A Joker Awakened: An Interview with Author and Impractical Joker James Murray

James “Murr” Murray is a Joker, and he’s proud of it. He’s currently on three television shows, he’s starred in a movie, he’s got an action figure, and he’s releasing (along with co-author Darren Wearmouth) the third novel of his Awakened trilogy, Obliteration, on June 23rd.

I’ve interviewed Murr in the past, after his first novel Awakened had been in stores for a while and The Brink was about to release. You can read that interview right here. I got a chance to sit down with Murr again and chat about his upcoming novel release, the digital release of Impractical Jokers: The Movie, all three of the shows the Jokers are on, and what’s up next for Murr and The Jokers.

Oh yeah, at the end of this interview there’s a short review of the Awakened trilogy. I purchased the first two books (Awakened and The Brink) and the folks at HarperCollins Publishers were kind enough to send an advanced copy of Obliteration. Scroll down past the interview if you’d like to read the review.

Oh yeah, one last thing, there are minor spoilers for the Awakened novels and Impractical Jokers: The Movie in this interview. You’ve been warned!

Scott (GNN): So, I’m going to get down to serious question right out of the gate. You’ve done eight seasons of Impractical Jokers; you got a second season of The Misery Index. You’ve got Impractical Jokers: The Movie. You’ve got the Impractical Jokers: Dinner Party show; you’ve got action figures; you’ve got a new book; Sal’s got a comedy tour. In what phase of world domination would you say the Impractical Jokers are in right now?

James Murray (JM): Oh, I don’t think we’ve dominated the world. Believe it or not, most of these people (laughs), these eight billion people on the planet, most don’t watch TruTV (laughs), so.

GNN: But you’re on TBS now. And you’ve got a movie now.

JM: I’ll tell you the stage I think we are in. Current pandemic and world events be damned. But I think the stage we’re in before all the world shut down, basically, I feel like I’m in a stage where I can come up with an idea and sell it. And that’s a unique time of life. I’ve never felt that way before the past few years, where if I had an idea, I felt confident that I could go out there and market and sell it, and there’s a market for it. Because so much of our creative lives have been failing, where you can’t sell anything and nobody wants to take a chance on you and things like that. So that’s the stage I think we’re at, where you can come up with an idea and actually get it out to the market and people will hopefully like it. And that is really creative and satisfying.

GNN: Yeah. That’s really cool. Do you think that’s that the case with the [Awakened] books? Do you think they would’ve gotten published otherwise or no?

JM: No. I mean, I wrote the first book, Awakened, which we’ve talked about in the past, 16 years ago. So, I’ll tell you a funny story [laughter]. I just moved into a house in New Jersey with my fiancée, and for months, I did not unpack the boxes. They were just sitting in the basement. And literally, three days ago, I spent the whole day with my nephew, and we just dove into it, and we took apart everything. We went through all papers, everything like that, and I found the original draft of the first book Awakened, and it was dated 2004. And I started flipping through it, and it was printed, physically printed. I just saw them like where you would print your paper, and I was taken back to that. That was 16 years ago. And I spent a year writing the first book and then spent another year trying to get anybody to read it. And I couldn’t get a single publisher to read it. So of course, it’s because of our fans. It’s because of a TV show that I was able to get a publisher to read it and publish it and then become a trilogy. And now, we have many, many more books coming up beside these three. So, it’s directly because of that success.

GNN: So, is this your chance to get Monumental Challenge green lit?

JM: You know what? (Laughs) What they don’t tell you on Impractical Jokers is that show, to date, holds the record for going to the most green-light meetings at most networks. I’ve gotten that TV show to green light. And when you go to a green-light meeting, that’s the last possible step. They’ve already approved the budget and schedule. They’ve gone through all the paperwork. And it goes to a green-light meeting usually before…it depends on the network. But some networks have boards or a meeting or something where they determine the final green light. It’s literally the last step. When you go to a green-light meeting, at that stage, odds are very high they’re going to green-light it, or they wouldn’t have gone through all the trouble to get there. And I have gone to green light with that show at History, Discovery, Nat Geo, A&E, and I think there was one more. I think it’s five different networks. It’s gotten right to green-light with a budget and schedule, and it hasn’t gone. One day, my friend, that show will be on the air.

GNN:  I would certainly watch it!  Well, there’s so much to cover, I guess we’ll start with the new book. Obliteration is coming out on June 23. It’s the third book of the Awakened trilogy. I guess in a couple of sentences, for the people who didn’t read my first interview with you, explain the trilogy kind of at a high level for folks.

JM: It’s basically a story of good and evil. It’s about, essentially, the mayor of New York City against this kind of worldwide foundation that has actually been protecting humanity for the better part of the last century, fighting these unknown-to-humans, underground prehistoric creatures that have kind of evolved separately from life on the planet’s surface. They’ve evolved differently. They’re stronger than us. They’re faster than us. They are smarter than us in every way. The first book, Awakened, is about the mayor being trapped in the subway tunnels in New York City with lots of different New Yorkers trying to escape as these creatures rise. At the end of the first book, he realizes there’s this shadowy figure that’s been manipulating world events to destroy the creatures while at the same time advance his own agenda. His name is Albert Van Ness and he’s got a major chip on his shoulder and he’s a great villain. And book two, The Brink, Mayor Cafferty and his team goes after the big dog. They go after Albert Van Ness to his lair where he’s been plotting all these world disasters in order to kill creatures with no concern about the human cost of his actions. And they take him down and they dismantle the foundation. Book three, Obliteration, is the inevitable thing that happens. What happens when you take down your enemy who’s actually been fighting the creatures, albeit his motives are not pure? Well, the creatures rise. In book three, they’ve grown to tolerate light and oxygen and now they fully rise in this worldwide, massive attack on every major city around the planet, forcing Cafferty into the ultimate screwed-up scenario where he’s forced, by his own recognition as well, he’s forced to team up with his enemy, Albert Van Ness, in order to take down the creatures once and for all. And he has to make a deal with the devil in order to make that happen. He agrees to a crazy deal with Van Ness that at the end of this, if they succeed at defeating the creatures, one of them gets to live; the other has to die. So, he basically is willing to put his life on the line in order to team up with his enemy to take down these monstrous creatures and save humanity.

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GNN: Yeah. When I was reading it my wife asked, “What’s it about?” And I didn’t want to simplify it too much, but I said, “Its Aliens meets Tremors on a global scale.”

JM: Wow, that’s really good. That’s really good. I would say, “Aliens meets The Descent.”

GNN: I’ve never seen The Descent. I’ll have to watch it.

JM: Oh, man. It’s great. It’s one of the best horror movies ever made.

GNN: Okay. Writing it down. So, your novels are available anywhere books are sold, Books-A-Million, Amazon, your website. Do you have a website?

JM: Yeah, if you go to awakenednovel.com or again, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, anywhere. Anywhere books are sold.

GNN: Yeah, I went on Amazon just to kind of check and make sure the book was there and I saw the reviews are pretty solid. Do you check the reviews or do you try to stay away from that?

JM: I haven’t. I checked the reviews of Awakened when it first came out but I didn’t do it after that, actually.

GNN: I’ve enjoyed all three books. Like I said, I’m plowing through Obliteration at night and on weekends, and the entire trilogy has been really good. Have any celebrities or other authors given you any props on the book? I know you have some quotes in there, but has anyone directly said, “Hey, man. Read the book. Really good.”?

JM: I mean, we’re dear friends with James Rollins, R. L. Stein, and Brad Meltzer and they’re all fans of the books. Their quotes are on all three, I think. And they’ve since become, the three of them, have become almost like mentors to me in different ways. I mean, Meltzer’s been a fan of Jokers for years. We met, coincidentally, through the Jokers’ tour and he’s been insanely helpful just with navigating the publishing world, which I was brand new to. And Rollins has been incredibly supportive, and I’ve become dear, dear friends with R. L. Stein over the past few years. I guess it started maybe two years ago for The Brink. I was on a panel at maybe New York Comic-Con, I think. It was a two-person panel, myself and R. L. Stein. We’d never met before that day and we instantly hit it off. It was just him and I on stage, talking about our books and we hit it off immediately. He’s become a dear friend and mentor, as well, so.

GNN: That’s pretty awesome. Now, here’s the big question. Have any of the Jokers read your books?

JM: (Laughs) I don’t know! Sal will never read any of them. Joe famously has only read the very middle of the first book, and he goes, “I didn’t like the middle of Awakened. I was like, “Well, what part of Awakened?” He goes, “The very, very middle.” I said, “Well, specifically, what part?” He goes, “The middle word. I didn’t think you needed in the book.” (Laughs) I was like, “The middle word?” I was like, “What was the middle word of the book?” He goes, “It was extraneous.” I said, “You think the word ‘extraneous’ was extraneous in the book? You’re screwing with me, right?” Q, I believe, read Awakened. I don’t know if he’s read The Brink or Obliteration.

GNN: So, one last thing about the book…I saw on Facebook, for folks that would like to interact with you, you’re going to have an online book launch on June 23rd…

JM: Yeah, yeah, on June 23rd, that afternoon or evening, we’re doing an online virtual book launch. Usually, I do some kind of event in the city. The first year we did the Awakened Experience, which was we built a haunted house based on the book. We went room to room, and the first room was the subway car and the subway tunnel. Then you go into the creatures’ nest, and then by the time you get through, and there are creatures in the haunted house, and they’re screaming through the haunted house, and they wind up in my arms where I give them a hug, and say, “Are you okay?” sign their book, and that was wild.

Last year we did a book telethon at Barnes and Noble in Union Square where it had phone operators, just like the old telethon days. We were giving prizes. That was a lot of fun. This year, obviously, because of everything going on, we are doing a virtual one, so you go to Eventbrite, and you get tickets, and you can come to the book launch. It’s on Zoom, and there are prizes and surprise guests, and there’s a wheel of prizes that we spin every 10 minutes or 15 minutes or so, and you get an autographed copy of the book as well. So, basically, the price is just the cost of the book. There’s no other cost.

GNN: And Darren’s (co-author of the Awakened trilogy Darren Wearmouth) going to be there as well?

JM: He will be there as well. He’s joining the call.

GNN: Excellent, all right, so what’s the next step? You had mentioned earlier you had some more novels on tap. Can you give anyone any idea of what’s going on, or do you want to keep that under wraps for now?

JM: Actually, we have eight books coming out now, in the next year. We have five more, two of which are already done, of the five. I have three more to go, so we have Don’t Move. I can’t show the cover yet because I haven’t revealed the cover yet. Don’t Move is a thriller, comes out October 20th of this year. That’s through Blockstone Publishing. It’s a thriller about a church group from the Bronx that goes on their annual summer camping trip to the woods of West Virginia, but this particular summer they wander into the wrong woods. Coming out in April of next year, 2021, is The Stowaway, which I also will have the cover of, but I can’t show it yet. The Stowaway comes out from St. Martin’s Press. That is basically a story about a woman who’s a juror on a serial killer case, and she can’t bring herself to find the guy guilty. She can’t find it within herself to find him guilty, and he goes free. It’s a hung jury. Two years later she’s on a transatlantic cruise with her family, and halfway across the Atlantic, in the middle of nowhere, two days in any direction from land, she starts to notice the killers MO on the boat, his symbol carved on the deck of the ship, things like that. And she comes to realize that…is he on board? Is there a copy-cat on board, or is somebody f***ing with her? And it’s up to her to stop the killer before he strikes because, sure enough, halfway across the Atlantic, people start disappearing. There you go. That’s The Stowaway. And then starting next summer will be three books with Penguin Random House called Interns of Area Fifty-One. That’s a children’s book series for middle-grade students. It’s about a bunch of eighth-graders whose parents just so happen to work at Area 51 and it’s Take Your Kids to Work Day. And the day that these kids go to visit their parents at Area 51, all hell breaks loose, all the adults get captured, and it’s up to the kids to save the day. And at the end of the book, the parents offer their children a summer internship going into their high school year, freshman year. And of course, every single book, something goes haywire in Area 51 and they have to not only save the day but learn a bit about themselves in the process.

GNN: That is an amazing slate of books! Now, you’ve got three books out now and then eight more on deck. Considering all the other stuff you have going on…you filmed a movie, you’re doing the show, you’re on The Misery Index… for someone out there who has a job and is like, “I want to write a book. I just can’t find the time.” How do you take the time to write all this? I mean, you’re writing a ton!

JM: Yeah, I think you have to give yourself a deadline and stick to it, right? I mean, it helps when you have a publisher deadline, of course. You have to get it done. There’s no choice. You don’t have time for writer’s block. You must get the work done. So, with The BrinkThe Brink was harder than Obliteration. Well, Obliteration we finished before the pandemic, but I mean, it was a lot of really late nights after working a lot of long days. What do you do? You got to get it done and there are people depending on you to get it done, and at some point, it has to be great, but at some point, you have to let it go. You have to release it, you know?

GNN: Right.

JM: For example, I had an idea, but we had already submitted the book. I had a last-second idea, and it was too late at that point, and I couldn’t stop things and I’m like, “You know what? It has to get out.” You have to stick to your deadlines. I think that helps. Obviously, it helps to have a publishing deadline. It must be done by this date or it’s delayed. Other than that, it takes a lot of willpower. It does because it’s far easier to watch Netflix than it is to create. The very act of creation, to this day, is incredibly painful. It’s supposed to be painful. We spent two days last week, Darrin and I, brainstorming the new book, The Stowaway. We spent two days going through characters and creating backstories and plot ideas, and it’s painful, man. It’s hard work because every time you think of an idea, three more pop up that don’t make any sense that undoes the idea, and you’re like, “Well, nobody would do that. Nobody would act that way.” Half of what it is is making your idea bulletproof, right? That’s half of what creation is and it’s hard. It’s supposed to be hard. It’s far easier not to do it. So, I’d say, once you realize that it’s going to be hard, then it makes the payoff when it’s done that much sweeter. And I texted a friend of ours. A friend of ours asked me once, maybe about a year ago, “Why do you do the books? Why?” And I have big plans for the books. I want to sell them as TV shows, and movies, things like that. But truly, from the books, they’re not worth the time. You don’t make a fortune unless you sell millions and millions of copies of books, right? And I said to him, “You have to understand. There’s a feeling you get when you open up that box up and see the book actually in print with the description that we wrote a year ago and the acknowledgments. And I see the quotes from some of my favorite authors on the back, and it looks freaking slick as hell.

GNN: Yeah, it does…the new book looks great.

JM:  It’s real, so much of what we do in life and the work we do for other people never feels real and we don’t feel a sense of ownership in our own work. You work for somebody else; you’re making them money or what have you. You never feel ownership of the product of your work. It’s very rare. When you get a box of something you created and you feel it in your hand. You’re like, “Holy shit. This is real, it exists.” It will always exist. And it’s a really moving moment. It’s a powerful moment. It’s like being on stage with the guys when you see how the TV show has affected people for the positive in their lives or the TV show itself, seeing pictures of people on social media and their families get together every Thursday night to watch the show. It’s the only show the family agrees on, stuff like that. It’s those moments that feel real. And it makes it all worth it.

GNN: That’s incredible, man. I hope someone reads this who’s looking to write and sees that message. Now, let’s move on to some of the other stuff you’re working on. With the pandemic screwing things up, you’ve put Impractical Jokers on hold and you’re doing Impractical Jokers: Dinner Party on TruTV. At first, I was wondering if my wife and I would like it, but we really did enjoy the first two shows. It’s like sitting there listening to four of your buddies, just sitting around bullshitting and goofing on each other. How did you come up with the idea and how has it been received?

JM: We were surprised. We wanted to do something where we could stay connected to fans in some way, right? But we’ve all been locked indoors for three months and only now we’re starting to pull out of it. And we’re like, “Well what can we do from home?” essentially, to stay connected and to make people laugh and get through the hard times right now. And we came up with the idea for Dinner Party and the four of us truly didn’t realize that it would be as much fun as it is. You know why because I think this is the secret of it. Because obviously there’s no crew, they mailed us all the equipment. Cameras and lights and sound and everything and with instructions. And they snuck in in the middle of the night, dropped it off, wiped all the equipment down then left. I’ve never seen any crew member, ever, right? And then You have to just set it all up and film it. And on-screen is just three other guys. So, I’m there with Joe, Sal, and Q. And there’s nobody else online and we’re recording it. So, you forget quickly that there are producers thousands of miles away listening to the feed. But it just feels like the four of us hanging out. And we were surprised at how well that came through on TV.

GNN: Yeah, my wife and I sit there and we just kind of talk like we’re sitting there with you guys. Like when you had your old teacher on, that was pretty cool…

JM: I was just talking to Casey Jost, who’s one of our producers on Jokers asking me, we’re filming an episode tomorrow. coincidentally. And he’s asking if there’s anything I wanted to talk about. And I said, “We don’t really plan it. It’s just kind of what happens.” When I said, “Well, you know I woke up this morning in the middle of the night, it was 4:00 AM, I woke up screaming. My fiancée had to wake me up.” Because I have crazy dreams now, right. I’m home all the time and I’m watching so many movies. I have crazy, crazy dreams. And what I’ve never told the guys, I’ll probably tell them on TV tomorrow. What I’ve never told the guys before is that I actually record my dreams on my phone. But I’m half asleep when I record it. So, I have dozens and dozens of these audio recordings that make no sense about me. It’s clearly like three, four in the morning. I’m half asleep. I’m drooling. And trying to remember my dreams. And I sent Casey one of those recordings. I’m going to play it for the guys tomorrow. And I said, “They’re going to love it.”

GNN: And Impractical Jokers: Dinner Party is on TruTV on Thursday nights, correct?

JM: Thursday nights, yeah.

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GNN: So now, let’s move on to the movie. The movie is now available digitally. I saw that it got moved up a little bit because of the pandemic. I saw the movie in the theater. It was good, my wife and I enjoyed it. So, how was this movie born? Was it a long time coming or was it just a, “Hey, let’s do a movie.”? How did it come to be?

JM: It was a long time coming! We felt like in season four, we wanted to do a movie. Season four, season five, we felt like the show was growing and was reaching a kind of a level of popularity that we wanted. And we had so many ideas at that point that were just too big for the TV show. We couldn’t afford it. We couldn’t get insurance to cover it. We didn’t have the resources to keep traveling or what have you. So, we just had all these ideas that over years and years and years, were piling up. And we said we’d love to do the movie. And it took probably five years to get it off the ground. So many stops and starts where we thought it would happen and wouldn’t. Eventually, it all came together and then it got stopped when we finished filming the movie in 2018 and it didn’t come out until 2020 because AT&T ended up buying Warner Media and everything got moved around and it took time to get the wheels greased again and get everything back in motion. So, it was a long time coming, man. I am grateful that we had…even though we only really had a two-week theatrical run before the theaters shut down, at least we had that. I’m grateful that I got to see the movie on the big screen and travel across America. The guys and I each took different cities every day. So, I was in like six cities over two weekends or seven cities, hopping to the moving theaters. I was popping into 16 or 18 movie screens a day, either at the beginning, middle, or end of the movie to surprise audiences. It really was like a lot of what the TV show has been. It felt grassroots. So, I’m grateful that we even got two weeks in the theaters before it shut down. And I am grateful that we got to release it digitally, literally, eight weeks earlier than it was supposed to come out on digital because of everything going on. So, I’m glad it got out there finally, you know?

GNN: Yeah. Absolutely, we got in there and saw it right at the gate. We went with some friends of ours. And, basically, for anyone who doesn’t know…I can’t imagine a fan of The Impractical Jokers wouldn’t know about it, but basically, it’s a longer episode of the show kind of wrapped in a Borat-esque kind of road trip, right?

JM: Yeah, just like a kind of BS narrative to get you on the journey. But, really, it’s the journey that matters, isn’t it? And after all the journey you get to the destination of me on the plane, which is pretty spectacular (laughs)!

GNN: Yeah. Based on what you just said, I have two questions. First, was the narrative, with the Paula Abdul concert…I thought maybe when you guys were younger, that was something that might’ve happened. Was that based any in reality or was that total BS?

JM: Total BS. The very first line of the movie, I think, is Q looking right at the camera saying, “Just go with it.” It’s just a way to get us on a journey competing in a camera challenge. It was also some bullshit way to get me to have hair again! So, in the movie, we come up with the BS stories so I could have a wig again and actually remember what it’s like to have hair. I don’t know.

GNN: So, what’s the craziest thing, other than the ending, that happened during the filming? Anything, in particular, that was crazy, “Oh my god,” moment?

JM: Gosh. I think my favorite moment…well, one thing that doesn’t come across in the movie, unfortunately, because of the way we shot it…remember that little vignette of the guys knocking on my door and it opens up to something crazy?

GNN: Yeah. Absolutely. There were a few of them throughout the movie.

JM: Yeah. The guys had no idea what was behind the door. Ever. And I don’t know if it came across in the movie. But that was the secret that I was doing crazy things. So, when they opened the door, that’s the first time they’d ever seen or heard of what was going on. But the craziest scene…I think the tiger scene’s probably my favorite moment because it’s so real. And his first question was not about, “Am I going to be okay? Is the tiger going to attack?” His first question was, “How did you get insurance to approve this?” Which I think is hysterical (laughs)!

GNN: There was one thing in the movie that I need some clarification on…was there a scene where you were walking by a restaurant and Will Ferrell was in the window?

JM: He was. He was sitting in a restaurant. We cast him as an extra. He flew from LA to Atlanta to be an extra in the background of one shot (laughs).

GNN: See? When I asked you about world domination, you’ve got to admit…when Will Farrell wants to be in your movie…

JM: It was a cool moment. It was a very cool moment. His family are fans of the show. And obviously the movie’s produced by truTV and by Funny or Die. And he’s one of the partners of Funny or Die so it all worked out well. But we also had this crazy idea. I mean, it’s so funny to see an idea you’d had three years ago actually come to fruition in an insane way. And our idea was that we would release soundtracks of the movie and this whole soundtrack is just one song sung by different artists. So, the soundtrack of the movie is only really one song. It’s Forever Your Girl by Paula Abdul. But it’s sung by Paula Abdul. Bon Jovi sings a cover of it. Method Man sings a cover of it. Harry Connick, Jr. sings a cover of it in the movie. Joey Fatone sings a cover of it. So, our idea is that the soundtrack is just another joke. It’s the same song by different artists.

GNN: I have to tell my wife…she would totally buy that soundtrack! Now, the last question about the movie. You’re the ultimate loser at the end of the movie. I mean, honestly, I don’t care how much fun I’m having, I don’t care how much money I’m making…if I had to do what you did, I’d quit. There’s no way I would do what you did…

JM: It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever done in my life for sure. It was so crazy that the only way the insurance company would insure the movie was if we filmed that punishment on the very last day of filming. So, if I die, they would’ve already completed the movie and they could still release it and wouldn’t lose millions of dollars.

GNN: Of course. I mean, that would be my first priority.

JM: No, you got to think like insurance companies! And it was the most batshit crazy thing I’ve ever done. There’s a helicopter flying next to the plane shooting, right. You’re not on the wing of the plane when the plane takes off, you’re in the cockpit. They slow the plane down to 100 miles an hour so you can climb out onto the wing while it’s in the air. And then they speed up to 150 miles an hour, start doing flips. I can still remember exactly how to do it. They teach you for like two hours on the ground the precise way to step and where to grab. I can still remember it. They make it muscle memory for you to know exactly the steps to climb out so that you don’t get blown off immediately. And you don’t dare deviate from those steps or you’re done.

GNN: What was your first thought when you put your foot on the ground afterwards?

JM: It was the highest of highs I’ve ever had in my life. No joke. It took hours to come down from the adrenaline high. And what they don’t tell you is that the next day you’ll be bed-ridden. I was in my bed for two days after that. Every muscle in your body pulls out because you’re holding on in high winds.

GNN: Really?

JM: I was up there for an hour. And you come down. And you push past any pain you feel. And you don’t feel it. You go to bed. You wake up the next morning. And your back’s pulled out. Every muscle’s pulled out. And for two days I was…I could not get out of bed (laughs).

GNN: All right. So that’s the movie. And people can see that now on streaming services. I saw it on my Xbox. So, people can get it basically anywhere now. Now, let’s talk about The Misery Index on TBS. That’s in its second season. It’s a fantastic show you’re on with Jameela Jamil as the host. I know it’s based on a card game called Shit Happens, but was that something where you worked with the guy who created the card game? Or was it created already they’re like, “Hey, you know? It would be fun if we add the Impractical Jokers.” How did that work?

JM: Yeah, the game was created by the Newmark brothers. And, of course, the gentlemen that actually created the game itself that’s in stores, they came up with the format for the show, sold it to TBS. They were thinking about casting for it and somebody there had the idea of like, “What if we pair it with Impractical Jokers,” and use the guys and I in the show to be the consiglieres, if you will, of the contestants and just BS’ing and trying to talk through scenarios and comedy? And then what if we also borrow since obviously a lot of what we do on Jokers especially punishments are pretty miserable? Why don’t we use some of that footage and make that round three of the game show where we show an actual punishment from Jokers as a nice kind of crossover? And it worked really well. And the first season we had a blast doing it. And then thankfully, fans liked it, too. And then we did the second season. And we had so much fun even more so than season one because in season two we started doing themed episodes and really, I think season one was a game show with comedy. Season two was a comedy show with a game. Do you know what I mean?

GNN: Yeah. Sure.

JM: It really just becomes funnier. And I think it comes through when you watch the show now. And we’re blessed to have a second season and hopefully more seasons to come. We’ve had big money, too. I think because we’re getting better at the show, too.

GNN: Right. And for people again, who might know the Jokers but not watch The Misery Index, it’s basically a game show where there are headlines and clips off the internet and you kind of have to judge how much misery the people in the clips went through based on…what is it? It’s physical pain, lasting effect…

JM:  Physical pain, long-term trauma, and lasting effect or something like that. Yeah.

GNN: Yeah. Yeah. That’s it. It’s pretty funny. It’s good. And that’s on TBS.

JM: TBS on Thursday nights at 10:30 PM.

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GNN: Bang. See? You don’t give yourself enough credit when you say, “Not a lot of people know us from TruTV.” I’m telling you, of the five unofficial phases of world domination I would say you’re probably in phase two going on phase three. I mean, you’ve got action figures! That’s a pure phase three. You need to get those Funko Pops.

JM: I’ll get on it. I’m trying.

GNN: World domination will not be complete until you have a Funko Pop. That’s just my advice. So, last thing, obviously, is the show…The Impractical Jokers is still going strong. I just read that people can now watch the first four seasons on HBO Max. Correct?

JM: Yeah. We just launched HBO Max, what? About two, three weeks ago, and the first four seasons. And I’m sure many more seasons will come on HBO Max. And you get the whole library of the TV show.

GNN: Is it still as much fun doing the show as it was? Is it more fun, less fun?

JM: As fun as always. Obviously, we haven’t filmed in a few months because of everything going on, but hopefully, we’ll be back to filming soon. I’m hoping to be back to filming in the fall. That’d be great. I get to make people laugh for a living and that’s not bad.

GNN: Yeah, you get to hang out with your friends and make people laugh. That’s awesome. But, I’m just curious if you’ve looked to the end and thought of some big ending. You don’t have to share because that would blow it, but have you thought of a big way to go out or a big finale? Or the last show, do you have an idea for it already or you’re just going with the flow?

JM: I don’t know. I don’t know. Hopefully, there are many years to come. I can’t imagine a better job. If fans will have us, I’d love to do many, many more years. I can’t say this, but we do have an idea of what we want the final punishments to be. It is ironically the very first punishment we wanted to do, and I don’t know if we’ll have the nerve to do it. But we had the idea in the first episode for what we wanted the series finale punishment to be. And it might be too crazy to do. We’ll see (laughs). So, we have an idea.

GNN: All right. Again, that will be back on Tru TV I’m sure as soon as the pandemic ends. And for now, people are watching Impractical Jokers: Dinner Party, which we talked about earlier. Who came up with that? Was that kind of a group thing, or did one of you come up with it?

JM: No. We do a lot of podcast shows as we create new material for our tour. And we had to cancel our podcast shows this spring because of the pandemic. So, we said, “Well, what’s the equivalent of our podcast shows? It’d be doing what we always do which is having dinner together and since we can have dinner together now, so let’s have dinner and BS and catch up with our best friends.” And it just birthed very naturally from that.

GNN: So, do you think that this is something you’ll continue after the quarantine or was it just kind of a placeholder for the actual show?

JM: I think Impractical Jokers: Dinner Party stands on its own. I really do. I think there is a place for it because it’s a show that makes you feel good. It’s fun. It’s funny. It is like hanging out with your best friends from TV for a night. I really do think it stands on its own. So, I would love to keep doing it.

GNN: Yeah. It comes off as, again, you guys just start talking about stuff and it just naturally progresses. It’s cool because it doesn’t seem manufactured. I’d love to see it continue. Now it’s time for the lightning round. 10 quick questions!

JM: Okay, I’m ready for this lightning round. Let’s do it.

GNN: Alright. Number one, which two Jokers would be the strongest political ticket for president and vice president, and why?

JM: Joe and me. Joe as president and me as vice president.

GNN: You’re the power behind the throne; got it. He’s the face. Next question…you’re going into a nest to take on the creatures from your Awakened trilogy. Which joker has your back?

JM: Oh, Q. He was a fireman for eight years. He’s got my back.

GNN: That’s a good point. And he likes comic books, so this kind of thing is in his wheelhouse. Gotcha. All right. All right, you have a choice tomorrow, of having to wear Q’s hair every waking moment for a month. Not just on the show, every waking moment for a month, or having your eyebrows shaved again. Which would you pick?

JM: The wig.

GNN: Really? Every waking moment for a month?

JM: It takes three months for the eyebrows to grow back! Three months! And the worst part is not the first month. The worst part is like six, seven weeks in when the eyebrows are just starting to come back. So you see little wisps of hair. That’s the worst part. People don’t know whether you’re coming or going. They’re like, “something is going on in his life,” but they don’t want to ask what that something is going on.

GNN: Got it. Okay, now, what is another Joker’s punishment that you could never have done?

JM: Q and the tarantulas.

GNN: Yeah. The spiders were bad, but the being chained down part was even worse. All right, next up…if you got a phone call right now during this interview, “Hey, James, we will greenlight any project you want. What’s getting greenlit?”

JM: Monumental Challenge!

GNN: I kinda’ figured that after we talked about it earlier. So, that would be vindication! So, next question, you get another phone call. I love these mystery phone calls. It’s the folks at TruTV and they say, “Listen, we can get you any celebrity to be on the show.” You recently had Jeff Daniels on the show…who would you pick?

JM: You know I would love to have Steve Carell on the show. I know his family are fans of the show. And we’ve heard it from a number of people. And we met his wife at an event and she expressed their love of the show. I think he’d be awesome to be on the show.

GNN: That would be phenomenal.

JM: Have you watched Space Force yet? It’s pretty good.

GNN: Yeah, I want to give it a show. We’ve been binging a lot of stuff on Amazon Prime recently. Speaking of binging…let’s say you’re stuck in a room for a month with a book, television, or movie series, what is it?

JM: Well, you mean, are you saying something I haven’t seen that I really want to see? Because right now my fiancé and I never watched Lost. So, we’re halfway through season two. We’ve been binging it for the past three weeks. So, I will take that because I haven’t seen it yet. But if you’re saying like, “you’re stuck on a deserted island,” kind of series or something…if that’s the case, I think I’d go MacGyver the original series from the 80s or Quantum Leap.

GNN: Quantum Leap was good. I loved watching it. Okay, three more questions. What’s the least favorite punishment of yours that was done to you that you would not want to be done again? Not including the airplane.

JM: Not including the airplane? Least favorite punishment for myself. The one that terrified me was– I’m going way back, Q Falls, where Q made us line up at the edge of a cliff and we had to jump off. I was frozen with fear. I could not bring myself to leap off the cliff. That was terrifying. I wouldn’t mind never doing that again (laughs).

GNN: If you were allowed to change…for a month, go fill out the paperwork and change another Joker’s name to one of the Name Game names, what would it be?

JM: Good question. Oh, I can’t say the answer I want to say because we might actually do it on the show. I can’t say it. I mean, not might, actually. We are doing it on the show in season nine. We’re going to…I can’t say it. I can’t say the specifics. One of the jokers will have a new name in season nine of Impractical Jokers (laughs). And that will be his name and he will be referred to that name. I can’t say what it is or which joker it is, and we’re changing the credits of the show, too (laughs).

GNN: Oh, my God. That is utterly fantastic. If I had to change my name, I definitely would not mind being Secret Agent Randy Beans. That’s what I’m going with if I had to pick. Now, last question, biggest question, because this is Geek News Network. What is James Murray geeking out on right now…TV, movie, books? You said Lost earlier.

JM: Descent, the book…I just got it, literally two days ago in the mail. It’s my favorite horror movie so I said, “Let me read the book. I should.” I’ve been watching, obviously, Lost, from the beginning. We never saw it. For some reason, we missed it. Simultaneously, I’ve been watching Space Force. I’m on episode five, I think, now, and enjoying it. I just watched Air Force One again yesterday. Man, it’s so good. “Get off my plane.” It’s so good. Literally, I’ve been geeking out on every stupid action/adventure movie and especially the disaster movies. I did Deep Impact again. I did The Core again, about a week ago. Then I was on the whole path of volcano movies so I did all those, Dante’s Peak and Volcano. Then I was on a tear for all the Liam Neeson movies. I don’t know. You go on these paths and you just…now I’m on Harrison Ford movies. So, I’ve been watching those. I was planning on watching The Hunt for Red October. I’m on this whole path.

GNN: So again, as I said early on, the Joker’s are taking over the world. The movie’s available digitally; your book’s available in bookstores and Amazon and on the website; The Misery Index is on TBS on Thursdays. Impractical Jokers is on 17 times a day on truTV. Impractical Jokers: Dinner Party is on Thursday evenings at 10 o’clock. Did I miss anything?

JM: How did you get it all? Also, the book launch is on 23rd. You can go to Eventbrite to get tickets for the launch.

GNN: I appreciate you taking the time.

JM: Thanks!

james murray

The Awakened Trilogy Review

Overall, I really enjoyed the Awakened trilogy. The first book, Awakened, was just dumb fun that was basically a mash-up of Aliens and Tremors. The pacing was good, the characters were fleshed out enough, and the plot was good if you’re just looking for a fun book to read at the beach or on a plane. The second book, The Brink, was the weakest of the three, for me. The story seemed like it was trying to be world-spanning, but we were stuck with basically four survivors from the first book. If they weren’t going to introduce any new characters, a little more background or depth on the four we were sticking with would’ve been nice. The only character that really got fleshed out more was the villain, Albert Van Ness. While I give the first book an A-, the second book gets a C-. The third book, Obliteration, pulls the story back up. The story was a little more epic, some more characters worth caring about were introduced, and the pace was good. Again, the characters could’ve used some more fleshing out, but that’s a minor nit that I’m picking.

This trilogy isn’t going to be compared with Shakespeare, Poe, or J.D. Salinger. I’d say it was more like a Stephen King or Dean Koontz lite. All three books were good, mindless fun that would make for a good movie or television series. Overall, I’d give the trilogy a solid B. None of the entries are bad, but the first and third books are definitely the better ones. I would certainly read more books by this duo.

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