'Impractical Jokers' Stars Say 'It Was Tough' Filming First Season Without Joe Gatto: 'He's Our Boy'

James "Murr" Murray, Sal Vulcano, and Brian "Q" Quinn tell PEOPLE about filming season 9 of the truTV hidden camera series, which premieres a supersized sneak peek episode on Saturday

Impractical Jokers
The cast of Impractical Jokers with Eric André. Photo: Ryan Muir truTV

The Impractical Jokers are ready to bring the laughs in season 9.

James "Murr" Murray, Sal Vulcano, and Brian "Q" Quinn tell PEOPLE they are beyond "excited" for the return of their popular truTV hidden camera series, which premieres a sneak peek episode on Saturday night after the NCAA Final Four men's basketball games.

However, the new season will surely be a bittersweet one as it marks the first one without their longtime friend and castmate, Joe Gatto.

"We're doing the show together [for] almost 10 years, we're friends [for] 30 years so it was tough to lose him," Vulcano says. "We didn't want to see him go, but we had to give him his space ... We miss him and we love him, we still talk to him all the time."

"He's our boy," adds Quinn. "We love him. He's our guy. It's just, he wanted to leave so what are you going to do?"

Gatto announced his departure from the series in January. At the time, he explained he was stepping away after a decade "due to some issues in my personal life." Despite his exit, the men have remained close and even continue their antics when the cameras aren't rolling.

Recalling a recent dinner they all attended, Vulcano says he went to the bathroom before the check came and when he returned, the three others had ditched him — with the $600 bill.

"I had never peeled out of a parking lot so fast in my life as [I did] that day," Murray jokes.

"I actually said to Joe, 'You don't want to say goodbye to Sal?' " Quinn notes. "He goes, 'What are you talking about? Let's get out of here! This is hysterical!' "

Recalls Vulcano: "I ran out to the lot because it was almost like at the end of Usual Suspects where everything was coming together. I'm like, 'Wait, where are they?' I was like, 'Oh, they're joking. They're going to come out and laugh in a moment.' Then when I sat with the bill alone for two minutes, I was like, 'Let me run out to the parking lot,' and all the cars were gone. I was like, 'Alright, touché.' "

"[Murray] paid me back but [Quinn] didn't and Joe didn't!" he adds.

Antics aside, when the three guys finally returned to film Impractical Jokers, Vulcano admits "we did not know what it was going to be like when we came back without him."

Due to the support of their loyal crew members, "we just fell back into our roles," Vulcano shares. "We're here to make a comedy, so if we can't get on set and be in good spirit and start laughing then what are we doing? We just focused up."

"Also, the exercise of reinventing the show really gave us a fresh palette and we just grabbed that and ran with it," he adds.

Impractical Jokers
From left: James "Murr" Murray, Sal Vulcano, Joe Gatto and Brian "Q" Quinn. Courtesy TruTV

Part of that reinvention includes having every new episode conclude with a celebrity guest as part of the final punishment. The first celebrity set to guest-star on the series is actor and comedian Eric André.

"Normally in a half-hour, with commercials, [the show] is 21 minutes. They're putting on the full 30 minutes [on Saturday]," Vulcano explains. "Eric André is just a character unto himself. We came out of the gate swinging with that."

"The punishment on the first one is a huge one. I think there were something like 40 to 50 people involved in it," he continues. "It's really out there. It was insanely difficult to do. Just out of the gate, I'm excited for [fans] to see the first one back. It'll set the tone, hopefully."

From there, the guest lineup features Rob Riggle, Colin Jost, Chris Jericho, Method Man, Brooke Shields, Adam Pally, David Cross, Jon Gabrus and Jillian Bell, among others.

Impractical Jokers
The cast of Impractical Jokers with Chris Jericho. Ryan Muir truTV

"[Shields] is so vastly underrated, her comedic skills," Quinn says of the actress. "She killed us. Killed. We had David Cross and we were dying and then we had Brooke Shields come in and she was killing on a David Cross level... It was nuts, man. We've been having a lot of fun with people."

"For the most part, we wanted to make it organic to us," Vulcano explains. "We have relationships with a lot of the guests that came on so far. It's been really, really fun. We weren't just pulling names. We wanted to have people that we were interested in, that would be a unique guest to our show."

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Filming the episodes was also a challenge due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

"When it first happened, we were like, 'How do we even make our show in these times?' because we have to follow the rules," Quinn explains. "But our team, we've been doing this a long time at this point. Our team, and us, we figured it out."

Adds Murray: "The biggest challenge to us is to come up with creative ways to do new challenges and punishments. That's always been the test for us. When you go almost 300 episodes, you have to constantly reinvent the show. It was just another hurdle to overcome to keep the show fresh and original."

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While season 9 will be unique in comparison to other seasons, the guys also agree that the show will have the same charisma and charm that has made Impractical Jokers so beloved for over a decade.

"Our show is just [meant to] unwind, unplug, watch," Vulcano says. "That's what we've always done, preached, and that's our wheelhouse. We like to be the show that you can watch no matter what the hell's going on because it's such a s—show. The world is a s—show. We're trying to be escapism."

"We still have a blast at work," Murray shares. "And we do it together, which is fun."

Adds Quinn: "One thing that I will say about doing this with your friends is, there is a constant looking at each other daily, being like, 'This is still crazy that we get to do this.' ... it just doesn't get old, man."

The supersized season 9 sneak-peek episode of Impractical Jokers premieres in a first-time block across TBS, TNT and truTV on Saturday, directly after the NCAA Men's Final Four game. The show will then officially return to truTV with new episodes on June 16 at 10 p.m. ET.

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