Impractical Joker James S. Murray on Debut Novel: "Awakened"
No, this isn't a prank. James S. Murray—"Murr" of Impractical Jokers fame—has written a novel. If you are unfamiliar with the man and his hijinks, TruTV runs the show pretty much round the clock. It involves a group of life-long friends feeding one another direction as they interact with the unsuspecting public. Basically, it's a hidden camera show of improvisational one-upmanship.
Co-written with veteran author Darren Wearmouth, the sci-fi creature feature Awakened is already a best-seller. This sudden literary detour may come as a surprise to some of his fans, but writing has long been a passion for Murray, and the novel pre-dates Jokers by a good six or seven years. It tells the story of an ancient horror sleeping beneath the city of New York, roused by a pesky subway expansion. Murray was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding the genesis of his long-gestating debut.
What came first? Your love of writing or your love of comedy? Did you ever imagine a world in which you'd get to do both for a living?
Truly, what came FIRST was the Big Bang. Nine months later, my parents had me (see what I did there?). So comedy was my first love. I have always gotten a huge rush from making people laugh. Along the way, I fell in love with horror, and creative writing. All three are intertwined for me – it’s all just creative expression and imagination. And yes – I predicted perfectly that I would one day do both for a living!
Who's this Wearmouth character? Did you get saddled with a co-author because the publisher was wary of you being a "celebrity”?*
I wrote Awakened 14 years ago, long before Jokers. After a year of writing it, I sent the completed book out to every publisher in town, and it got returned to me unopened…because I was just some punk from the streets. (Editor’s Note – I am neither from the streets nor a punk, nor the “editor”.) The point is this – I had no way to break into the business. Until Impractical Jokers and our unbelievable fans. This time around, Harper Collins bought the trilogy from me and asked me to polish the book up. But with all the time I spend on TV getting my nipples pierced or my eyebrows shaved off, I knew I needed to partner with a great writer to help me whip the book into shape. I interviewed lots of bestselling authors, and immediately hit it off with that lovely, charming, handsome British co-writer of mine, Darren Wearmouth. It really has been an absolute pleasure working with him. We like the same things, create really well together and have very complimentary skill sets as writers. He can also drink me under the table.
How did he contribute and what was your process together?
It was an interesting process for a few reasons. First – we were working off of a complete manuscript that was already in pretty good shape. Second – we live 6,000 miles apart. Despite that, our workflow was pretty seamless. Darren would polish one of my chapters and send it back to me. I’d polish that in turn, so on and so forth. We’d riff on ideas over Facetime, and the guys and I were on tour in the UK a few times last year, so Darren and I actually got to work together face to face more than we thought we would.
The press release says this novel was years in the making. Can you give us a rundown of the timeline?
1976 – My parents’ Big Bang
1998 – I graduate with a degree in English from Georgetown University, hoping one day to write a novel (or at least move out of my parents’ house in Staten Island)
2004 – I come up with the story of Awakened – a tense, action-packed thriller about the terrifying truth of what’s underneath New York City, and spend a year writing it, day in and day out
2007 – the “Leave Britney Alone” video comes out
2017 – Harper Collins buys the trilogy for Awakened and I option the TV rights to IDW Comics
2018 – Awakened debuts as a bestseller and I finally can move out of my parents’ house
People love a continuing story. Was the goal from the outset for this to be a series?
Yes, I always imagined Awakened would be a trilogy and our characters would have to deal with the ramifications and realizations from Book 1. This book is the tale of a very specific thrilling event in New York City, but the world of Awakened is much, much bigger. Similar to the Cloverfield universe, we’re building an entire horror brand that might include prequels, standalone stories, TV shows, movies, graphic novels and more.
Are the rest of the Jokers jealous? Do you think this will push them to write their own, competing novels?
If anyone is jealous, it’s me...jealous of all the hair they still have.
You are a New Yorker, born and raised (although those of us in the other boroughs consider Staten Island to be the runt of the litter). This is a very New York story. How has the city influenced your storytelling? And do you still think an updated NYC subway system is a good idea? (Because boy, do we need one.)
You know that persistent anxiety and paranoia you feel as a New Yorker? That constant nervous energy, that never-ending heat rising from the depths of who-knows-what below your feet, that claustrophobia on the 4/5 train at rush hour, the fear of being in a subway car alone late at night when the power goes out? How about the pride you feel to be a New Yorker, knowing that we don’t put up with shit, we don’t take it from bullies, we come together, we fight back and rise up? Awakened can only exist in this world.
And yes – please please update the subway! But at least we got that WiFi now!
*Just kidding! Totally aware of his pedigree.
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