The Misery Index producers tell how the show is so terribly awesome

A scene from TBS' new game show The Misery Index, airing Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT. Photo Credit: Courtesy of TBS.
A scene from TBS' new game show The Misery Index, airing Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT. Photo Credit: Courtesy of TBS. /

The Misery Index is the most uproarious game show in decades, and Ben and Dan Newmark told us what it’s like to make TV with the Impractical Jokers.

The Misery Index has done the impossible: made the terrible, terribly awesome. The TBS game show encourages viewers to laugh at other people’s pain, and cheer on contestants who make money doing it.

And it works—because producers Dan and Ben Newmark get us to look at the absurd parts of life’s most difficult moments, and because they recruited the stars of TruTV‘s Impractical Jokers, who have built a career out of making us laugh till we cry.

Hidden Remote spoke to Ben and Dan about how they crafted The Misery Index, how they keep it from getting too dark, and what it’s really like when you’re making a TV series with Jameela Jamil and the guys from Impractical Jokers.

Find out what they had to say below, then tune in to a new episode of The Misery Index tonight on TBS at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT.

Hidden Remote: The Misery Index is based on Andy Breckman’s game S–t Happens. How did you transform that into a game show?

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Ben Newmark: We found the card game, ordered it on Kickstarter, and realized we could blow this up into a big TV show game format. We optioned the rights to that game and then once we created the format—[that] we’re going to make big videos and real-life headlines and that kind of stuff—we said okay, who do we want to be in there? And that’s when the Tenderloins came into play.

HR: The Tenderloins being Sal Vulcano, Brian “Q” Quinn, James “Murr” Murray and Joe Gatto, who are best known for Impractical Jokers. How did you land on them as the stars? What was the process of essentially bringing people from one show into another new show?

Dan Newmark: Once we got to the place where the format was right, the show felt right, [that] was when we started talking about talent. And it was in a meeting at TBS that Kevin Reilly [chief content officer, HBO Max and president TNT, TBS and truTV] threw out this idea of the Tenderloins coming on and being our regular talent.

We all flipped out. We were excited right when the idea came up. But it wasn’t until we actually went to New York and pitched the game with the guys—they actually did a run-through of it with us live, and everyone looked at each other and realized what gold we had for this show. They are the perfect fit, and we knew in that very first run-through that it had to be them and it couldn’t be anyone else.

HR: The Misery Index is special, though, in that it’s not just shoehorning the Tenderloins into a game show. You actually use clips from Impractical Jokers in the game. Is that something we’ll keep seeing?

BN: We are definitely going to continue with that. Miserable, funny things happen to those guys on a weekly basis on that show. It was such a perfect tie-in to our show. What we love about this, and hopefully people do when they watch, is miserable, funny things happen to people every day. So why not laugh about that and why not compare our lives to that? And if the Jokers are doing that on a weekly basis, it just makes so much sense to use one of their clips in our show every week.

The Misery Index
A scene from TBS’ new game show The Misery Index, airing Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT. Photo Credit: Courtesy of TBS. /

HR: And you have Jameela Jamil, who is the absolute perfect host. How did you put her together with them? It feels like a collaboration we should have thought of a long time ago!

DN: We’ve been fans of Jameela for a really long time as an actress and as a host, because she did a lot of hosting over in the UK, and we knew that we needed a strong personality to offset the Jokers. Somebody that could stand in a ring with them and throw comedic punches back and forth, and that’s a tough act. That’s a group of guys that have been doing this together for a really long time.

The greatest thing about Jameela is she’s fearless. She’s done this for so long, and she had no concerns or hesitancy in standing up and throwing comedic blows back and forth with them, and I think that’s why it works so well. We knew we needed somebody that could not only rein everybody in and guide the show, but who could also hold her own against four people, and that takes a lot of anyone to ask. She really did it.

HR: This show could get grim in a hurry, though. What’s the process of sifting through what must be thousands of possible stories and deciding what belongs on The Misery Index?

DN: The research process is tricky. Finding that line is something that we actually pride ourselves in…We want [the show] to feel like a celebration of all our mishaps throughout our lives, so that it never feels mean. We don’t want it to be a show where people are just laughing at mistakes. We wanted it to feel fun and lighthearted and celebratory.

So we came up with a bunch of rules and benchmarks for all different types of material, to make sure that it always felt like everyone could join in on the laughs. When you’re looking at headlines and videos all over the world, we certainly sat through a few sessions that just felt too dark. After that, you just try to find a couple viral videos to make yourself laugh for a little.

BN: We’re such huge fans of the Tenderloins and Jameela, so when the researchers come in to show us funny clips or miserable clips, that’s a really fun process. The biggest thing about those is how we think the Tenderloins and Jameela, are going to react to them and the kind of banter we think is going to come out from them.

We don’t write any of that stuff. All that stuff is improvised. The Tenderloins have no idea what they’re about to see throughout all of the games. Jameela’s never seen it either. So it’s just fun to watch these videos during the pre-production process, and kind of hearing in our heads how we think they’re going to respond.

HR: Do you have favorite funny moments from The Misery Index so far?

DN: My favorite line in the whole show is [from] a part of the format that wasn’t even going to be there! At the end of Round 4, one Tenderloin is with a contestant trying to get money…but then we bring out the rest of the guys to say, where do you feel like this falls? Where do you think this is? Are they too high or too low?

This was the one where the guy got his testicles caught in the Ikea shower stool. They brought the guys back on and they all started guessing. Joe said his guess and Q said his guess, and it went to Sal. They said, what were you thinking backstage? He said backstage I had some grapes. It didn’t make any sense but it’s the thing that made me laugh the hardest.

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The Misery Index airs Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on TBS.