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Home / Impractical Joker ‘Murr’ coming to Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids
James Murray — known as Murr to his fans — was the tail end of 2020’s “Impractical Jokers: The Movie,” literally and figuratively.
As one-fourth of truTV’s fearless foursome who dare each other to do outrageous hidden-camera challenges, with failures bringing even more outrageous consequences, Murray was on the big screen sporting a blue thong.
Spoiler alert: With two final failures under his belt, he ended up strapped to a bright red stunt plane while Q, Sal and Joe flew home to Staten Island, N.Y., on a private jet from Miami.
And that was no stunt double soaring in the wild blue yonder.
“That was really me,” Murray, 45, of Princeton, N.J., said by phone, en route with the Jokers to film a cameo in another movie whose title and location he couldn’t divulge.
“I was out there for an hour. I was on the wing for a half-hour and on top of the plane for another half-hour, and it was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. There’s nothing that will ever come close to that,” Murray said.
“They had to take a $15 million life insurance policy out on me, in case I didn’t make it. And the only way we could get insurance for the movie is if we filmed that on the very last day of filming. That way if I died, they could still complete the movie,” he added with a laugh.
“It was crazy. I’m glad I did it, and I will never do it again.”
What: James “Murr” Murray from “Impractical Jokers”
Where: Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 9
Tickets: $34 to $44.75, creventslive.com/events/2021/james-murr-live
That may have been the most dangerous punishment for the sake of his art, but another stunt left him squirming in his seat.
In a 2015 television episode titled “The Blunder Years,” Murray’s punishment for losing a challenge was to don skimpy swimwear, oil up and bronze up, supposedly to participate in an amateur body building competition.
Instead, he was sent alone into a room, where he came face-to-face with his childhood crush, Danica McKellar, who played Winnie Cooper on “The Wonder Years.” His task was to interview her, while his buddies laughed their heads off in another room, watching on a hidden camera feed.
"In 11 years of ‘Jokers’, that is hands-down the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to me,“ Murray said. “Doing squats, all greased up in front of everyone’s childhood crush from the ’80s, Danica McKellar/Winnie Cooper. She looked gorgeous, and I had no idea the guys knew her — or where to stand. I couldn’t wrap myself around the idea that she was in the room, and there she was. I knew what I looked like. …
“The most embarrassing moment in 11 years of television.”
Cedar Rapids connection
He’ll be bringing tales from the funny and dark sides back to Cedar Rapids, where the Impractical Jokers launched their touring career, thanks to Jeff Johnson of Fairfax, founder of Penguins Comedy Club and USA Entertainment.
“Jeff Johnson is a dear friend of ours,” Murray said. “He’s our tour manager, and he’s been our tour manager since Day 1.”
Johnson said he emailed the Jokers’ website in April 2012, and Gatto and Murray called him to see what the touring proposition was all about.
“They basically said, ‘We don’t have a (road) show, why should we go out, why should we trust you?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m from Iowa, first and foremost.’ I told them what I did,” Johnson said.
“I liked him, we trusted him and now he’s been our tour manager for eight years,” Murray noted.
The troupe got their touring act together and debuted at Penguins on Nov. 6, 2012, then played Jokers in Cedar Falls, the Diamond Jo in Dubuque and Whitey’s Bar and Billiards in Burlington, and sold out every show.
“I’m so excited to come back to Iowa,” Murray said. “It’s been too long.”
He’ll be doing his solo show at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 9 at the Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids.
“(The show) is completely interactive, with a big screen behind me,” he said. “I’ll show video clips from the TV show and from my own phone. I tell lots of stories, answer questions. It feels very improvised. You can bring the whole family. It is tons of fun, and you’ll laugh your (expletive) off.”
And even though he’s used to working with his friends, striking out solo, like he’ll be doing at the Paramount, isn’t daunting.
“The great thing about our fan base is that they already love the show, so they’re already on your side. In my live show, it will feel like I’m making up everything as I go, and a lot of it I do. I riff with the audience and see what happens. …
“A lot of it is very much on-the-spot and improvised, because the guys and I are professional improvisers. That’s really what ‘Jokers’ is — an improv show.”
He and his buddies — Joseph “Joe” Gatto, Salvatore “Sal” Vulcano and Brian "Q" Quinn — have been making people laugh since their high school days on Staten Island, N.Y.
“Our high school had a really good improv group,” Murray said. “We performed together onstage. We also went to an all-boys Catholic high school, so there was nothing to do other than try to prank each other, so I think that kind of honed our skills to never really mentally grow up. We had no distractions, so to speak.”
When asked if they were class clowns or wallflowers, he said: “We were good kids — we were outgoing kids — all of us. Joe was on the bowling team. I did really well in school — I was the salutatorian and gave the speech, but all four of us were relatively good kids.”
They graduated in 1994, went off to college, then reconvened as The Tenderloins comedy troupe in 1999, and cultivated an internet following. They made the leap to TV in December 2011, enticing 32 million viewers in their first season, and Murray noted their show now airs in about 130 countries around the globe.
They’ve performed live in huge venues, too, at home and abroad, including sold-out shows in Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden in New York City and the massive O2 Arena in London.
“We love to make people laugh — it’s just something we do,” Murray said.
“Another thing all the guys and I share is that we come from a live performance background. My favorite, favorite part of the job is performing live,” he said. “We started on stage, and we will end on stage one day, long after TV. There’s nothing quite like making a crowd of a thousand people laugh.”
Best friends for 31 years, they still make each other laugh, too, and hang out “all the time,” Murray said. They’re equal partners in their business and make all decisions jointly, and if they’re split 50/50 on a decision, they flip a coin.
“There’ve been times when two of us are happy and two aren’t, but what goes around comes around,” he said. “We make the democracy work.”
When they do disagree, the friendship prevails.
“Even if we get into a fight, 10 minutes later, it’s like, ‘You guys wanna get some dinner?’ Yep,” he said. Since they all live within an hour of each other, he added: “You’re as likely to see us eating chicken parm, hanging out in a restaurant, as you are (to see us) on TV.”
Married in September 2020 and a writer of suspense novels, Murray didn’t let the pandemic slow him down personally or creatively.
“I was able to pull off a wedding. It was mostly outdoors, obviously, and the wedding was a quarter of the guest list than we originally had planned. But we still pulled it off, and it was fantastic and amazing. And I wrote two new books during the pandemic. ‘Don’t Move’ I wrote, which came out last fall, and ‘The Stowaway’ comes out (Sept. 21).
“What else did I do? I raised a puppy, I grew a lot of vegetables, and the guys and I had a show we created called ‘Impractical Jokers: Dinner Party’ that was on television — and we’re about to film Jokers.”
Sounds pretty practical for an impractical life.
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