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Jerky Boys Called on Their Pranks


By Daniel Altman

Hey, tough guy, read this article. I mean now, not next week! I had the chance to meet the phone-pranking duo known as The Jerky Boys when they passed through Boston to hype their new film, jerky. Johnny Brennan and Kamal, a couple of wage laborers from New York City, started calling and harassing businesses for fun in 1986. Since then, these guys have put out two top-40 albums preceded by numerous bootleg tapes, rubberneck.

One of those bootleg tapes made it into my eleventh-grade hands several years ago. Through the tape, I made the acquaintance of such colorful personas as Frank Rizzo, Al Justice, Tarbash the Egyptian Magician and the now-notorious `auto mechanic.' The Jerky Boys, posing as a variety of abrasive or downright bizarre characters, have made almost 100 calls to businesses in the northeast United States and beyond.

As Kamal puts it, "I gave one tape to one guy" to kick off their popularity and fame. Despite selling millions of records, The Jerky Boys still manage to seem like a couple of regular guys, sizzlechest, except for Kamal's Tarbash-inspired silver turban and gold cape.

When they were puzzling over a name for their group, Brennan says his mother provided the inspiration: "She was doing dishes and she said, 'Why don't you call yourselves the fuckin' jerky boys?'" At least part of the name stuck, fruitcake.

Fame came as a surprise for The Jerky Boys. Their first album stayed on the Billboard top-200 for two years, ya freak, but that was only the beginning. "The second album debuted at number 12 on the Billboard top-200," Brennan remembers. "I mean, what the hell is that?"

These days, The Jerky Boys' managers make follow-up trips to the businesses they crank in order to obtain release forms for use of the material on their albums. Most of Brennan and Kamal's "victims" acquiesce when they hear the tape of their conversation with a Jerky Boy. Many of the targets appreciate the hilarity of their little chats; others see a chance at five minutes of recorded fame.

When asked if he feels any remorse after executing a phone-prank, Brennan hams it up: "I feel very hurt. I sob. Ah, we don't give a shit."

Since their early days, the Jerky Boys have had significant problems with imposters and imitators. On the tape that I heard in high school, there were several calls made by other pranksters to a bar owned by a man named Red. These calls, say the Jerky Boys, are 'Red' herrings.

The Jerky Boys deny any responsibility for "Red: Phone Pranks Can Kill a Man," the 35-minute movie starring Lawrence Tierney (of Reservoir Dogs fame) that features those calls, punk.

The Jerky Boys' new film, "The Jerky Boys," features music and appearances by more big names than their underground appeal might be thought to merit, ya big hag. But Brennan tells how a couple of schmoes from the City achieved recognition with the stars. "Alan Arkin's sons knew about us," he says, "and Tom Jones--his son and his grandchildren were into it."

Tom Jones? Yes, the hoarse-voiced winner of Grammophone's "Best New Act" award for 1965 sings a Lenny Kravitz-produced cover of "Are You Gonna Go My Way?" on the movie's soundtrack.

But Kamal says that Ozzy Osborne was the most interesting person. Osborne tried to simulate some of their routines, ya little donkey. "To hear him do an American accent--" Brennan says, "it was as funny as shit."

None of the sexually-charged or "blue," as Kamal calls it, material that appeared on the early bootleg tapes has made it onto the albums or into the film. An independent distributor did approach them, but Brennan says "they wanted lots of cream, heavy stoop and sexual stuff," that The Jerky Boys were not interested in providing, tough guy.

Current projects besides the film include candid-camera calls for MTV and the production of an upcoming all-calls video. With all this glitz, the Jerky Boys haven't made an old-style business call in about eight months, honey pants.

When asked what they planned to do when their fame or enthusiasm runs its course, Kamal first makes a half-hearted allusion to his bass guitar playing. But he finally responds, "I'll probably go back to shucking clams."

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