You can also get two or three minutes of personalized insults from Johnny Brennan, the remaining member of semi-professional prank callers The Jerky Boys. For $125, he’ll do the voices of Frank Rizzo, Big Ol’ Badass Bob the Cattle Rustler, or one of the other characters that turned him into a cult hero in the mid-1990s.
“Hey Mark, what do you say there, you fuckin’ flapjack,” he says in one example video tagged as a #gift. “Hey Chad, what’s going on, you little fuckin’ butt nut,” he tells someone else, before launching into a lengthy in-joke about geologists and biting cows. Honestly, this is where Brennan belongs, sitting in his parked car, paying tribute to a time when he and his then-partner Kamal Ahmed spent their time annoying the shit out of whoever answered the landline at a restaurant, a construction company, or an auto-repair shop.
The Jerky Boys were good at what they did: Their first three full-length records all made it into the Billboard 200, two of them went platinum, and they scored a Grammy nomination. (They also inspired the name of Radiohead’s debut.) They starred in a terrifically awful movie and then Ahmed got tired of calling pizza joints and threatening to kill the manager, and left the group.
But Brennan has tried to keep going as a Jerky Boy, releasing an album of mostly ringtones, launching two iPhone apps, and hosting a short-lived podcast. “[Brennan] is still doing the same thing like [an] idiot, and I make independent movies that deal with the struggles of man,” Ahmed told Rolling Stone in 2014. “I went on to more meaningful things.”
Now, more than 20 years after the last official Jerky Boys record, Brennan is putting out a new one, which will simply be called The Jerky Boys. A YouTube recording of one of the new calls on the album promises to deliver the “same attitude” as the originals, and that’s also why we don’t need this, not now.
The record was originally scheduled for release last year, but has been pushed back until Black Friday. When Brennan announced the record last spring, he said that it would feature some of his well-known characters like Frank Rizzo, Jack Tors, and Rosine the “Puerto Rican transvestite.”
These aren’t characters; they’re stereotypes that don’t need to be given a voice or a platform anymore. The Jerky Boys own website describes Rizzo as an “abrasive foul-mouthed blue collar Italian-American [who] accuses the Mickey Mouse character at Disney World of molesting his children.” Tors is “a flamboyant homosexual man who frequently takes part in bizarre sexual activities.” Sol Rosenberg is “a frail, insecure New York Jew.” (And then there’s Pico, “an abused Mexican immigrant.”)
The actual material promises to be even more cringe than the bios. In 2014, Rolling Stone previewed some of Brennan’s new calls, and instead of sharp social commentary or harsh-but-smart satire, it’s a well-produced version of your worst uncle clearing his throat at the Thanksgiving table and asking who’s heard the one about the Catholic car salesman.
“They called me ‘Slant Eyed Sol,'” Brennan says during one call as Rosenberg. “I would go so fast down that hill that they thought I was Oriental.” In another call, he uses the effeminate voice he’s assigned to Jack Tors, calls Penzeys Spices and asks about getting “a little rubdown” and a “happy ending.”
The newest recording features Rosenberg—who sounds exactly like Mort Goldman, the Family Guy character Brennan also voices—ringing an iRobot customer service rep to tell her that he’s taped a knife to his Roomba. Although it’s less problematic than some of his other material, is anybody really in the mood to listen to a 59-year-old man fuck with customer service workers right now?
That’s not to say that Brennan couldn’t have made this work. When _Crank Yankers_—the Jerky Boys-indebted, puppet-focused prank call show—returned to Comedy Central last year, the network made the decision to shelve Special Ed, the mentally disabled character who had been a regular during its original run.
“It was a different world we lived in back then when those characters were created, and we have a different temperament about those things today,” Jonas Larsen, Comedy Central’s executive vice president of talent and development, told Vulture. “We have no plans currently to bring back that character or characters like him without having some sort of real context for it. It’s got to be defensible, and we’re not looking just to offend for the sake of offending.”
Yes, comedy is subjective, but who honestly wants to listen to slurs and stereotypes, or to a grown man punching down toward already-marginalized groups? We get enough of that from our very own President, who brought his Racist Grandpa energy to the first presidential debate, or from the Karens who shout invective-filled sentences at whoever tells them to stand on a social distancing marker while they wait for their scabies medication. This Jerky Boys record will be funny to people who do curls in the squat rack, and to men in “Fuck Your Feelings” T-shirts who film 15-minute Facebook Live videos because somebody flipped off their Gadsden flag.
If you still think the Jerky Boys are great, then you’re probably not in one of the demographic groups that have been reduced to hacky clichés. And if you want to listen to Brennan shout in his “blue-collar Italian-American voice” for two minutes, request a personalized Cameo vid. Just leave the call center reps, and the restaurant hosts, and the rest of us out of it. We’ve got enough shit to deal with.