This post originally appeared on the Turner Blog.
Stay alert while walking the streets of New York City. If you find yourself in an unusual scenario, it could be the work of the Jokers – Joe, Sal, Q and Murr – who have made a sport of embarrassing themselves in front of ordinary people.
After six seasons of outrageous dares, the comedians and lifelong friends return to truTV for another season of “Impractical Jokers.” The game show that pits the Jokers against each other in hilarious challenges has established itself as truTV’s top-rated series and one of the top 5 original comedies in all of cable. Now, with season seven finally here, the guys are intent on raising the stakes and finding bolder ways to make viewers laugh.
TurnerNow sat down with Simmy Kustanowitz, VP – Original Programming, truTV, to talk about the challenge of keeping the series fresh, navigating creative disagreements and why he’s more excited about Impractical Jokers now than ever before.
TurnerNow: Simmy, you joined Impractical Jokers as executive producer during season two. What about season one inspired you to be part of the program?
Simmy: I was a fan of Impractical Jokers before I worked at truTV. My wife and I would watch it every Thursday, and we’d cry laughing. I remember thinking these are the kind of guys I would spend time with in college. I felt like I knew them already, and that’s the sentiment I hear all the time from fans – this feeling that you know the guys. I think their relatability is a big part of the show’s success.
TN: Now in its seventh season, Impractical Jokers has attracted a robust audience despite a competitive media market. Why does this show continue to feel fresh?
Simmy: This show feels different for two reasons: One is that New York City is the set. Regular people with unique personalities are part of every episode, so each show is going to be different.
And the other thing is the chemistry of the guys. We've gotten so many pitches at truTV where the premise is similar to Impractical Jokers – a group of friends doing these crazy things. We’ve even had some great comedians; but the shows didn’t work, because they were missing chemistry.
Impractical Jokers features four best friends who have known each other since high school. They’re now in their 40s. You can’t fake the comradery that comes with guys who have been close for that long, and it’s very difficult for other shows to recreate.
TN: Though the guys are close, I'm sure they have arguments – as we all do. How do you navigate through those disagreements when they arise?
Simmy: I've been amazed at how much their friendship feels like a great marriage. I've seen them fight – just like a married couple would, just as best friends do. But as immature as the guys may seem on camera, they do an amazing job of solving their differences. And you get the feeling they’re not just doing it because they want to save their TV show; they're doing it because they love each other. It’s impressive to watch.
TN: A challenge with a show like this is coming up with new material. What is new about this coming season that's got you excited?
Simmy: The highest compliment I can give new episodes of Impractical Jokers is that they feel just as funny as the previous ones. The situations are different, and the guys are always raising the stakes. They're finding new ways to embarrass, humiliate and punish each other – but we're also not looking to reinvent the wheel because we think the wheel is pretty damn great.
There have been times when I've gotten the questions, like, "Don’t you need to switch things up? Don't you feel like the format needs to change?" And what we've realized is part of the show's success is that it doesn't change much. Things will come up that feel different and new, but those happen organically.
Perhaps my biggest job as executive producer for the network is to watch every episode with fresh eyes. I always imagine what the viewers will think and feel. Is the joke too obscure and only relatable to insiders? Or will they wind up laughing their asses off? That’s the lens through which I watch and evaluate these cuts.
TN: And so, how do you do that? When reviewing the work, how do you walk the line between being an executive and putting yourself in the shoes of a fan who’s not concerned with truTV’s bottom line?
Simmy: I have two goals. The first is to answer the simple question, "Is this funny?" I would never be so arrogant to say that I can determine what’s funny for everyone. I watch every cut with my team, and we’ll bounce the material off other people to get their take. If there's something that I don't like, we’ll talk about it with the Jokers and the production team. And, if everyone thinks something is really funny but I don't, then I will gladly say, "I'm in the minority, so let's do it."
The other thing I keep track of is whether the content stays on brand for the show and for the network. For example, there’s an incident on this upcoming season where someone gets extremely angry and threatens one of the Jokers. On one hand, the situation is compelling because it’s something that doesn’t happen often. On the other hand, the seriousness of the situation doesn’t fit with the show’s light-hearted tone. So, we edited the scene in such a way that preserves the integrity of the moment but also is true the brand. These are the sorts of decisions I make often.
TN: Imagine it’s February 1, and I’m a longtime fan of Impractical Jokers watching the premiere. What do you want my reaction to be after the credits roll?
Simmy: I want you to say, “Damn, that was just as funny as I hoped it would be.” Any show in its seventh season risks jumping the shark. But every time I watch a cut, I find myself thinking, we are in very good shape for now and the future. There are challenges that you’ve seen many times, but we also have games that we've never tried before. The thing is, it all still works because – at the core – you have the four Jokers just being themselves.
The premiere of Impractical Jokers airs Thursday, February 1, on truTV. Learn more about the show by visiting http://www.trutv.com/shows/impractical-jokers.