Sometimes in comedy there is subtlety and nuance to being over-the-top funny.
That’s why Sal Vulcano, one of the stars of the cable TV hidden-camera show “Impractical Jokers,” was a big fan of Sherman Hemsley. Hemsley played the explosive, outrageous, constantly mugging George Jefferson on the sitcom “The Jeffersons” in the 1970s and ’80s.
Vulcano says he remembers being in third grade and asking his teachers to let him perform scenes from “The Jeffersons” during recess for classmates.
“Sherman Hemsley was my idol. You look at the sitcoms of that time, they were like mini-stage plays, and (Hemsley) used every nuance, every little movement, to get a big laugh,” said Vulcano, 38. “Something about what he did and the reaction he got really got to me.”
While in high school in Staten Island, New York, Vulcano met three other like-minded comedic performers, and they’ve been performing together ever since. They currently star together on “Impractical Jokers” on TruTV and perform under the name The Tenderloins. On Thursday they’ll bring their brand of improv to Portland’s Merrill Auditorium.
On the show, one member of the group is seen trying to play a gag on an unsuspecting person. The twist is that the cast member doing the stunt doesn’t know what the stunt is or what he’s supposed to say beforehand. So the others feed him the information through an ear piece, often cracking him and each other up as they do it.
“With other hidden-camera shows, the awkwardness is directed at the person. With us, the awkwardness is directed at each other; we’re putting each other through the ringer,” said Vulcano. “We make it a point not to be mean. We’re looking to confuse each other.”
Vulcano says the stage show The Tenderloins will put on at Merrill Auditorium is “a mixed bag.” There will be stories about various stunts done on “Impractical Jokers,” as well some “behind the scenes” information about what goes on when they are filming that show.
Then there will be some story-telling, some stand-up comedy and some improv.
“We don’t do improv in a traditional sense. We’ll talk to the crowd and riff off what they say, or we’ll make up games. Anything can happen,” Vulcano said.
He admits that many people who come to a Tenderloins show only know them from “Impractical Jokers.” “They come to the show ‘Impractical Jokers’ fans but leave Tenderloins fans.”
Besides Vulcano, the group includes Joe Gatto, James Murray and Brian Quinn.
“Impractical Jokers” started on TruTV in 2011, but the Tenderloins had been performing since 1999. The group did live shows for years, and by 2007 their sketches were getting millions of views on YouTube. Soon after, the group was approached by Spike TV about doing a sitcom, and then by TruTV about “Impractical Jokers.”
When asked if there was any one stunt they’ve done on the show that has gone horribly wrong or proven embarrassing, Vulcano said he couldn’t think of any. He said most of the stunts are pretty mild, and his favorites are the simplest.
“Like when we just walk over to someone in a restaurant and take food off their plate without explanation,” said Vulcano. “That’s my favorite kind. It’s not mean, it’s just bewildering.”