GRAND RAPIDS — Things you don’t see in a church: an extreme close-up photograph of someone’s left testicle projected onto a giant screen, a video of a man eating dog shit and 1,500 people watching with rapt attention to both. That is, unless it’s day nine of Gilda’s LaughFest and the church in question is the Fountain Street Church, one of the most liberal churches in the country and as such, for the last four years, one of the coolest comedy venues in the city. The purveyors of said visual hijinks were four longtime friends from Staten Island, New York, aka The Tenderloins, aka the stars of the hit TruTV series Impractical Jokers, aka Sal Vulcano, Joe Gatto, James Murray (Ole’ Murr, if he as anything to say about it) and Brian Quinn, aka “Q.”
Currently in its third season — a 31-episode run! — Impractical Jokers is a glorious reality show amalgam of hidden camera pranks, Jackass-style dares and a dash of game show sensibility. In short, these four friends charge each other with performing hilariously awkward social experiments; if they fail or refuse, they get punished. It’s all in fun, though. After all, these guys met in 1990 and started performing in front of tiny audiences in New York nine years later. Their live show at LaughFest was the perfect culmination of nearly 25 years of friendship and a brilliant extension of their smallscreen representation.
The multimedia event was a combination of situational stand-up, informal improv and showings of never-before-seen footage and photos from The Tenderloins’ filming adventures for Impractical Jokers. Which brings us to the aforementioned ingestion of dog feces. The man in question was Murray and, in a not-made-for-television sequence, he agrees to eat about an inch-long piece of fairly fresh matter– for $300. The twist is that, Sal — not Ole’ Murr — is the one who nearly vomits. The ‘Loins also presented to the crowd a massive season finale punishment levied upon Sal; no need to spoil it here, but I’ll say that, just like the LaughFest show, this punishment went down in a church.
While the clips were certainly a sweet treat for all in attendance, perhaps simply seeing this comedy quartet interact in real life was the most compelling piece of performance (if you could call it that). If you watch the TruTV show it seems these four really love each other and they’re the type of goofballs with whom anyone would want to hang out. The live show only turns that assumption into fact. The morning after the show, I was actually on the same flight back to Newark with Joe, Sal, Murray and Q and despite the early hour and even though they weren’t onstage, they were having fun in each others’ company.
Indeed, The Tenderloins’ live show is an excellent change of pace if you love comedy but want a break from checking out straight stand-up, sketch or improv shows. They’ve got a lot more upcoming live shows. So check out the list here.
photo by Christopher John Wilson