He's Gonna Git You Sucka
In the words of Ebonics-spouting female horndog Clarissa Jenkins, "Necessity be da mutha of invenshun, baby. Know what ah'm sayin'?"
Thanks to DJ Steve Tingle, father of this comic creation, fans of the Valley's premier trash-talkin' radio floozy know only too well.
Just ask anyone who's ever tuned in to Tingle's afternoon drive-time radio show on The Edge (KEDJ/KDDJ-FM 106.3), the Valley's only alternative music station, over the past two years. During the show's signature "Five O'Clock Phone Call" segment, Tingle-as-Jenkins (the first name is pronounced "Clahr-rees-suh") has used the telephone to proposition drunks, hassle homeless-shelter employees, befuddle people who've placed classified ads and flummox phone solicitors.
Attempting to seduce a drunk who'd happened to pick up a pay phone in a seedy section of East Van Buren, Jenkins once cooed, "When was the last time you had your trouser monkey rubbed? I jes wanna come over and be wit chew."
In another episode, Jenkins called a preschool and wanted to know when she could drop off her son -- who just happened to be pushing 50 years old. Upon learning that her boy was too old by at least four decades, Jenkins went postal: "Jes because he's 47 doesn't mean he's a dumb ****. You lemme talk to yo superior!"
And a telemarketer for a long-distance carrier once received an earful when she asked whether Jenkins spent more than $100 a month on phone calls. "You can take dat script and shove it up yo rear end, you honky!" roared an indignant Jenkins. "Girl, I spend more than $100 a month on adult videos!"
As with Bigfoot, the daunting fictional monster she frequently suggests, the PC-challenged visage of Clarissa Jenkins has never been captured on film. And as far as her real-life alter ego is concerned, that photographic impossibility is all for the best: According to the situation in which she finds herself, the chameleonic prankstress has been (a) old, (b) young, (c) straight, (d) gay, (e) dumb, (f) dumber, and, on more than one occasion, all of the above within the span of a single call.
"I think everyone's got his own idea of what she looks like," says Tingle, an athletically built 26-year-old who himself resembles a cross between actor Chris O'Donnell and, as everyone tells him, "that guy who plays Chandler on Friends whose name I can never remember."
"Myself, I see her with curlers in her hair, a big mouth, always loud and big -- real big."
As a child, Steve Tingle could hardly have found a less likely breeding ground for the gritty urban street milieu Clarissa Jenkins regularly treads during her phone flings on The Edge. The son of a Los Angeles cop and a minor TV actress who now works as Cybill Shepherd's stand-in, Tingle grew up in the rolling hills of Agoura, California, a well-to-do white-bread enclave not far from the Malibu movie colony.
Outside of accents he might have heard on TV and in movies, Tingle claims it wasn't until he observed a black woman disciplining her children in a Sizzler in West Covina that he was exposed to the ethnic speech patterns that are now his bread and butter.
"She had these three kids and she was going crazy because they just kept throwing things around," recalls Tingle. "Finally, she said, 'I've got jes two words for you: Be-Have!' As a kid, I thought that was the funniest thing in the world because 'behave' is one word, not two. When we got in the car to leave, my mom told us to put on our seat belts, so I said, 'I've got two words for you: Drive this car down the street.'
"I mimicked that woman's voice so perfectly, everyone laughed," he continues. "I thought, hell, if I can make people laugh, I'm going to keep on doing this."
With a young adult male listener base hanging on his every outrageous utterance, Tingle is still capitalizing on the verbal sizzle of that unidentified steak-house customer.
"Sure, I stereotype," says Tingle of his stock in trade, a potentially offensive stable of vocal caricatures that also includes bimbos and lisping homosexuals. "But I stereotype everyone. Besides, anyone who's likely to be offended by what I'm doing isn't probably going to be listening to me anyway."
Still, in answer to one of the questions Tingle has been least asked, yes, some listeners have complained about the DJ's telephone folderol. Their big gripe? That they often can't get out of work and into their cars by 5 p.m. -- which is why the "Five O'Clock Phone Call" actually runs 10 to 15 minutes after the hour.
"It's just like fishing," says Tingle of his prank calls. "I throw in the bait and I just keep doing that until someone bites. I've gotten prostitutes before, and they're great because they'll just go and go. If I get a drunk on the line, that's golden. That's what people want to hear -- someone with a social problem."
Tingle cites the Wayans Brothers TV series In Living Color ("The best damn show that's ever been on television") and their big-screen blaxploitation spoof I'm Gonna Git You Sucka as his biggest comedy influences. Clarissa, meanwhile, owes a large hunk of gratitude to Flip Wilson's "Geraldine" character.
Majoring in broadcasting and Spanish while attending Arizona State University, the would-be Mel Blanc used his ear for whacked-out dialect to jazz up DJ gigs at places like Red Lobster and the Mill Cue Club. "At the time, doing these voices wasn't anything I'd given a lot of thought to," says Tingle, over a cheese steak and beer at Hooters. "It was just a goof, something I did to make people laugh. Who thought there would be any future in it?"
His friends, that's who. Egged on by pals who thought he was a shock jock natural, a reluctant Tingle auditioned in 1997 for KEDJ's JOB Fest, an on-campus talent hunt held in ASU's Memorial Union.
Promotions director Jane Monzures, the station's self-styled "Promo-Donna," remembers that audition well. "We had seen hundreds of people, and Steve was the very last person we auditioned," she recalls. "For a while, it looked like he wasn't even going to get up there, but when he did, he just blew everyone else away."
Shrugging modestly, Tingle explains he figured he had nothing to lose. "Everyone was taking it so seriously, I thought I'd just mess around," he says, expertly imitating a fellow auditioner whose head jerked back and forth like a typewriter carriage while reading material off cue cards. "When they held the cards for me, I said, 'Forget it -- I'm just going to wing it.'"
And if the rest of the story falls something short of broadcasting history, it still goes a long way toward explaining Tingle's meteoric rise through the ranks of The Edge.
Originally hired to work a graveyard shift part-time at $6 an hour, Tingle eventually wrangled a variety of more desirable slots before finally winding up at his current 3 to 7 p.m. afternoon drive-time slot. (The station's most coveted slot -- morning drive-time -- is currently occupied by Howard Stern.) Although Tingle declines to discuss his salary, he is now able to command anywhere from $100 and up per hour for the two or three personal appearances he makes each week at the North Shore Beach Club, the Arizona Renaissance Festival and other venues. Whatever he's making, Tingle was recently able to buy a tile-roofed stucco home in Gilbert, where he and his girlfriend from the sixth grade are preparing for a March wedding.
"When I first got this job, I thought it was the greatest thing in the world," says Tingle. "Then I realized we'd never talked about money, and here I am working for minimum wage. But until you've established an identity, the stations can pay you whatever because everybody wants to be on the air."
From all available evidence, Steve Tingle may have created a monster.
Make that monsters.
A potential victim of his own vocal versatility, Tingle is so adept at disguising his voice that even dedicated fans don't necessarily know they're listening to Tingle. In addition to his on-air escapades, this verbal jack-of-all-trades even supplies some of the over-the-top lusty female voices for porn-shop ads heard on the station.
In an effort to step out of Clarissa Jenkins' ever-widening shadow (the character is featured on six out of nine tracks on a promotional giveaway CD), Tingle's actively attempting to develop alternative shtick. Whether the addition of other characters will spotlight his far-flung talents or simply muddy an already cloudy image problem remains to be seen.
Part of that move is out of necessity. In an effort to squelch drug deals, most of the East Van Buren pay telephones Tingle once called on a regular basis no longer accept incoming calls.
Enter "Crackhead Moment," a pretaped segment in which Tingle and producer Sean Phillips interview inner-city street people -- with varying degrees of hilarity. "It's a crapshoot," admits Tingle, as he replays an almost surreal exchange with a maniacally laughing woman who seems to think she's on television. "So far we've had to talk to four or five people before getting one bit that was funny."
Of course, one listener's idea of funny is another's cue to switch stations. Such was the case during a call earlier this month that Tingle claims is the most popular prank he's ever pulled. The premise? At a listener's request, Tingle, posing as a woman, called up the listener's girlfriend and claimed to have been impregnated by the boyfriend during a business trip several months ago. An emotional roller-coaster ride laden with obscenity and hysteria (Phillips boasts that the wronged girlfriend had to be bleeped no less than 40 times -- a factoid that won a lucky listener a pair of concert tickets), the bit ended when the woman abruptly hung up.
Later learning it was all a prank (Federal Communications Commission regulations require that anyone whose voice is broadcast over the air must give their consent), the victim was reportedly "a good sport," even though she was still mad at her boyfriend. "The next day at work, she loved it because everyone was talking about her," says Phillips. "She was a rock 'n' roll star!"
But another off-the-wall idea tentatively titled "Crap House Confessions" went straight into the toilet. "It just didn't work," says Phillips, after the pair unsuccessfully attempted to strike up conversations with men in public rest-room stalls. "I'd say stuff like, 'Damn! What did you eat?' Most people didn't quite know what to say."
Ideally, says Tingle, that's the same reaction he'd like to draw from his audiences.
"I want listeners to go, 'What the... ?'" says Tingle. "If I can get them to tune in to our station during our period, I'm doing my job."
As Clarissa Jenkins might say, "Hey, baby, I smell where you're comin' from."
Contact Dewey Webb at his online address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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