We dont often do long-assed discourse here at HOTASBALLS, preferring the ‘Rickford Files’ school of bullet-point blogging, but prank, crank or hoax phone calls are an uncomplicated, spontaneous and downright childish form of comedy and at times, funny as all hell.
The medium is very very simple, one person sits behind the safe haven of a private untracebale phone line, calling pre-determined phone numbers, indescriminately berating a stranger on the other end of the line, instantaneously creating funnies [and doing their best to wind up the subject in an attempt to get a rise]. Alternatively, wordplay in the form of homophones are sometimes used to create much hilarity by using mentally scripted fake names or places that, when repeated back by the person being called, whether over a tannoy in a supermarket or into a crowded bar et cetera, sound like something rude or just plain stupid, but always in an attempt to make the listener soil themselves with laughter.
During my youth, and admittedly during certain periods of adulthood, it was a regular occurence to kick off the majority of phone conversations to and from my mates with a stupid accent or fake voice, for no reason other than to muck about and have a laugh, my Uncle used to do it to me so I guess it was handed down a generation. This binary code framework of comedic ingenuity is what still appeals to me as a grown man. Admittedly, it’s the adolescent simplicity of gently toying with the emotions of strangers that appeals. C’Mon, how many teenage whipper-snapper teenagers over the years have called the police or fire services unneccessarily, or rang for a faux pizza delivery, watching the scenes unfold while sitting in the safety and comfort of their own home, folding with laughter with their mates. Just me?
The medium has advanced to mainscream media over the past few years, in the UK alone we’ve had broadcaster Victor Lewis-Smith pranking the White House in Washington and Steve Penk making fake calls during live broadcasts on mainscream radio station Capital Radio in the UK. Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez famously received a phony phone call from someone claiming to be Fidel Castro a few years back too. More recently, the noticeable development of calls featuring the visual element of puppets on shows like Crank Yankers has advanced to visual stimulation featuring live actors, with folk like Kayvan Novak on terrestrial hellavision station Channel4, appearing behind a knitted bally on multi-character based show Fonejacker. Some say that Fonejacker and more recently Facejacker is unoriginal [shouts to @djharrylove], and that may be true of the general format, but there are a slew of characters that have been created that stand up well in the scheme of things for that time-slot, if that’s your bag [Remember the JERKY BOYS according to the originators, were the characters, not the callers].
There have been a myriad of prank callers over the years, people like comedian Jerry Lewis is probably the earliest to be recorded making hoax calls during the late Fifties that im aware of, but im sure the lineage goes back further, they usually do. Weve had Howard Stern, Nephew Tommy from the Steve Harvey Radio Show outta WBLS 107.5 in New York, Roy Mercer, the hugely successful US TV show Crank Yankers featured Bizmarkie, Tracy Morgan, Wanda Sykes and Jimmy Kimmel, but for this post, im highlighting a few examples of my personal favourites.
The Jerky Boys where Johnny Brennan and Kamal Ahmed. Brennan, from a big Irish-American family, is currently the voice actor behind the proprietor of Goldman’s Pharmacy [and Horace the Bartender from the Drunken Clam] in animated classic Family Guy. He plays the voice of a phobia-heavy neurotic and general Jewish stereotype Mort Goldman, ostensibly, a simple version excursion of the character Sol Rosenberg from the series of 5 Jerky Boys albums [nb: Johnny also appeared as a bit-part greaseball alongside Eddie Griffin during the opening of the Mariah Carey promo for Honey].
The Jerkys were so popular at one point that they released a movie, the less said about it, the better. The tapes originated in New York and were passed around the touring rock stars of the time, gaining the Jerkys notoriety, a badge of honour and a major chunk of cool. Brennan voiced more than a dozen of the characters from the series, the finest of these being Frank ‘Open ya fuckin ears jack-ass’ Rizzo, musician/ dancer and all round flamer Jack Tors and sports agent PA, Jake. Brennan regularly improvised great names for people on the other end of the line, tough guy was all all-time favourite along with Barrel-ass, Silly hoo-er, Rubberneck, Flapjack, Fruitcake, Pee-Pee Tits, Liver-Lips, Squeaky-Balls, Bottlenose, the classic Sizzlechest and the worryingly popular and now rather pedestrian, Numb-nuts. It’s odd how I can still hear the Jerkys from time to time, listening back to an old DJ Riz’s mixtape intros that were culled from a Frank Rizzo conversation off the 2nd alblum, with Frank spelling out his name, R.I.Z.Z.O. As well as that, my ears pricked up a while back when I clocked a scratched vocal shard of Jerky on Kelis track ‘Accapella’. In a strange Hip-Hop turn of events, on the Jerkys Fifth full length alblum, they rang someone by the name of Juggy Gayles. This was the same Juggy that Erick made reference to on Please Listen to my Demo, Juggy was the legendary Brill Building Producer, and Ron Resnicks Father, Ron co-created Sleeping Bag Records – “It felt good, as I remember, we signed the dotted line, now we Fresh Record members.”
Victor Lewis-Smith – Tested on Humans for Irritancy
Tested on Humans for Irritancy is just an absolute classic in my eyes, an alblum released on Virgin Records in 1991 by broadcaster, satirist and journalist Victor Lewis Smith. He regularly took great pleasure in making prank calls long before the recording of this CD, famously phoning daytime magazine show Richard and Judy for advice on his back problem, stating that “Richard and Judy are the biggest pain in the arse so they should know what to do”. Lewis-Smith smashed it when he rang London Weekend Televison reception once, asking the reception desk staff to use the tannoy to find someone in the foyer by the name of Marcus Garvey, in an attempt to meet an associate by the name of Haile Selassie, in ‘Babylon an’Ting’.
976 Girls – Phonephuct
Phonephuckt was a simple female take on the Prank phenomenon, a few girls doin similar calls to the Jerkys. The stand-out cut for me on Phonephuct was call to a pet shop, askin about the availability of gerbils, with a specific line of inquiry regarding the length and width, and if it was possible to have the claws and teeth removed, for the purpose of insertion ‘into a big black hole’, so that the caller doesnt get her ‘asshole to get all ripped to shreds’ ?! So wrong, but jokes nonetheless.
The Kathy McGinty alblum is a proper rarity too, it was created by two people, Derek Erdman and Julia Rickert, and is one of the oddest prank call alblums ever made. Its not something youll have on heavy rotation with the whole family over Sunday dinner, but its definitely worth a listen. The calls are made by unsuspecting male only dirt-bird perverts that had been lured by a picture of a hot young girl with her pants showing, from some kind of early chat-room, but the [all male] callers had no clue that the calls were being recorded, and had no idea that the person on the other end of the phone [female] was actually a bunch of pre-recorded pre-scripted answers being triggered by Derek and Julia on an old Yamaha SU-10 sampler.
Bum Bar Bastards – The Tube Bar Tape
One of my fondest memories of enjoying these calls as an adult is of an old friend who is sadly no longer with us, his name was James Leacy, and he died 6 years ago today. As well as being possibly the most personable, affable and all-round decent blokes I’ve ever had the pleasure to know, Jim was the official B-Boy Masters Pro-Am DJ, dropping knowledge from behind the decks at Zulu Anniversaries and hosting some of the fiercest soundtracks to B-Boy battles across the globe. When Jim would call, he wouldnt say hello and kick off a convo like any normal person, he’d do exactly what my Uncle had done years previous, but as an adult, I had to act properly in the event this wasnt someone muckin about. He’d briefly catch me out every time. Sometimes he’d simply pretend to be selling me carpets, in other calls he’d just talk shit, pretending to be someone with a lisp, or a woman, or whatever, but it was always funny, if you had a sense of humour, of course. Jim was from Irish stock, go figure.
Jim and I used to fall about laughin at alot of the Frank Rizzo Jerky stunts but the one we had an affinity for was the OG version of the prank calls that featured heavily in the Moe’s Tavern bar scenes during episodes of The Simpsons. This alblum was recorded in 1975 by two guys that went under the name of the Bum Bar Bastards. The tape was called The Tube Bar Tape, and ostensibly featured exactly what you know from The Simpsons, but in a viciously savage form. The Tube Bar was a busy bar in Jersey City that was located right across the street from a bustling central transportation station. The calls more often than not were answered by the same person, the owner of the bar, a hard of hearing, cantankerous ex-heavyweight boxer, Louis Deutsch. Louis [aka Red] wasnt the brightest button on the jacket, and when he got repeated requests asking him to call out for people in the bar by the name of Jim Nasium or Seymour Butts or Mike Ocksmall, he’d get heated, to say the least, leading to an entire alblum of classic lines, that Matt Groening as youll hear, lifted verbatim at times. Alot of it is unnecessarily heavy handed in its delivery, but its simple humour from a different generation, that somehow stands the test of time.
If anyone knows anything about the tape that floated around Northern Ireland during the Eighties that featured Gerry Adams/ Martin McGuiness and others ringing Ian Paisley and asking why they werent invited round for Christmas dinner, amongst other nonsense, get in touch.
Always remember, “Open ya fuckin ears jack-ass” !!!
Great piece, Craig.
I was a big fan of The Jerky Boys way back when. Got their first 3 albums on cassette tape and played them constantly.
Frank Rizzo became almost a God to me and I spewed his one-liners verbatim. To this day I still greet my little brother as ‘tough guy’.
I never knew that one of the JBeez was in Family Guy. Then again it’s completely obvious as that is plainly Sol with his neuroses and all. Brilliant.
Did you ever hear of a group of guys called The Ball-Breakers? They came on the wave of the Jerky Boys and were by no means as astute or as funny but they were still part of the mosaic of phone prankers of teh era.
The Bum Bar Bastards sounds fun and a great historical piece which I’ll stick in my ‘Wants’ list.
The closest I ever got to a prank call personally was like this:
Me: Hello…is Andy Preston there?
Random Phone Book Victim: No.
I was 12 years old.
Cheers Ben – Yeh, the bum Bar joint is the creme outta all these as its from the mid-70s !
I was a Jerky jerk durin the 90s, buyin vinyl and every tape I could find tbh. There is alotta crap out there but hopefully folk will agree that these titles are some of the best
If anyone knows of any gear by any other prankers, dont hesitate to drop a line, and no, cant say I know the BALL BREAKERS ?!
Just realised that I muffed-up the name. They are actually called The Ball Busters.
I got a cd of theirs somewhere I’m sure. I’ll have a look and put it up for you.
Ben , Turns out the Ball Busters were on D.I.L.L.I.G.A.F. Records [Does It Look Like I give a Fuck], the same label that issued the 976 Girls alblum…
I’d appreciate the up no doubt, ta.
Can’t locate that cd anywhere, Craig. I’m not beat yet though.
I listened to Kathy McGinty the other night. Strangely hypnotizing and definitely an original piece that deserves attention.
And that Red guy from the bar? That is really interesting listening. The last minute on ‘Red’ had me literally falling off my chair when those guys called up and played that Alvin & The Chipmunks-type song down the line to him.
And to know that Matt Groening was a fan, too just lifts me.
I got ‘Stop Staring At Me’ going at the moment.
See ya later, barrel-ass!