Many people know James Murray as “Murr” from Impractical Jokers, but he’s tackling serious horror / sci-fi in his upcoming book, Awakened, due out on June 26th. Ahead of the book's release, I caught up with James to talk about his favorite movies, starting Awakened 14 years ago, teaming up with Darren Wearmouth, and the Awakened Experience taking place in New York City:
You’re obviously well-known for your comedy work, but it sounds like you’ve always had a love of horror and sci-fi. What are some of your favorites and what did you watch growing up?
James Murray: I was obsessed with Alien and Aliens, of course, and The Terminator and Terminator 2—that’s one of the only movies that are better than the original. I would argue that Superman 2 is better than Superman as well, but hey. Event Horizon is one of my favorite movies.
It’s so under-appreciated. It's such a great movie, isn't it?
James Murray: It really is. It is scary as hell man, when you go back and watch it. It is terrifying.
It's like Hellraiser in space. We were just talking about it recently on our podcast.
James Murray: It really is, that's the perfect comparison, you're exactly right. The first Ring movie when it came out also blew my mind. When she crawled out of the TV… man that is one of the scariest things I've ever seen. I was obsessed with A Nightmare on Elm Street and I think The Descent is one of the best horror movies ever made. I draw inspiration from all these things. Bits and pieces from all those movies were put into this book. The book really reads like a movie or a screenplay.
You’re super busy with Impractical Jokers and everything related to it. How long have you been working on Awakened?
James Murray: The story of the book is actually a pretty cool one. I've always been obsessed with horror films and thrillers, but I used to make short films. The first short film I ever made was called Subway. It was a monster story that takes place on the subway of New York City, which is ironically where this book is placed, too. I've always been obsessed with altered evolution underground, how little we know about our planet. So, the first short film I ever made in 2001 was a film called Subway, and it actually did really well. It got into a lot of film festivals, it's kind of a cool little twisted monster movie in the subways of New York City. I've always been obsessed with this idea and so I wrote the book 14 years ago. I spent a year of my life writing it.
It was the hardest I've ever worked on as a single project, no joke. I spent a year writing it, and polishing, getting it into great shape, and it really is a very fast-paced, cliffhanger kind of thriller and horror story. I wasn't on TV, I had no connections, I didn't have a cousin or anything like that. So, I sent it out, I sent out my career letters and the manuscripts to every publisher out there. I sent it out to every literary agent out there. And it got returned to me, unopened, by every single one. I literally sent probably 100 career letters out and manuscripts out that returned to me unopened by every single place, because I didn't have representation.
Fast forward 14 years later, of course now we have Impractical Jokers, which has a huge fanbase. So, I sent it to Harper Collins, they bought it the following Monday. Like one business day later, they bought it. And it is a trilogy, which is really cool. This has always been a passion project of mine. It started as a dare. My friend said, "I dare you to write a short story." I said, "All right," so I wrote a short story about this very creepy—it's actually a chapter in the book.
It's a very creepy little tale about two cops walking to the subway tunnel and they hear a voice from down in a hole. And they go down to those floors, it's a voice of a little girl through a walkie talkie that one of the cops drops into a hole. Turns out, it's not a little girl at the bottom of the hole, it's something far more dangerous. It was a very cool little short story. I sent it to my friend and he called me back like 20 minutes later and he goes, "You have to write the book around this story. This is such a cool horror tale." I thought about it, and I was like, "He's right." And I wrote the book around this chapter. And that chapter remains untouched, 14 years ago in the book.
That's incredible. Now, how did you get together with Darren? How did that process work creatively with you guys?
James Murray: As you mentioned, we're really busy these days, so when I sold to Harper Collins, they said we needed to polish it up. I just quite frankly didn't have the time to polish it. So they suggested I bring in somebody that already has really good, strong credits in writing thrillers and horrors. They had me interview probably a dozen different writers, and Darren and I immediately clicked. He's a mega Jokers fan, he's from the UK, he's charming, and he's just a good, nice guy. We immediately clicked creatively.
We have very complementary skill sets, too. He's excellent at character work and description, and I'm very good at pace and dialogue. But he's a best-selling author in horror. So we clicked immediately, we liked the same things, we bonded over The Matrix and Terminator and all those things I mentioned to you earlier. We bonded over all of these things and just went on and on about conspiracy theories and horror and everything. He took to the book very quickly, and it's honestly just been a really good partnership. Now we're writing a trilogy together.
That sounds like it's a really good process. I also know that there's an Awakened Experience, which I want to tell our readers about. You guys teamed up with the Blood Manor crew. What are you going to have going on over there?
James Murray: In the beginning of the book, there’s a subway car that rolls into the pavilion underwater—a brand new subway line they built in New York City. When it rolls into the pavilion, all the windows are shattered outward. The cars are covered in blood, all the passengers are missing.
So, this subway car is a really great visual set piece. And the subway goes down, it's torn to shreds, the creature has burst up through a hole in the subway tracks and torn apart the railroad tiles and tracks. That's a really cool set piece as well. And the third set piece—you have to see it to believe it—is the creature's nest itself, which is another world, an altered evolution underground. It's kind of like when Ripley goes to the Queen Alien.
What I wanted to do was create an experience where fans get to go through those three set pieces. We're building the subway car, we're building the subway tunnel where the creatures burst up into it, and we're building the nest, and you have to go through each one almost like a haunted house. I partnered with Blood Manor, they're good friends of our at Jokers and they're building it. The set pieces, they're terrifying and you'll be scared shitless when you go through it by the end.
When can fans expect the next two books in the series? Will we see the second book next year?
James Murray: Yeah, every summer for the next three years there'll be a new Awakened book coming out.
Awakened the Book: "On June 26, 2018, Harper Voyager is thrilled to publish AWAKENED, written by James S. Murray—better known as “Murr” of truTV’s immensely popular Impractical Jokers program—and veteran sci-fi and horror writer Darren Wearmouth. This thrilling new novel, years in the making, is the launch of a series in the vein of Guillermo Del Toro’s The Strain, set in New York City, in which a beautiful new subway system unearths an ancient dark horror...bent on the city’s utter destruction.
With the release of AWAKENED, the world will see a new side of Murr. There’s more than meets the eye to the comedy sensation, starting with the fact that he came up with the inspiration for AWAKENED while in college at Georgetown University, where he majored in English and Marketing. As a member of the Tenderloins Comedy Troupe, Murr and his fellow Impractical Jokers have been selling out arenas such as Madison Square Garden and 5 sold out shows at the O2 Arena in London (an accomplishment only a handful of comedians can claim!)—but he’s also an avid reader, and an aficionado of horror and sci-fi."
Synopsis: "After years of waiting, New York's newest subway line is finally ready, an express train that connects the city with the burgeoning communities across the Hudson River. The shining jewel of this state-of-the-art line is a breathtaking visitors’ pavilion beneath the river. Major dignitaries, including New York City’s Mayor and the President of the United States, are in attendance for the inaugural run, as the first train slowly pulls in.
Under the station’s bright ceiling lights, the shiny silver cars gleam. But as the train comes closer into view, a far different scene becomes visible.
All the train’s cars are empty.
All the cars’ interiors are drenched in blood.
As chaos descends, all those in the pavilion scramble to get out. But the horror is only beginning. High levels of deadly methane fill the tunnels. The structure begins to flood. For those who don’t drown, choke or spark an explosion, another terrifying danger awaits—the thing that killed all those people on the train. It’s out there…and it’s coming.
There's something living beneath New York City, and it's not happy we've woken it up."
Awakened: The Experience: "NEW YORK, NY – Have you ever wondered what might happen if your creepiest nightmare was real and living in secret methane-filled caverns deep underneath the heart of New York City? This June 22, 23, & 24 step into the twisted minds of James “Murr” Murray (Impractical Jokers) and bestselling science fiction author Darren Wearmouth and dare to enter AWAKENED: THE EXPERIENCE!
AWAKENED: THE EXPERIENCE literally takes you into the heart of the most terrifying scenes of the new HarperCollins thriller AWAKENED… it’s a room-by-room tour of the pulse-pounding sounds and set-pieces curated by the scare masters from Blood Manor:
- Dare to make your way through the shocking SUBWAY CARS:
“Blood smothered the interior. The walls. The ceiling. The seats. The floor. Everywhere. A crimson handprint on the opposite side of the car extended into four finger lines and stopped at a set of doors.” *excerpt from Awakened
- Escape through the claustrophobic TUNNELS:
“The walls widened into a tunnel…Debris littered the ground…It was like a museum had exploded down here.” *excerpt from Awakened
- Survive the terrifying creatures’ NEST:
“Down that way is a huge cavern, bigger than anything I’ve ever seen, and it’s full of them. Captain, I think we’ve stumbled on their nest.” *excerpt from Awakened
The set pieces from AWAKENED: THE EXPERIENCE are currently being built at a factory in Ohio and will be trucked halfway across the country just in time for fans to have the thrill of a lifetime…
For one weekend only, this is your chance to experience the book come to life, not to mention a close encounter with the authors. Everyone who enters gets a personalized, autographed copy of the novel as well as a meet and greet and photo op with Murr and Darren. Produced and designed by the thrill masters of NYC’s premiere haunted attraction Blood Manor, AWAKENED: THE EXPERIENCE cannot be missed!
AWAKENED: THE EXPERIENCE runs Friday, June 22nd 7pm-10pm; Saturday, June 23rd 5pm-10pm and Sunday, June 24th 3pm-8pm at 139 Charles Street, New York City.
AWAKENED will be released by HarperCollins in bookstores across the country this June 26, 2018 and is available in print, ebook, or audiobook--narrated by Murr himself!
Dare to enter AWAKENED: THE EXPERIENCE. Go to www.awakenednovel.com to get your tickets today!"