I recently read an interesting article about the TV show “Impractical Jokers”, and what entrepreneurs can learn about teamwork from it. If you haven’t seen it before, it’s a reality show about four close lifelong friends, who know each others’ fears and insecurities like the back of their own hands. The basic setup: one guy goes out wearing an earpiece while his three buddies hang back, watching him on a TV screen and feeding him instructions through a microphone. From its beginnings as a modest screwball comedy it’s become a mainstream phenomenon currently on its sixth season. The four friends are members of their own comedy troupe, the “Tenderloins”, who plan on sticking around long after Practical Jokers is off the air. They already have a successful touring business.
Whether it’s in their show or onstage, the Tenderloins are amazing at working together as a team. This is hard for a lot of people to do, and it’s a lesson that entrepreneurs would be wise to learn. These four guys, now in their 40s, have known each other for 26 years, meeting through the improv troupe at their all-boy’s Catholic high school in Staten Island. In their early 20s, they formed the Tenderloins together, and spent the next 10 years auditioning, not being able to figure out the right format for their comedy. In 2010, they developed the format for “Impractical Jokers” by taking the concept of hidden-camera prank shows and flipping the format, where the people being pranked were always in on the joke. Since the Tenderloins knew each other so well, their chemistry and comedy would be organic. And if anybody feels uncomfortable about saying something, then they don’t have to. The Tenderloins’ lifelong friendship creates a style reminiscent of our own friendships, and allows the audience to feel like a part of the “group”.
The four of them oversee all aspects of the show, although they made a point to not have a set leader. While this means egos could clash and make sessions nonproductive, all of the members had experience with improv, which taught them how to operate as a single unit. Of course, building a company with friends or family can often create strain, yet the Tenderloins have retained their friendship against all odds. Yet complications have plagued the Tenderloins since the beginning, whether that was due to balancing their day jobs before Impractical Jokers took off or navigating the inevitable blowups.
Company leaders will often insist that their business is broader and more abstract than what it appears to be. While this is a way to make your company sound more impressive than it actually is, it’s also a vision for the company’s future that represents its fundamental core. Look at the Tenderloins; they call themselves a “creative force for hire”, betraying the scope of their work. Each one of them has their own ambitions as well, whether that’s writing thrillers, hosting podcasts or doing their own standup. Nonetheless, the title “creative force for hire” gives the Tenderloins a purpose beyond their TV show. The main idea behind building a team is to create an overall vision that can be built upon, something that the Tenderloins have been able to accomplish.