By: Leah Sobon
“The funniest comedians in the world are in firehouses,” says Brian Quinn. Let’s face it, a firehouse is a breeding ground for friendly humor and practical jokes. Having a joke played on you means you’re part of the family, you’ve made the cut, and you now have a cool story about how you lost your eyebrows.
Practical joking has been around as long as humans have. We’re great observers and can often see weaknesses in others, opening the door for a practical joke or two. Spiders wouldn’t be nearly as popular, for example, without all the attention they get in practical jokes. The same goes for water balloons, shaving cream, itch powder and laxatives. But like all things that bring joy to everyone but the subject, a practical joke can easily cross a line. The trick is knowing how to make everyone laugh, including the subject of the joke.
Enter funny guy, practical joker and retired firefighter, Brian Quinn. If there is one guy in the room who knows about the power of laughter, it’s him. Creator and one of the hosts of the TV show Impractical Jokers, Quinn looks back on his time as a firefighter with pride and great memories of all the fun he and his crew had together. Entering the profession shortly after 9/11, Quinn and those in his academy class were in a unique role.
“We were part of a rebuilding,” he recalls. “The firehouses then were heartbroken. Your job was to get out there and bring life to the firehouse. Go in there and form the hockey teams. This is part of what was lost in 9/11 – the culture. Things the public didn’t see. It was a unique time to be in the department because you still had so many 9/11 guys. Firehouses were like a wake. Everyone knew someone who died.”
Quinn looks back fondly at his time as a firefighter and speaks highly of how important that job was to him. “My takeaway from the job is this: I worked with the greatest guys and had the best time of my life, being a part of something bigger and more important than me. None of it is sad or negative. It was an honor to do it and be a part of it,” says Quinn. “I was 28 when I got on and I was the old guy. I was called the old man. It was hysterical to the 22-year-old kids. I still love those guys.”
Quinn knows all about the value of humor in the firehouse. “You need to rally around each other and find ways to laugh,” he says. “If you go to the firehouse and no one calls you an asshole in the first half hour, that means someone is mad at you.”
And humor is what Quinn does exceptionally well. With nine seasons of Impractical Jokers under his belt and almost eight years of service as a firefighter in New York, Quinn knows that every firehouse is a perfect recipe for a great practical joke.
“I grew up loving Ghostbusters (they lived in a firehouse) and that’s what got me interested in the service. I grew up on Staten island which is a pretty unique place. My dad worked for the transit authority. Over half the people I know were cops (and many of my friends were cops), firemen, bus drivers, train drivers or mafia,” jokes Quinn, who attributes some of his passion for the job to family members who are also firefighters.
We asked this humor expert: since we aren’t all professional comedians, is there such a thing as taking a joke too far in the firehouse?
Quinn emphasizes that you need to ask yourself a few questions first, such as: how well do you know your audience? Is the joke off color? Will the joke offend more than it entertains? These are great barometers to consult when dreaming up and delivering your joke. The more you know about your target audience, the better the joke will be received.
When we become firefighters, most of us are planning to stick around for a long time. If a good joke is what keeps the spirit alive at work, be a good sport and share in the moment so you can all have a laugh together. Joking around helps build camaraderie and fosters a team environment. Creating bonds through humor strengthens relationships at the firehouse and makes the job fun, helping to drown out some of the sad and the bad.
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