The most popular show on Atlanta's TruTV is four lifelong friends who play jokes on each other called "Impractical Jokers."
On paper, this shouldn't have worked.
But in reality, it does thanks to their "Friends"-style chemistry. And it's back with new episodes Thursday night, August 1 at 10 p.m.
They do three pranks on each other in a typical episode. Typically, they have an earpiece in their ear and are told by the others what to say or do. The more embarrassing, the merrier! They then judge winners and losers semi-arbitrarily. The loser gets especially tortured at the end.
Watch this and you get a taste of it:
I spoke with each of the four friends, who have known each other since high school, worked in a comedy troupe for 14 years (the Tenderloins) and are now in their mid-30s. All four are unmarried and without children. Who needs children when you're these four? They've been pranking each other for years. Now it's just captured on film.
Here are moments from each:
Joseph "Joe" Gatto
The challenge: "It gets tougher each year to come up with more embarrassing things to do because you start getting used to looking like an a**. We have to keep raising the bar."
His friends' love for getting Joe nude: "Unfortunately, I haven't gotten any better looking. I've already given up on my body. I have no choice but to deal with what God gave me."
If someone got married: "We'd have to adjust accordingly, Hopefully, nobody gets married to a Yoko. We've been doing this for so long, it feels like I have three wives!"
Democracy: "We all do different things. I help with editing. Sal and Q are great with the writing. Murr is the evil mastermind. He does creepy lovable well. Q just comes across creepy. In all aspects, we show up and be funny."
Candid camera all the time: "Whenever the four of us together, people think we're filming. They say, 'You're not going to get me!' "
Why stay in New York City? "We need people not to know us. Fortunately in New York, there is so much turnover. You get tourists, international tourists. Even if two out of 10 people recognize us, that means eight out of 10 don't."
Midwest love: "We do little tours around the country. In Indiana and Iowa, we're like Brad Pitt. We get recognized more there than New York."
Worst punishment: "Sucking on a woman's toe. She was wearing flip flops. I started dry heaving. It was also tough getting naked in the White Castle. They had me come out in just an apron."
Salvatore "Sal" Vulcano
It's real love: "Whether the cameras are on or off, we're no different. We still do stuff to each other."
Funnest part: "Doling out the punishment when I didn't lose. I just show up and hang out, have an iced tea. No stress!"
Biggest loser: "Unfortunately, I have lost the most. I started off really weak in the first season. I lost the first five out of six episodes. I'm getting better. People recognize me more than anybody else because I was always losing. The first time someone recognized me was a few weeks in. It was a little girl with her family in Times Square. She said, 'Are you Sal from that show?' 'Oh yah!' She goes, "You always lose!' " That inspires me. When I"m at a breaking point, I hear her little voice mocking me. Thank you, little girl!"
Most potentially violent moment: "Cutting in line at TKTS [the half-price theatre ticket place at Times Square]. That's a big hot button issue. People wait for three hours. I cut in front of an older gentleman who was possibly a war hero. He wasn't having it. When security came over, I said I was related to him. That put him over the top. He lunged at me and tried to choke me. That was a lesson learned: no more cutting lines!"
Most devious: "Murr. He thinks his approaches out in advance. Q just goes out there. Whatever happens happens. I try to play it cool. It just never comes out that way. I end up fumbling and bumbling like a complete idiot."
The concept: "We never wanted to do anything too elaborate or too much of a stunt. We wanted to keep it relatable. People say, 'You remind me of my friends from high school.' ... It's palpable, the tension and laughs. They feel like they're right there with us."
If someone got married: "That means we'd have more targets. Their wife and kids. That's fair game! They have abused the heck out of me with my family this season. More with my sister and my mom. [The episode I sampled for this upcoming season does indeed include Sal's sister and I doubled over in laughter.]"
James "Murr" Murray
Limits: "No matter how successful the show is, there are things I will not do. My mother's watching the show. I get super embarrassed around beautiful women. My hands start sweating. They use that to their advantage. I was also raised to be a gentleman. I have a hard time disrespecting my elders. If they want me to say something crazy, I clam up."
The idea for the show: "We were sitting around playing video games and someone said, 'Hey, what if we take a prank show and turn it upside down and the joke is on us? We went out and shot a down and dirty tape with no bodyguards, no permission to shoot anywhere.' TruTV loved it."
His worst moment: "When they had Joe and I play strip high five in Union Square. I wound up naked on national TV. I'm sure we broke a few laws. Thankfully, the cops were fans. The other one was doing a lie detector test in front of students and teachers at my old high school."
Why they work well together: "We complement each other. We have similar sensibilities. We're kind of goofballs in a surreal way. The charm of the show is we're real guys. We have real jobs outside the show. Q is a fireman. Sal owns a bar. Joe works for the company editing the show but was a top salesman for years selling baby products. I am a TV producer. My company also does 'Say Yes to the Dress Atlanta' [on TLC] and 'Double Divas' [on Lifetime.]"
How to deal with folks who recognize them: "You can tell if someone knows who youare. We thank them and shuffle them along. We then wait for the next target."
Percentage of regular folks who are willing to be seen on TV and sign a release: "It's 98 percent. It's because the show is not meanspirited. We're embarrassing ourselves."
Sal's issues: "He's completely neurotic, OCD. He hates sweat, common folk, strong winds, filth, traffic and taxes."
Q's issues: "He wants the easiest way out. He has the thickest New York accent. We try to get him to say something difficult. He is basically a few steps above a caveman."
Joe's issues: "We're still trying to find his Achilles heel. We think he was born without one."
Brian "Q" Quinn
How they met: "We met freshmen year in high schoool. I remember eating in the cafeteria. We've been together since 1990. We were part of a larger group of people. Everyone likes to remind us that they coudl have been with us. We're the only ones without kids and never been married."
Finding locations: "It's not a problem. We'll put in a request on Facebook and people will offer up locations. People are familiar with hidden camera shows."
Style points: "I have trouble with women. I sometimes come off as odd. We don't go for mean. I just want to tell them I'm on TV so I can hit on them."
Toughest guy to beat: "Joe. He's brazen and brassy. Now he knows we're gunning for him. He's a tough son of a gun. He does the same stuff off screen. You never get a break with Joe. He's always doing something."
Special works behind the scenes: "The most expensive part of the show is paying a hidden camera company. It can take hours to get a place prepped."
Achilles heel: "They like to do a lot of things with my parents. They like to screw with me."
Boys school: "We went to an all-guys' high school. With no girls around, what are we going to do but prank each other? We used to break into each others' lockers."
Gratifying feedback: "We get people who are sick, with cancer. They say the show makes them laugh and forget how they feel. We hear that a lot. It's amazing we're able to have that impact just goofing around with my friends."
"Impractical Jokers," 10 p.m. Thursday, TruTV