For a guy named Gatto — Italian for “cat” — Joe Gatto sure loves dogs.
“We have four now,” says the Lynbrook resident, one of the stars of truTV’s hidden-camera prank show “Impractical Jokers,” which begins its eighth season Thursday at 10 p.m. He and his wife, Bessy, “were up to five,” he says, “but we’d also adopted a senior” who has since died. “We rescued him from North Shore Animal League,” Gatto, 42, says. “We always adopt a senior to give him some love on his way out.”
This softer side of Gatto isn’t one we readily see on “Impractical Jokers,” in which he and his lifelong friends James “Murr” Murray, Brian “Q” Quinn and Sal Vulcano — collectively the comedy troupe The Tenderloins — assign themselves public pranks that more often than not involve embarrassing themselves rather than other people. Whoever does most poorly at it gets an even more miserable comic punishment.
After seven seasons and nearly 200 episodes — that milestone will be reached this year, Gatto says — the punishments sometimes seem more punishing, and it’s not unusual to see a look of what seems pure hatred on the face of the goat. “That’s friendship, my man!” Gatto says with a laugh. “Tell me one friend you haven’t looked at with hatred and then hugged the next day. We’re friends for life.”
Saying the four have made “a gentlemen’s agreement that you can’t say no to punishment,” the flip side is that “we’re friends and we wouldn’t violate that trust — I think we know each other’s limits well enough. But you’re getting punished, so by the nature of punishment, you’re not happy. I’ve done things I was miserable doing, and then I watched the episode and I’m proud of how fun and funny it is.”
Staten Island native Gatto, who earned an accounting degree at Long Island University's C.W. Post campus in Brookville, formed The Tenderloins with his three high-school buddies in 1999. He took a break in 2005 to try to become a screenwriter in Los Angeles but eventually rejoined the group in New York, then worked 16 years at an infant-supply store in Manhattan until the troupe’s YouTube short “Time Thugs” won an NBC web competition, eventually leading to “Impractical Jokers.”
They recently filmed an “Impractical Jokers” movie and are seeking a distributor. They will star in the upcoming TBS game show “Misery Index,” hosted by Jameela Jamil (“The Good Place”). While The Tenderloins’ live touring show played NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum on New Year’s Eve 2017, this year’s tour has no Long Island dates.
Gatto and his family, including daughter Milana, who turns 4 in May, and son Remington, almost 2, will be leaving Lynbrook soon for a new home being built in Glen Head. “But I love Lynbrook,” Gatto assures. “My sister’s here for 10 years, and I’m close to her and my nieces and nephews.”
How much does he love it? He actively followed the town’s recent mayoral election in which Alan Beach topped Hilary Becker by a vote of 3,330 to 974. “People were really, really talking about it,” he recalls. “Knocking on the door and everything. That kind of swell in local politics gives you pride and hope in the area you live in.”
And that’s no joke.