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The Light from the TV Shows: “Impractical Jokers” and Other Hidden-Camera Shenanigans

I’ve always been of the belief that a little bit of a hidden-camera series goes a long way, and TruTV’s latest addition to the popular genre – “Impractical Jokers” – doesn’t offer anything to change that particular rule of thumb. That’s not to say that the show isn’t in possession of a few funny moments here and there, though.

Brian “Q” Quinn, James “Murr” Murray, Joe Gatto, and Sal Vulcano have been friends since they were kids, and they’ve spent a lot of their long friendship challenging each other to do stupid stuff…or, at least, that’s how the press release for “Impractical Jokers” spins it, anyway. And, hey, it might even be true, given the way the guys react to and act around each other on the show. Each episode pits the pals against each other in a competition to see who can pull off the most outrageous foolishness, with one wearing an earpiece and going into some public situation (in the first episode, they work at a White Castle and a Costco as well as stand in the heart of Times Square answering questions and asking people to sign petitions) while the others throw them random things to say. If they actually have the balls to say them, then they get a point. No balls, no points.

It’s clear that they want to play up this whole friends-for-life angle amongst Q, Murr, Joe, and Sal, but I can tell you this right now: if they don’t tone down the audio on the other three while their buddy is busy making an ass of himself, I’ll only be tuning in whenever I get good word of mouth about a particular segment. It’s annoying as hell, and I don’t think I was even five minutes into the screener before I first thought, “Geez, these guys are obnoxious.” In their defense, if they weren’t so obnoxious, they almost certainly wouldn’t end up getting as many laughs. But I can barely hear my own laughter over their constant giggling.

Here’s a quick clip to tide you over until the show makes it debut on Dec. 15 with back-to-back episodes at 10 and 10:30 PM (EST / PST):

But, hey, let’s not pretend that “Impractical Jokers” are the first people to hide a camera and film crazy shenanigans. As long as I’m talking about these guys, the least I can do is offer up a few clips from some of the other shows that have helped blaze the trail for them.

Candid Camera: The originator, as if you didn’t know…although you may not be aware that it actually began as “Candid Microphone” before transitioning from radio to television. The first TV series ran from 1948 – 1954, then returned in 1960 and continued through ’67. (It was during this run that Woody Allen wrote for the show and even turned up in some of the bits.) There were also incarnations in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s, but the most recent version left the air in 2004. Surely a version for the ’10s can’t be far away, but in the meantime, there’s plenty of archival material to fall back on.

TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes: Some of the biggest laughs of my pre-teens and adolescent years came from watching these specials and the eventual series hosted by Dick Clark and Ed McMahon. All told, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the practical jokes (I’ve always been a blooper man), but they still had some pretty solid installments over the years.

Punk’d: I wouldn’t say this show confirmed that Ashton Kutcher was more than just a one-trick pony, but it was the first time he really branched out to work behind the camera as a producer and series creator, and it did a lot to cement MTV’s reality-TV brand…for better or worse.

The Jamie Kennedy Experiment: Mr. Kennedy has always been a bit too over the top for my personal tastes, but his “Experiment” lasted for three seasons, so he clearly had his fans.

Scare Tactics: Like “Punk’d” did for MTV, “Scare Tactics” was one of the first reality shows to find its way into the SyFy line-up, having been on the network since it was still being called Sci-Fi. I remember when it premiered and was hosted by Shannen Doherty, yet I have no recollection of Stephen Baldwin’s stint after she departed. It wasn’t until Tracy Morgan took over that I started paying any attention. By the way, this clip is arguably the funniest one included in this piece. Just sayin’.

Girls Behaving Badly: I actively dislike Chelsea Handler – I’ll say it point blank: I think she’s fucking obnoxious – but if, at gunpoint, I had to pick one of her past projects to watch, it’d probably be this one. Possibly because she didn’t have nearly as much of an ego back then…or if she did, “Girls” didn’t give her a chance to put it on display.