BWW Interview: James S. Murray Sits Down To Discuss His Book Trilogy and IMPRACTICAL JOKERS
James S. Murray? Does that name ring any bells? How about Impractical Jokers? He's THE ONE of four who stars on the hit truTV television series along with his best friends since high school Joe Gatto, Sal Vulcano, and Brian Quinn. Together, they dare each other to do outrageous things in public and the loser has to do something even more embarrassing.
Believe it or not, "Murr" (what he's called for short) is also now a published book author. He started writing the novel fourteen years ago. He always knew he wanted to become an author way before the Impractical Jokers. Always a fan of horror and thrillers, this is when the idea for "Awakened" came about. He spent a year writing and polishing it off in Brooklyn, keep in mind this was his first time writing a book.
At the end of the year, Murr made THE BRAVE decision to send it off to every book publisher possible without having a lawyer or agent to advise him. Unfortunately, it got sent back to him unopened. Heartbreaking I know. After that happened, it sat on his computer for fourteen years until Jokers premiered in 2011. Recently, which was about a year and a half ago he decided to try again and sent it off to HarperCollins with the end result of them purchasing the "Awakened" trilogy from him. The hard work clearly paid off because it hit #1 on the International Bestseller list!
Murr wrote "Awakened" and its forthcoming sequel "The Brink" coming out next year with Darren Wearmouth. He did not know him beforehand. HarperCollins asked him to spend a couple weeks polishing it up after selling the series to them and because the schedule is extremely demanding to film Jokers on-top of touring as "The Tenderloins", the publishing company suggested that he hire someone to help clean it up. Basically, the star was given a list of authors to choose from and hit it off with Wearmouth immediately.
"He's a great guy, he's super talented. He's a bestselling British author. He's a huge Jokers fan. And we like a lot of the same things...a lot of the same movies and we're around the same age. Even though his accent is tough to understand we get drunk, and we just kind of have a complimentary skill set," Murr went on to say about Wearmouth.
"Book 2 ("The Brink") is of course much more collaborative, so I came up with the plot for book 2 and broken down the chapters in the first draft, then I did the second draft- rewriting it then together now we're going through the final polish of it. So it's been a really cool, fun collaboration," he says on the process of writing the sequel to "Awakened".
Writing these books was not an easy feat for the star. The creation of it was very painful. "Creating anything new is incredibly difficult. It's just so much easier to sit on the couch and watch Netflix and just consume. Writing "Awakened" fourteen years ago was the hardest I've ever worked on something in my life, "The Brink" is deeply hard. I forgot how hard it was to write a book from scratch, but it just takes a RELENTLESS and a drive that is difficult to maintain. What was hardest for me, was the amount of research that happened in every detail of the book."
"You need to know a little about a lot to write a book. The amount of research that goes into it- it's just not the ideas that come out of your head. You need to have specifics and 80,000 words. You gotta know the details to paint a really good picture in the reader's mind on what's happening. The research is what was most surprising to me. And again the mental FORTITUDE you need to not just start the project, but to see it through and be able to think through logically the problems as you go and you have to constantly go back and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite to fix logic problems that always come up as you write."
Inspiration and influences to write the books came from a couple difference places. Some of what inspired him is a lot of TV shows and movies. If you read "Awakened" and "The Brink" there are easy to spot influences from films such as Alien, The Nightmare on Elm Street, a little bit of The Fire Starter and even some of the Stephen King books and movies. Inspiration also comes from things that he loves. He just thinks about that and twists them in new ways and come up with new scenarios.
Rest assured, Murr and Wearmouth makes sure to give shout outs to all their favorite things in all their projects. In "Awakened" there are tons of Impractical Jokers featuring's in the book. In "The Brink", the first chapter begins with a direct homage to the Jokers as well as the original Nightmare on Elm Street movie. The new book route is now taking inspiration from Jaws and Back to The Future. "I think that's where you get your inspiration from. Your favorite things that you love. We take them, we absorb them, spin them in a new way and pay homage to them opposed to copying them."
Jumping into the Impractical Jokers side of things, there's a route taken that goes into planning all your favorite challenges and punishments.
When the show first started, between season 1 and 2 it was just Murr and the guys coming up with everything...every challenge, every punishment that was all them. As the show grew and got more notoriety, they were able to bring on some of their friends to work as comedy producers- so they had 5 or 6 comedy producers and their job was to sit in the office and crank out challenge ideas and the ideas are pitched out to the guys to refine and change, and twist and turn. The ideas finally go to the network for them to approve. "It's something we're really passionate about. The network will let us do it, they'll let us try it because we're often right with our gut instincts on whether something will work. The punishments are much more harder to come up with. The punishments are so so personal and you really have to...the punishments are so steeply on our thirty-year friendship and the intimate details we know about each other that it's very hard for an outsider to come up with a punishment that fits. The punishments are predominately established by the four of us."
Keep in mind that the show truly is an improv show in disguise. There is no script, they have no idea who's going to walk into a place while performing or what they're going to say or how they're going to react. It really is a stealth improv show because that genre is really difficult to sell to television networks because they don't like green writing because there's nothing to approve purely due to them not knowing what they're getting for their money and there's no script involved. The way they get around it you may ask? They say it's a "game show" or "competition" since there are challenges and punishments involved. This makes it seem like there's a format to the show that someone can grab on to. In actuality, once all of that is STRIPPED away it's considered an improv show.
With the show's growing popularity it has become difficult for the Jokers to go out and film, so in result they do less challenges and made them longer. It's a natural evolution for the series because it's all about shock value and grabbing people by those "oh my god" moments. Fans have latched on to their characters and their dynamic. It purely is a "buddy comedy" in disguise as a prank show.
A question that gets posed all the time is "what has been the most embarrassing punishment for you?" Murr responded that we haven't seen it yet. It's actually featured in the Impractical Jokers movie coming out next year. According to him, it's more embarrassing than when he did squats in front of Danica McKellar from The Wonder Years.
Going into season 8 of Impractical Jokers there's a lot to look forward to and part of that excitement is a punishment that has been in the works for 2 years now. It was hoped that they were able to squeeze it into season 7 but sadly ran out of time. He says that it will be the greatest punishment in show history. A little spoiler is when Sal was strung along for a year and had to testify to homeland security. That's an example of something bad happening in one of their lives for a year that wasn't real. Besides that, something amazing happens in one of the guys' lives too but it ends up not being real. What a bummer right? A true tease.
To wrap this up, Murr chatted a little bit about the Impractical Jokers movie coming out in June 2019. "It's funny as hell. It is a cross-country, hidden camera movie. There's a narrative, beginning and end. It kind of sets us on THE JOURNEY of the movie and gives us a reason to travel across America competing in hidden camera challenges. The challenges are bigger, crazier, insane, personal. There are multiple mini punishments throughout the movie, so as opposed to an Impractical Jokers episode where you get one punishment at the end, you'll have mini punishments throughout the whole movie and one grand-finale punishment of course that will blow your mind."
"Awakened" is out in bookstores now and be sure to catch up on Impractical Jokers on demand or via the truTV app before season 8 premieres next year.
Follow Murr on his social media pages:
Photo credit: HarperCollins.com