Six things I learned from Impractical Jokers

About a month ago, I was in Minnesota, visiting family. And as we always do together, we watched television–which isn’t something I do much of these days (at least not “actual” TV).

One of the shows I’d only heard of, but had never seen before, was Impractical Jokers. And while it took me a few episodes to form an appreciation, I’ve learned to love it for many reasons.

The premise of the show is easy to understand: Four long-time friends convince each other to say and do really dumb, humiliating, and sometimes rude things in public. The show is set up like a competition, where you win if you complete your task, lose if you don’t, and whoever loses the most in an episode needs to complete a “punishment” that’s usually build to be as humiliating as possible.

GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE

In my experience, I find the more I rely on my comfort zone, the more likely I’m to find myself trapped in the death grip of apathy, then swallowed whole. It’s a terrible feeling.

And while your comfort zone isn’t bad, the hard part is figuring out how to avoid being too reliant on it and how to make it bigger a little bit at a time.

The Jokers do this for the majority of every episode. They’ll walk up to someone they’ve never met and start a random conversation. Or they’ll wear something embarrassing in public. Sometimes they’ll just do something dumb, hoping that someone says something. All of those things are incredibly difficult and scary, especially if you have little-to-no experience doing them.

Working in retail, I’ve found many little opportunities to do this, from starting small talk with a customer, to waving people into the store when they stare inside from the street (which happens a lot). I’m a long ways from pretending I know a complete stranger from somewhere, but maybe I’ll get there in time.

IT’S OKAY TO GIVE UP

Even though the Jokers are skilled at personal interaction, they all have limits as to what they will and will not do/say, and the lengths they’re willing to go to get there. Often, they’ll feel too uncomfortable to make comments about a woman’s appearance, or to comment to a couple about their sex life. Once in a while, they just flat-out refuse to be rude to someone who’s been nothing but pleasant.

They frequently play one game where someone is talking to a person/group and the others are watching from afar, feeding lines/directions via earpiece, and if the current Joker doesn’t follow orders, he loses. The guys know each other’s limits, and they are always challenging each other, testing those limits.

But it’s good to have limits. And while it’s also good to have a hill you’re willing to die on (just avoid having too many of those), knowing when to quit is a skill worth having. I’ve given up on a lot of things, such as: Freelance writing, a ton of books (including every piece of fiction I’ve ever written), law school aspirations, a lot of potential hobbies, and a handful of blogs.

And I’ve never regretted quitting any of those. In fact, I’ve regretted “doing” more often than “quitting”.

REJECTION HAPPENS

Rejection sucks. It sucks to be rejected from a job opportunity. It sucks to be rejected by a woman you’re into. It sucks to be rejected by a potential customer. And just the risk of rejection is one of the most difficult things I’ve faced.

One of the games the Jokers play is to offer a free service–such as massages or palm readings–make the experience as uncomfortable as possible, and ask for a tip afterward. And while they get the tip sometimes, there are a lot of instances where someone is so annoyed, they wouldn’t even consider tipping, granting immediate rejection.

Or even more immediate, the show sometimes pieces together clips of one of the guys trying desperately to get people to talk to him during a challenge, and folks repeatedly walk by, ignoring him. Sometimes, rejection just sprouts up non-stop when you’re simply want to be noticed. Persistence usually pays off in those instances.

I had a friend in college who insisted that asking women out was easy, and rejection wasn’t a big deal. Years later, I still envy that mindset. Rejection is hard all the time. I’m getting better at pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone, but when there’s rejection waiting on the other side, it scares the hell out of me.

FRIENDS MAKE LIFE EASIER

I’m not someone who keeps a ton of friends. I’m no longer in touch with friends I made in elementary school, high school, and college. My friend list is like a rotating bench of folks that I’ve met through work, other friends, common interests, and the internet. And that bench is relatively small. Of course, I’m grateful all the same for the positive people in my life.

The Jokers, on the other hand, have known each other since high school. They know the limits the others are willing to go. They know each other’s fears, likes, and dislikes.

But their support for one another shows up best when they do a team challenge. Sometimes, they’ll pair off and give presentations to work groups, investors, or average folks. And usually, those presentations are written by the guys in the other group. So, facing unknown challenges, one pair of Jokers need to figure out what’s happening and work together to keep the innocent spectators focused and interested. Which is a task that’s much easier when you know the person you’re working with.

HUMILIATION LEADS TO HUMILITY

The “punishments” for each episode’s loser are rather brutal. Especially in the earlier episodes, they often tap into something personal that will make the experience all the more impactful. One of the Jokers had to take a lie detector test in front of the students at his old school. Another guy–deathly afraid of cats–had to sit in a cage of cats during a presentation at an animal shelter. Another punishment found someone giving the “the birds and the bees” talk to his parents.

The thing about humiliation is that it’s often a humbling experience. And while a lot of people praise humility and stress its importance, you rarely see concrete paths to get to that point.

Impractical Jokers figured it out, though. By embarrassing and humiliating someone (from a place of love and respect), it gives them a change to develop humility. Because (referencing the clip below) maybe you’ve watched your neighbor get undressed in front of her window, and maybe that’s even something you regret.  But having that knowledge put out there in front of a crowd (and TV viewership) is a completely different situation, than knowledge confined to your head.

LAUGHTER IS HEALTHY

One of the first thing you’ll notice when watching the show is that these guys laugh. A lot. Often when they’re not supposed to.

When one of their friends says something really dumb? They laugh. When a person reacts in an unexpected way? They laugh. When they’re giving a presentation and something really odd pops up on screen? They laugh. I haven’t timed anything, but it wouldn’t be surprising if half the dialogue in any given episode is just laughter.

We learn to laugh before we learn to talk, but once we learn to talk, we start to cut back on laughter. The common belief is that children laugh hundreds of times a day and adults barely crack two digits, if that. And I’m not sure if there are hard numbers on that, but from my own experience, it feels true. Adults have a tendency to be angry, and they complain a lot. Children complain too, but they gravitate toward fun and excitement. Most adults gravitate toward seriousness.

What are the downsides of laughter? If you’re laughing at an inappropriate time (such as a funeral), there are probably social implications, but in terms of health? Nothing.

So laugh. As much as possible. I try to do it every day before leaving the house and every night before bed. And it feels great.

And out of all the things Impractical Jokers has taught me, frequent laughter is the most important.