Joe Gatto is part of what one would call truTV royalty.
The network, launched as Court TV in 1991 and part of Turner Broadcasting starting in 2006, morphed in the 2010s into a comedy-based channel dubbed truTV. Its biggest hit? “Impractical Jokers.”
The hidden camera prank show features Gatto and three of his childhood friends (James “Murr” Murray, Brian “Q” Quinn and Sal Vulcano) trying to humiliate each other while interacting with unsuspecting strangers. It has now aired for more than a decade and truTV will air 14 hours of repeats a day.
Now after years of doing shows on the road with his friends, Gatto is embarking on his own solo tour, stopping at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre on Thursday, Feb. 23. (Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.com starting at $34.75.)
“‘Impractical Jokers’ was a nonstop machine of craziness,” said Gatto in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution via Zoom from his home on Long Island, New York. “I did more than 300 episodes over 10 years. TruTV would be nothing without us.”
Back in 2011, he was the only one of the four who actually quit his day job for the show, leaving a sales job at a high-end baby furniture store. “I had to make this show work,” he said. “I dove in. That’s why I got so heavy into the production of it all. I love production and directing and producing.”
He helped shape the formula where in each challenge, they would be forced to say lines fed into their ear by their friends to strangers, the more ridiculous, the merrier. If they refuse to say the line, they lose. They would frequently accost random people in waiting rooms, public parks, restaurants and grocery stores. The fans delight in their camaraderie and non-stop stream of juvenile jokes.
“It’s social experimentation,” Gatto said. “What could you get away with with strangers?”
“Fearlessness,” he said. “I was able to grate on people and get things done. I don’t care what people think.”
In each episode, the four competed to win the most challenges. Gatto was the best at avoiding the end-of-episode punishment. “I left the champion,” he said.
And like a Will Ferrell character, Gatto has been naked more than once on the show. “I have this comedic weapon of a body,” he noted. “Why not use it? You’ve got to give people what they want!”
For years, people knew Gatto by his first name, courtesy of the TV show, but now he is marketing himself by his full name of Joe Gatto. “It’s not like my first name is unique,” he said. “There was already Fat Joe. I guess I’m more like Round Joe. Husky Joe maybe? The good thing is people knew me as Joe on the show. I was playing me. I wasn’t playing a character.”
He said he has spent the past year developing his first full stand-up set. “I started doing little comedy clubs, then it quickly escalated,” he said. “I’m now playing theaters.”
On stage, he’ll dish about his “Joker” buddies as well as “growing up with a crazy Italian mother and how that molded my personality. I’ll talk about turning from Joe to Joe from ‘Impractical Jokers.’ There’ll also be stories about me being a parent. And rescue dogs. They’re a huge part of my life, too.”
He said his favorite part every night is the meet-and-greet after the show, shaking hands and taking pictures with up to 200 fans a night. “People really know me,” he said. “People get way too comfortable too quick. It’s so weird. They’ll say, ‘My mom just died and you got me through it.’ It’s an interesting dynamic.”
Gatto said many hospitals have TVs tuned to “Impractical Jokers.” “So many of my fans found me that way,” he said.
He and the cast of “Impractical Jokers” spent time in Atlanta in 2018 to shoot a movie which featured stops at Midtown Bowl, strip club Blue Flame Lounge, the Emory Sports Medicine Center and Emory Physical Therapy Center and the Social Shake Up conference at the Atlanta Marriot Marquis.
The movie also enabled Gatto to become friends with Paula Abdul, who plays a comical version of herself in the film.
“I text her on the regular,” she said. “Every time I come out to L.A., we grab dinner or say a quick hello. She’s a huge fan of ours. She is forever my girl!”
IF YOU GO
7 p.m. Feb. 23. $34.75-$54.75. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. cobbenergycentre.org.
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution including TV, radio, film, comedy and all things in between. A native New Yorker, he has covered education at The Virginian-Pilot, small business for The Wall Street Journal and a host of beats at the AJC over 20-plus years. He loves tennis, pop culture & seeing live events.