Every week in Second Listen, Frank Macarthy looks back at lesser-loved albums from well-loved bands’ discographies.
“Can I have your name?”
“My name is Jack Tors.”
“And how do you spell the last name?”
Jack Tors. Frank Kissel. Tarbash. Sal Rosenberg. Frank Rizzo. These are not members of some hipster band you never heard of. Nor are they forgotten band mates of some billboard-charting, Grammy award-winning ensemble (although they were nominated for a Grammy). No, these names represent something else altogether. Something more real. Something more attainable. These names symbolize the peak of prank phone calls. These names are the Jerky Boys.
Before caller ID, before cell phones, before giving a shit, the Jerky Boys were the epitome of messing with people. This is what made them so great. They took something so offensive, so crass, so infantile, and somehow made it into something so human and so real. Prank phone calls were in a whole comedy realm of their own, and the Jerky Boys were masters of that realm. Pranksters from the start, both John Brennan and Kamal Ahmed defined a generation of assholes. And The Jerky Boys 2 was their London Calling.
In the late 1970s, John Brennan would lay on the floor in the dark and make prank calls to whoever would pick up their phone. He held a microphone up to the receiver and picked up whatever he could. Speakerphone was a gift. Let me repeat that. Speakerphone was a gift. Nowadays we get pissed off if our phones can’t track every second of our lives. Speakerphone has become an expected commodity. Less than 30 years ago it was a gift. I guess that makes it sound older than it actually is. I blame the ‘90s kids for this (cause I’m definitely not one myself…).
After pulling a Butters Stotch by throwing a fully-dressed mannequin off a building into oncoming traffic, Brennan and Kamal became fast friends. Their quest for rage-induced responses and general public fuckery came to fruition through a record deal with Select Records in the early ‘90s. Before the mass-marketed prank phone calls hit the mainstream, bootlegs of their work leaked all over the country. Stars such as Mariah Carey, Tobey McGuire, Jay-Z, and Seth McFarlane have all admitted to the Jerky Boys’ influence. Maybe you recall an ancillary pharmaceutical enthusiast on Family Guy named Mort Goldberg? Yeah, that’s Sal Rosenberg. Well, technically it’s Brennan.
The Jerky Boy’s first “professionally” produced release (aptly named) The Jerky Boys in 1993 was a huge success. The early ‘90s and prank phone calls went together like deep-fried peanut butter banana sandwiches and bathroom overdoses. Hell, even Radiohead named one of their albums after the nonsensical first track on The Jerky Boys 2 – “Pablo Honey.”
One year after their first success, the Jerky Boys were flarin’ like a pack of hemorrhoids. The ‘90s called and they wanted prank phone calls. The first album may have been a success, but their second album earned them a Grammy nomination. Although it received some sketchy reviews from critics expecting something more than foul-mouthed idiots vying for that extra five seconds of live phone time, The Jerky Boys 2 is more than just a prank phone call collection. It is the anthem of a prank generation. Before Jackass, before Trigger Happy TV, before Punk’d, before Da Ali G Show, The Jerky Boys were the original trolls.
Calls like “Roofing” and “A Little Emergency” represent their finest solo work. But, “Pico’s Mexican Hairpiece” was them at their dualistic best. You can even hear Brennan laughing in the background of “Terrorist Pizza.” These are the tracks that made them more than just foul-mouthed prank callers. There was camaraderie. These tracks made them human and real. They aren’t just voices, they are engrained in their psyches. They belonged to people they knew.
Brennan was always the star, and that’s evident on this album, but Ahmed cannot be dismissed. His seemingly innate ability to keep someone on the phone is something to be strived for (“Pizza Lawyer”). At least, for those of us who still make prank phone calls. He had a subtle absurdity about his calls. And by subtle, I mean the opposite of subtle. How he was able to keep callers on the phone still escapes me.
As much as I want this to be the pitch-perfect review that this album always deserved, there are a few problems. I can tell you from experience that after six hours in a car, one of the most annoying sounds is the ringer of a classic telephone. Especially when it’s 1,000 decibels higher than everything else on the record. But sound quality was never the expectation. Can I shame “Rise Above” for sounding like it was recorded on a cardboard box? No. So, can I shame The Jerky Boys 2 for sounding like a turd? Absolutely not.
This second installment of the six-CD legacy that is the Jerky Boys might be their best. Their feature-length film may have been a (completely undeserved) flop, and Kamal might have left around 2000, but the prime of the Jerky Boys lives on through their first three albums and countless bootlegs. Other pop culture mediums attempted to profit on the Jerky Boys money-draining idea (such as Crank Yankers, the criminally underrated television show that crossed Sesame Street with the Jerky Boys), but failed miserably. The Jerky Boys are our Led Zeppelin of prank phone calls and The Jerky Boys 2 is their Zeppelin 1. And if you don’t like it, I’ll fire you off the fucking roof, sizzlechest.