By Margaret Pepe
Assistant Features Editor
Joe Gatto, star of TruTv’s “Impractical Jokers,” and LIU alumnus, received the Alumni Award during this year’s homecoming festivities.
Gatto graduated in ’98, nearly 20 years ago, and much has changed in that time. Walking into the Pratt Center for the pep rally showed Gatto just how much—from the facilities to the student body. “That was a big change, walking in there, like ‘Holy cow! This place grew up,’” Gatto said. “I felt very at home, and all the students I met had a sense of community, which was awesome.” While much has changed, Gatto said the people never do. “That’s the great thing about Post; it really was like a family.”
Gatto is a comedy idol now, but he was a normal student once, too. He was an Accounting major who graduated in three and a half years. “I was a nerd growing up, so in high school I did a lot of classes that transferred. I didn’t have to take English or math,” he said.
Like some students, Gatto had that one “legendary” professor. “I had a psychology teacher, he was the guy to get for psychology,” Gatto said. “He was a free thinker and didn’t believe in tests. Everybody wanted him because he was just crazy when you were in class with him. There were no wrong answers, and that’s the kind of professor everybody loved. He really connected with students.”
Despite what some people might think, Gatto wasn’t always known as the class clown. “In high school, I didn’t have that many friends at all, and I was bullied; just not popular,” he said. It was two of his three best friends who got him into comedy.
“Sal and Murr and I would have lunch together, and we would always tell jokes and laugh around, and Sal just found me funny.” The friends started doing improvisation in high school and encouraged him to try it out. “And I was like ‘No’, I didn’t have the confidence to do it,” Gatto said. “They made me come to the opening rehearsal, and I went and had a really good routine. People laughed a lot and came up to me after the show and were like ‘You’re really funny’.”
“I was normally just quiet and took school really seriously,” Gatto said. “So when I got to Post my sister was a senior when I was a freshman. When I went there I didn’t really know anybody, and my sister introduced me to people, and I was always her little brother. And then eventually I got really social, and just got funnier and more confident in my comedy.”
While in college, Gatto pulled a 180, and began branching out more. “I just started being my own person; by the time I graduated everybody knew me on campus and when my sister came [to graduation] she was known as my big sister,” he said. “I was involved in Greek Life, and I was an orientation sponsor, and I was the mascot at the football games, so you had to work to really avoid me.”
Gatto credits Post for molding him into the comedian he is today. “This is where I harnessed a lot of my embarrassment comedy,” he said. “I’m not really embarrassed at all, so I would just basically do anything to let people laugh and just not be so serious. I would go to the cafeteria in like a bra and underwear,” Gatto added. “It was all in good fun. And people always thought I was drunk—I’ve never been drunk in my life.”
In three words, Gatto described his time at Post as: defining, fun, and scary. Defining: “There was a lot of defining factors that came out of my time at Post, as far as my personality and my outlook on business in the world.” Fun: “I really had a great time and had a lot of fun with a lot of great friends.” Scary: “When I graduated I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I had the confidence coming out.”
What was it like for Gatto being back? “It really is nostalgic at this point. It’s really just a nice walk in the past, just to see it,” he said. “Everybody at Post seems so excited about their future. It’s like a really different vibe from everywhere else. That’s how it was when I went here too. I really like the whole spirit of being on campus!”
Today, Gatto has nothing but positive things to say about the way his career turned out, being on “Impractical Jokers.”
“I get paid to make my best friends laugh,” he said. “When you do good at work, people are laughing very hard, that’s the goal. It wasn’t easy to get here,” Gatto added, but said that, “It’s crazy that I get to do this with my life.”
For all current students, Gatto offers this bit of advice: “Enjoy it. College is so much more than getting a good GPA. You need to develop emotionally and socially in college; you learn a lot about yourself in your college years. It’s not just about the grades. It’s really about the whole experience. Make the most of it.”