Sunday, September 15

Jerky Boys collect on prank popularity

Jerky Boys collect on prank popularity

The duo puts crank calling aside for acting, tries luck out in
new movie

By Rodney Tanaka

"I’m Tarbash, the Egyptian Magician. I eat hot coal. I stab
customer in eye with saber. I light people on fire."

Tarbash is just one of the characters you might encounter when
the telephone rings and the Jerky Boys are on the other end of the

The Jerky Boys have built a reputation for their crank telephone
calls. Recordings of their calls gained popularity in New York and
spread nationwide. Collections of their crank telephone calls have
shot up the album charts.

They emerge from behind their receiver in their new movie The
Jerky Boys.

The movie follows the exploits of the Jerky Boys, Johnny B. and
Kamal. A phone call gets the pair into trouble, and they must run
from the mob.

"We pictured ourselves as kind of a comedy team in this movie,"
Kamal says. "We’re playing ourselves, but we’re not playing our
real life personalities."

The origin of the partnership dates back to a rainy New York
night 10 years ago when Johnny B. invited his friend Kamal over to
his house. They chose random telephone numbers from the yellow
pages and from advertisements. They built a repertoire of eccentric
characters using different voices and attaching different
characteristics to each voice.

Frank Rizzo, a tough talker with an attitude, appears several
times on the Jerky Boys’ albums. His creator Johnny B. imagines
that Frank would have a field day calling a California

"I ordered a pizza, I got pineapples on this fuckin’ thing?"
Johnny B. says with Rizzo’s New York accent. "What the hell is
pineapples doin’ on a fuckin’ pizza?"

The Jerky Boys target restaurants, doctor’s offices, any
business they can find. They initially shared recordings of their
calls with friends. Bootleg tapes spread across the nation and they
developed an underground following. They have since released two
albums on Select Records, and with the release of a book and a
movie the Jerky Boys are heading into the mainstream culture. Their
success sometimes breeds criticism.

"Someone once read too heavily into this," Kamal says. "Johnny
B. uses a character, Sol Rosenberg. Its a Jewish name but at no
time ever does he refer to the Jewish faith or beliefs."

"We’re not mean-spirited," Johnny B. adds. "Sol was just a name
I shot off the top of my head."

Success also invites imitation. Johnny B. comments that other
acts are packaging similar material with artwork that looks like
the Jerky Boys’ style. "We get a lot of letters saying, ‘That shit
was weak, it sucked.’ I say, ‘Whoa, that’s not our stuff,’" Johnny
B. says. "If it doesn’t say ‘The Jerky Boys’ on the product, its
not our product."

The Jerky Boys invaded the MTV offices and left with 15 hours of
material they are proud to call their own. "They have temps to
answer a complaint hotline and there were little cameras hidden
throughout the office," Kamal explains. "What’s great is you can
see before and after the phone calls. They say, ‘I just spoke to
the most crazy man.’"

Kamal views their antics as good-natured and benign compared to
infamous headline-grabbers such as Tonya Harding and John Wayne
Bobbitt. "A guy gets his ding-a-ling cut off, reattached, and he’s
making movies," Kamal says, referring to Bobbitt’s new pornographic
film Uncut. "We’re bringing people happiness and joy so they can
laugh and we get more flak."

The Jerky Boys refuse to allow the criticism and success to
change established routine when making their calls. "Ten years ago
it started one way," Johnny B. says. "We still use the same
telephone, an old broken up piece of shit, and the same recorder.
Its missing buttons, and the one speaker microphone doesn’t even

The duo’s teamwork remains a constant presence in its routine.
"What makes it fun is he always stays with a poker face," Kamal
says. "Any laughing you hear on the tapes in the background is me.
I can’t keep a straight face."

With two successful albums under their belt and a movie out, he
apparently is not the only one.

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