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Here are some reasons to justify why you're reading a Jerky Boys interview in the Music section:
1. You've gotta go to a music store to buy the Boys' CDs.
2. Sometimes, even music writers get sick of hearing music, or, more to the point, they get sick of hearing the tuneless swill record companies send in that the labels swear will be the next Pearl Jam. God, it gets depressing.
4. Radiohead named its last album after the Boys' "Pablo Honey" character.
5. The duo has the only comedy recording, Jerky Boys II, ever to enter Billboard's Heatseeker chart (at No. 12), and it's the funniest album to hold down the No. 1 spot. At least since Counting Crows' last release.
Johnny Brennan and Kamal Ahmed are the two men behind the Jerky Boys, the duo that has raised prank phone calls to, if not an art form, at least one heck of a moneymaker. The albums Jerky Boys I and Jerky Boys II have sold like hot cakes; the latter was the first comedy album to reach No. 1 since the early Sixties. But this isn't merely "have you got Prince Albert in a can" material; the Boys work fairly elaborate sketches with a cast of characters that includes the lovably crude New Yorker Frank Rizzo, the anal-retentive Sol Rosenberg, the all-purpose gay guy Jack Tors, the Egyptian Magician, and the surly curmudgeon Kissel. The Boys have completed an as-yet-untitled film with Alan Arkin, but, in a recent speaker-phone conversation from New York City, the big-hearted lads revealed that they're committed to creating prank-phone-call albums "as long as the fans want them."
New Times: Do either of you remember your first prank phone call?
Johnny B.: Actually, no. Not when I was young. I'm sure I did something silly.
NT: When did you start making them as an adult?
Johnny B.: I was about 24 or 25 when this started. The first one was "Pablo Honey" or the "Auto Mechanic." That first album, it was maybe 12 calls rattled off in minutes. Whatever it took to do. One right after the other. That's what got us where we are today.
NT: How much does being a good prank phone caller simply entail keeping the victim on the line?
Johnny B.: A lot, man. That's where any kind of skill you've got comes in. You have to fuckin' believe in what you're doing, that the character you've created is actually very real. Then this guy or girl will believe it's real also.
NT: Who do you think is more receptive to your calls, men or women?
Johnny B.: Both equally.
NT: How do you know when to wind up a call?
Johnny B.: It depends on how we feel. Sometimes, if the person's really dead air, it makes you work twice as hard and you come up with something twice as good, and you come up with excellent shit in those situations, you know?
NT: In "Sporting Goods" on Jerky Boys II, the woman sounds like she could've gone on longer. You ask her if she's got golf cleats and if someone can put them on and kick you around the store. You can hear she puts you on the speaker phone and . . . Johnny B.: I totally change the topic! I wouldn't give her the satisfaction. She was trying to get me to tell them [her fellow employees] what I asked her, but I wanted them to think that she was going crazy. I wouldn't repeat what I told her, so she got pissed off and hung up.
NT: Have you gotten any negative feedback from gay groups?
Johnny B.: No, man, they love us. We get fan mail up the ass. Tons of it. NT: Do they give you a lot of suggestions?
Johnny B.: Yeah, the gay community, you'd be surprised. They love this shit. It's for everybody. That's 'cause people have a brain and take it lightly. Some people get jealous and then they lash out. A lot of people in the entertainment business get jealous that it isn't them that thought this up. They've been doing something for years and never became successful at it. . . . And if you pay attention to the calls, 90 percent of the time, we're fuckin' with ourselves, putting ourselves down. The only guy who's somewhat abrasive is the Frank Rizzo character.
NT: There's one point where he calls a woman who's obviously a foreigner "illiterate."
Kamal: I don't know what the big deal is. You've got people like Don Rickles who cut down people in the audience.
Johnny B.: That's on the new album in "The Diamond Dealer." When we had to get the release from her, I sent that lady a bottle of champagne, a box of chocolates, some fuckin' fruit, some edible panties, all that shit.
NT: She liked the edible panties?
Johnny B.: She was very nice, actually. It took us a few months to get that release.
NT: Are there any new characters in the works?
Kamal: You've heard Pico. We're gonna do a lot more of him. We do a lot of promos as Pico and Kissel. We got a Greek character coming up. We've got this fuckin' crazy old lady. We got a lot.
NT: Johnny, are you a fan of old comedy records?
Johnny B.: Well, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a big fan of Monty Python. When I was about 21, Cheech and Chong were in. I didn't own any of the records, but I had a friend and we'd listen to them at his house. I never paid attention to anything on record, but my favorite comedian of all time is Jonathan Winters. I think he's a genius.
NT: Do you think your albums will age better than other comedy records?
Kamal: Our first record's always been on the charts [since its release], and it's never gotten played out. It sounds silly saying it, but it's really classic. If anyone comes out with another prank-phone-call album, everyone's going to compare them to the Jerky Boys albums. We didn't invent prank phone calls. We started this genre of prank phone calls, using different characters. We did it in a New York, underground, different way.
NT: Have the beef-jerky people contacted you about using the Jerky name?
Johnny B.: We've got a lot of people contacting us for endorsements. A lot could be on the way. We've got so many characters and voices.
NT: Now that you're so widely known, is there a danger of the people you call recognizing your characters? Johnny B.: Frank Rizzo, a lot of people recognize him. But there're plenty of victims out there.