or nine years ago and my nieces and nephews are here, and I went to school here. I like the feel of Lynbrook — it’s a great town and close to my sister and close to the city,” he says.
For Gatto, in many ways, it’s Mission: Accomplished.