Sal Vulcano on Making Season 9 of 'Impractical Jokers' COVID-Safe — and His 'Regal' New Name

"They changed my identity," the comedian says of an ongoing gag

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

Sal Vulcano is getting the royal treatment — with an Impractical twist.

The comedian, one of four stars of the TruTV hit Impractical Jokers, is at the center of an ongoing gag on the new season of the hidden-camera series, which kicks off on Thursday.

"They changed my identity," Vulcano tells PEOPLE of his childhood friends and costars James Murray, Brian Quinn and Joe Gatto. "They made me rename myself Prince Herb. They're changing my name on the credits and they made me get two cubic zirconia earrings in each ear. Basically, they made me into this big cornball."

"When I do standup shows and even when I go to Starbucks to get a coffee, they want me to put my name as Prince Herb. It's very regal," he adds. (No, he did not change his name legally; yes, there will be a billboard in Times Square identifying him as Prince Herb.)

The joke is one of many ways the quartet — who have been friends since their high school days growing up on Staten Island, New York, — have adapted Impractical Jokers for the pandemic era.

In previous seasons, much of the show's comedy has stemmed from social distance-defying approaches to strangers. With personal space invasions now ruled out, the cast, crew and writers had to re-strategize.

Impractical Jokers
Impractical Jokers, Season 9. Courtesy TruTV

"We got really creative," says Vulcano, 44. "No longer are we just going up to people on the streets or parks or supermarkets. Instead, we would rent a whole location and then film there over an entire week. Everyone there was screened and tested. We did our first bit over Zoom. And we did a bit in a music studio where we're the producers on one end, and the mark is behind the glass in the other room. So I think it should feel pretty seamless. It's a big credit to our team and our staff."

With standup and touring shut down during the pandemic, Vulcano has also funneled his comedy into two new podcasts: Sal Vulcano and Joe DeRosa Are Taste Buds and Hey Babe!.

"I grew up listening to Howard Stern and watching [David] Letterman," he says. "I was like, 'If I can't go on the road and I can't get up in front of a crowd, at least I can still laugh with friends.' So I have one or two of my friends in my personal bubble, and we record the podcasts right at my house."

"Taste Buds is a food debate show and Hey Babe! is just kind of anything and everything," he explains. "People are responding to stuff like that more than ever now, because everybody needs an outlet."

As for how his fellow Jokers have fared during lockdown, newlywed Murray "lives on a lot of land. What we call the country," Vulcano says with a laugh. "Whenever we call, he's like, on a hike. Or in his pool. He was in the pool in November! He seems like he's on constant vacation over there."

Gatto, meanwhile, "keeps adopting dogs," says Vulcano. "He is up to nine. We were talking the other day, and we might be doing this bit where Joe has to wake up every day of the week at 3 in the morning and livestream himself. And the biggest hurdle we had was, 'What are we going to do about his dogs?' Because as soon as he gets up, they start barking."

"They love this man so much that when he gets up to go to another room, nine of them follow," he adds. "I was thinking about getting a dog myself, but just one!"

Season 9 of Impractical Jokers debuts on TruTV Thursday at 10 p.m. ET.

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