It was hard to imagine, as recently as February of 2020, how much comedy would have to transform as the world was swept with a deadly, frightening, but mostly supremely obnoxious, virus. For its own good, the United States kinda took a break. Not a full-stop kind of break; just a kind of ‘think twice before you go outside and breathe on things’ kind of break. Despite the incoherent thrashings of some, quarantine wasn’t so much a prison as a time when people really had to look at themselves, and that was the scariest thing of all. At least we had TV, right?
News broadcasts started to come from reporters’ homes, the production of most other TV shows were put on pause as they ran out their remaining episodes, and late night comedy talk shows moved exclusively to Facetime and Zoom. Sure, the jokes are still there, but it’s impossible to ignore the greater context, and the inherent disconnect. All new comedy is now taking the form of phonecalls, and that’s strange.
It’s a little unnerving to think of the effect this may have on Impractical Jokers, arguably the best improv comedy TV show on in years. With so many of the show’s interactions relying on close contact and surreptitiously grabbed audio, distancing and muffling masks could essentially spell out a death sentence. In the meantime, the Jokers make the best of their time at home.
Sal Vulcano, already a noted germaphobe, postponed all of his standup shows until October 2020 and remarked very accurately on social media that “It feels like we’re in an international escape room, and no one’s working together.” Joe Gatto, an absolute champion of joy and giving, has been spending the time popping into online classes to say hi to fans. Murr enjoyed a quarantine Red Lobster takeout birthday with his new wife. Q played with Legos. And all four participated in a charity giveaway to benefit those struggling through this time.
Bizarre interactions with strangers take on a whole new dimension when any stranger might present an accidental danger to your health. A show built on defying social norms will now have to somehow have to adapt to a brand new type of normal. How?
But this isn’t about the future of a television show; it’s about the strangeness of making action figures out of quintessential regular guys Joe, Q, Murr, and Sal. It’s been done before in a smaller Star Wars scale, but if you prefer your improv comedy in 8″ scale, Mego Corp also released a larger quartet of Jokers in different costumes. As a Jokers fan with few things to satisfy my gross need to own things, they felt essential, even though I have no love of Mego and cannot understand them. I was born too late for these weird, floppy dolls to find their way into my heart. Even today, Megos feel cheap; they have weak joints, shiny plastic, and their clothes just don’t fit. Unfortunately, these Jokers aren’t much different. They feel like a desperate exercise in cobbling things together with a budget of a few bucks, as though the awkwardness were charming rather than distracting. Was it worth bringing these things into the house?
Q’s figure depicts him as a spider, from Season 6, Episode 7, ‘Universal Appeal’ – an episode sponsored by Universal Studios which was essentially a long commercial for the park, ending with a pretty mediocre punishment in which Q has to improv as a spider in a terrible farm-themed musical show. As far as “cringe comedy” goes, attempting to rap lyrics about a cow is something that can only be watched once, because it’s mostly just embarrassing for the audience. And this is coming from someone who genuinely loves the show.
Q has the most elaborate costume : a loose, fleecy . formless sock of a shirt with 6 extra fabric “arms”, and a fuzzy hat with silvery (inaccurate) spider eyes, missing the original costume’s pincers and bulbous spider butt. The costume sheds brown fuzz constantly, and is closed with velcro on the back. Everything is removable, revealing a “fat” Mego body, and a tight, black bodysuit which has also stained parts of the body black, because cheap is the name of the game here. You could look at this figure and be completely forgiven for not knowing who it is. He does not have any tattoos, nor do any of the Jokers, which would have really set these apart. As a representation from the show, it’s abjectly terrible. And that sucks. If you have infinite space to waste and can snag one for $5, that’s the ceiling on the value of this.
Better costume options : Smush the Clown, Peter Pan, Sheriff Q.
Murr’s figure includes his skydiving outfit, from one of the most memorable punishments, seen in Season 3 Episode 1, ‘Look Out Below’. He’s wrapped up in such an elaborate tangle of straps that he’s basically un-undressable, and his jumpsuit bears the Impractical Jokers logo, instead of the logo from the actual skydiving company, which makes a whole lot of copyright sense, but still feels weird. Murr looks a little like Murr, and a lot like a rat. He’s the only figure with a skinny-type body. His sloppy, grey teeth are pretty awful.
Better costume options : It’s a great punishment, but Statue of Liberty Murr is objectively funnier. Dandy Chiggins is a pretty close second, and Pinata Murr is third. And Dracula Murr is unforgettable. Let’s just do a whole Murr line.
Joe’s figure features the best likeness of the bunch, and depicts him as the genie from Season 6, Episode 18, ‘Rubbed the Wrong Way’. Another outstanding punishment, but fans of the show will quickly spot that Joe should be painted blue, making this fall short of being a pretty good action figure. His genie turban has been halfassed; it’s a curved plastic thing that squeezes onto the front of his head for a moment, and quickly falls off. There’s a pair of holes on it for a string that probably would have done nothing, but that inch of elastic might have cost one onethousandth of a penny, so it was totally out of the question. Why not a turban that just goes on like a hat? We know you’re capable of it, Mego. Of the four figures, this one is the best, but that’s not saying a whole lot.
Better costume options : This one pretty much nails it.
And the there’s Sal. In a t-shirt that says Staten Island. The shirt doesn’t really have any notable moments on the show, other than just appearing a bunch of times. An uncomplicated Sal figure would be great, if it looked more like him, and less like a bullfrog loading up for a croak. Again, the black dyes of the clothes stain any plastic they come in contact with for an extended period of time. One suspects that Sal was originally going to have a thin body type, which would explain why his pants rest well below where his plastic genitals would be. Either way, the cut of his t-shirt is a mess, and it’s disappointing that he wasn’t given a real costume.
Better costume options : Anything. Senora Lonza band member, Prison Sal, and Pirate Sal.
There’s really only one way that these figures can be saved, even though it’s almost too late for these clearance rack rejects. It’s time for the Jokers to use these in a focus group challenge; present them as they are, as products that just don’t meet the basic standards that someone would want from a toy : familiarity, a basic likeness, playability, durability… anything that would redeem these is lost. And that’s exactly what would make them excellent props for the show, akin to Tire Baby and Hard-Bodied Raccoon. Create a situation where these are not just bad toys, but they’re bad toys featured on the show. They become artifacts more intrinsically tied to the things we love about Impractical Jokers.
Producer Casey Jost, I beseech you : use these toys on the show. Give them the place in actual pop culture history that they really need. In a quest to remain positive and find meaning in all objects, these are meaningless. They feel like they take up space, and they do not pay their rent back in joy. But give them 15 minutes of TV time? Problem solved. Until then, unless you’re some kind of overzealous IJ fan, don’t indulge.
C. David is a writer and artist living in the Hudson Valley, NY. He loves pinball, Wazmo Nariz, Rem Lezar, MODOK, pogs, Ultra Monsters, 80s horror, and is secretly very enthusiastic about everything else not listed here.