2011 – Present: Four hideous mutants amuse each other on camera.
This is one of those “make people awkward or upset and then reveal it was all a prank” things, like Candid Camera or Punk’d. Usually these shows involve a random person (or, occasionally, a celebrity) being manipulated by a talented comic, an individual who is able to slyly play with social conventions to maximize the awkwardness of the situation. In addition to the initial “Ha! Look at those idiots” response, we’re able to enjoy them because we can imagine our own reactions as the hapless victims.
Impractical Jokers flips this formula for maximum lameness: each of the four purportedly “funny” hosts will be forced to carry out an embarrassing mission by the other three. So instead of watching people on the street and thinking, “Wow, that might be me,” we’re watching the hosts and thinking, “Wow, they’re… stupid.” A typical set-up involves one host trying (read: failing) to be amusing in any way, interspersed with shots of his three cohorts braying like jackasses.
The show also keeps track of which host “fails” the most pranks. So it’s like a game show, but with the same four guys as contestants every single time. Who will win? Who will lose? Who cares? We don’t know these guys. It’s their show. They function as both the subject and the audience. As punishment for the “loser,” he must once again do something awkward (for him). This is an incredible and crippling format failure. Add to that the fact that the hosts form a quartet of the most atrocious-looking and comedy-less boobs to ever appear on television and you’ve apparently got a recipe for total success (the show is now in its fourth season).
I happened to tune in to an episode from the second season, which originally aired in January 2013, and my God was it bad. These guys are not funny. They can’t keep their composure. They can’t improvise. Immediately after being presented with their scenario, they giggle, break character, or stutter and stammer like total amateurs. Since they can’t think up good material on their own, their buddies feed them lines via a hidden earpiece. This leads to long pauses where the joker stands there going “Uh… um… so, yeah… uh…”
One scenario challenged the Jokers to convince people that fake words were real (sort of like Balderdash). Here are the words they came up with: Dwimplepeen. Cafafee. Jampaloon. Goofdookie. Note that they all feature a double E or double O. We are dealing with some real comic masters here. How do the Jokers get someone to admit that they think the word is real, you might ask? Joker: “But you’ve heard of it, right?” Purported Victim: “…Yeah.” WINNER.
The “main event” involved the Jokers trying to convince people to house-sit for them, despite an awkward situation in the bedroom. Murr’s featured a lot of princess toys and costumes. His reaction upon entering the room, as a pro: a chuckle, a hand over his mouth, and an “Um…” His buddies then fed him his lines, which he repeated after much hesitation and foot-shuffling. Q’s scenario: a room full of taxidermy. His reaction: “These are, uh…” At a complete loss for words. Then THE “VICTIM” of the “prank” bailed him out by suggesting, “Your little pets?” He replied, “Yeah, uh, you know, we got a fox… uh…” When the supposed comedians are the ones being put on the spot and unable to think of what to say, your show has a major problem.
Murr ended up being the loser (and with these four guys, that’s saying something). His punishment: take a lie detector test in front of the students and faculty of the Jokers’ old Catholic high school. Oh, boy! They’re really gonna nail him with some priceless zingers! Witness these questions, which are guaranteed to humiliate poor Murr and reduce the audience to fits of uncontrollable laughter:
“Do you wax your back?”
“Do you secretly enjoy boy bands?” (“Busted!” one of them howls. WHY DO I CARE?)
“Did you have a crush on one of your high school Spanish teachers?”
“Have you ever tried your girlfriend’s underwear on?”
Hint to the Impractical Jokers: it’s not funny if the answer to all the bad stuff is “yes.” You know the punchline as soon as the question is asked. It kinda ruins the comedy. Another thing that ruins the comedy: reacting the same way over and over. Keep in mind, Murr has been doing this kind of thing for years, and supposedly knows how to wring the maximum amount of hilarity out of a situation. I present a montage of his reactions to three questions asked in the lie detector session, and you tell me if you (or anyone) could do better:
To paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill: rarely has so little talent resulted in so few laughs for so many.