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Article Morgue

The Jerky Boys
Nita's Hideaway Brawl
Why I Left Burning Man -- and Why I'm Returning


Article morgue: Cadaver #1

Johnny Brennan of the Jerky Boys

by Deuce of Clubs

(Not published in Planet Magazine, 1995)

 

In 1995 Planet Magazine asked me to interview the then-hot Jerky Boys, whose prank calls achieved mega-circulation in the eighties (partly via tape trading spurred by Factsheet Five), eventually leading to a Jerky Boys CD. The CD went platinum, spawning a number of followups and—inexplicably—a horrible film, starring themselves and a pitiable Alan Arkin (who must have owed a favor to The Jerky Boys producer Tony Danza—knock yourself silly imagining the details of that scenario, if you dare).

I had seen some of the Jerky Boys' television appearances in support of the film and was surprised at how unfunny they were when not on the telephone. Since I would be interviewing them via telephone, however, I hoped they would be funny. If they were funny, great. If they were not funny, maybe I could at least rile the two of them with rude questions.

Plan A failed when only one Jerky Boy answered the call.

The bad news: There would be no asking Kamal exactly how long he expected Johnny Brennan's coattails to be, because it was Johnny Brennan on the phone.
The good news: Of the two, Johnny Brennan was "the funny one," with the funny character voices.
Oops, more bad news: The funny one isn't so funny when he's not doing funny character voices.

Plan B failed when the man behind the repulsively offensive Frank Rizzo turned out to be such a regular-sounding type of guy that I didn't have the heart to razz him for, say, being in a Disney film, or for the Jerky Boys' bland television appearances. I didn't even have the heart to give him shit when he lamely tried to front that the Jerky Boys basically invented phone pranks, and have never even heard any other prank phone call tapes. And when Johnny demonstrated that he'd never heard of the Internet (true, it was 1995, but hang up the phone and poke your head out a window once in a while, there, Johnny boy!)—I let it go without comment. Who'd have guessed it would take a Jerky Boy to extract the milk of kindness from D.o.C.?

In the end Planet Magazine's editor and I agreed that the interview was too boring to be foisted upon the public. Thank Gore for the Internet, huh?


Deuce of Clubs: I was surprised to see that you had a real movie coming out; I'm glad it's not going to be just a bunch of stills, like that Red video. Did you see that thing?

Johnny Brennan: No I didn't.

I wouldn't bother spending the dollar to rent it.

Really? I didn't even see it—what is it?

They got Lawrence Tierney, that old B-movie actor —

Yeah...

—and they got him to pose for a bunch of still photos as "Red."

Oh God!

And then they just played the tapes.

That's pathetic.

That's Christian Gore for you. So Lawrence Tierney's not in your film, eh?

Oh man, no!

How did Emilio Estevez and Tony Danza [executive producers of The Jerky Boys] get involved?

They're the guys that stepped up and—actually it was Tony Danza, he stepped up to the plate and flew us out to L.A. So he's the one responsible for bringing us out there.

So he just happened to have heard these tapes....

Yeah, like everybody else. Him, Joe Roth, Emilio Estevez, everybody. Everybody.

How did you end up getting on Space Ghost ?

Oh, Space Ghost, he's a good friend of ours, we go way back. Yeah, Space Ghost, we did a lot of work with Space Ghost back in the seventies, and he just asked if we'd be guests on his show, do him a favor, see if we could raise his ratings.

Do you know Evan Dorkin?

No. I only know Space Ghost.

And the Jon Stewart Show —

Nah, that was just a, like a silly little gig, you know? Just something that came up.

When you contacted your victims to get releases, what kind of reactions did you get?

Ah, you know, this and that, little bit of this and that.

Anybody angry?

Oh sure, of course.

Did anyone refuse to sign?

Actually, yeah, a few people did. But after, like, thinking about it for a while, they all said, "Hey, what the hell, man." And a lot of other people helped talk 'em into it, too.

Did you have to play some of the excerpts to refresh their memory?

We had to play them the actual call. You know, they have to hear the call so they can scrutinize [it].

How hard was that?

It was kinda—see, we're not there for that process of it. Kamal and I, we'll make the phone calls and what we'll do then is give them to our manager. The manager has all the addresses and phone numbers, and then he'll go out with the lawyers, and they go out and see if they can work out some kind of deal.

Were there calls you couldn't remember? Or did you write them down as you were doing them?

No, no, no, no, no. We gotta make that clear: the calls are done totally off the cuff.

So then were there cases where you couldn't remember who it was you'd called?

Oh! I know what you're saying. For the releases?

Yeah.

No, no, no, no. What we do is, we see something—you know, let's say for instance it's a paint job—and we just write down the number, the address if there is one, and then we have the manager and the lawyers track 'em down.

But not when you were first doing it, though.

Oh, no, no, no. When we first did it—we had a few problems there.

Okay. That's what I meant. I was wondering if it was hard to remember some of the —

Yeah, the first time around we had a few problems. Little something we don't wanna...you know...we don't wanna make a big deal about....

Do you have any ground rules for the calls? Is there anything you absolutely wouldn't do?

No, there's no real ground rules, except things that we don't...you know, in good conscience we try to stay away from, you know, wackin' on, like, actual police phone calls, or emergency room phone calls, and things like that. When you hear the "Firecracker Mishap," with the hands being blown off, on the first album, that was a medical office. But it sounds enough like an emergency room so it's...you know. We're not into, like, jeopardizing people's lives, or hurting or doing something that could really get somebody fucked up or hurt.

Other than your own calls, what are your favorite taped prank phone calls.

There is no such thing. I don't, I don't....

You don't have any other favorites?

I have abso —
See, you gotta understand something: when we did this, it was done off the cuff. We had no idea that there was such a thing...actually, we were the first, like, modern-day ...we did this thing back in '86. Then we found out that the "Red" tapes were done back in 70-something, but we had no prior knowledge of that. We just thought that it was...it was...you know, we just thought we were the...and that's why our, if you listen to our tapes, it's so original.

I understand, but I'm saying now —obviously, you've heard others now, right?

Absolutely, I tell you the truth, honest to God, people come to us all the time with tapes. The record label gets 200 tapes a month on average. And they listen to every single one.

But do you have any favorites among the ones that circulate —

We don't listen to any of them.

You don't?

Not a single one.

You're kind of —

Look, you'd be surprised, but we don't have time to listen to our own material, let alone other people.

You think anybody could have got a release from Red?

I have no idea, man. I heard he's dead.

I know he is now , but I mean while he was still alive.... Are people sending tapes to the record company in hopes of getting a deal similar to yours, you think?

Oh, of course! I mean, let me just, I'll give you an example: both of our albums are platinum, we got a movie soundtrack now, the first album's been on the charts over two years, the second album went gold in eight days. I mean, we're successful. I mean, whatever we're doing, we're doing right, and there's gonna be people, they're gonna think that they can do the same thing. You know, that's life, man. That's great. That's life.

Let me ask you about "Brett Weir"—is this going to be explained in the movie? Is this a friend of yours?

Actually, yes, there is a Brett Weir in the movie.

So this is a friend of yours who's in the movie with you?

Right. Brett Weir is a cute little guy. And he's in the movie.

I was watching Larry King a few years ago and a caller identified himself as Brett Weir.

Yeah.

They ended up cutting him off. Was that you guys?

Well...let's just say...um....

No comment?

Yeah.

All right.

We wouldn't have got hung up on. You know what I think it was, I think it was really Brett.

Do you get a lot of people saying to you, "Listen, if I give you the number of a friend of mine, will you call him for me?"

Yeah!

Do you ever do it?

No. You see, again, we don't—people think that we sit down every day and do these calls. We don't do that. We might sit down once every eight months and get ten calls.

Have you had other offers to perform, or maybe write comedy?

Yeah. A lot of people. A lot of people want us to write TV shows, and we're being approached now for merchandise—not merchandise—whaddya call it? Endorsements. Beer commercials, this, that, you know.

Are you considering any of them?

Well, right now we're just too busy trying to hustle our own stuff here, you know what I'm saying? That's what I mean, when you're asking me if I listen to stuff; I don't even listen to music. I mean, we're so busy. We don't have time to do shit, really, any more.

Do you ever read the Jerky Boys Usenet group on the Internet?

The what?

The Jerky Boys—there's a Usenet group on the Internet.

No.

Were you aware of that?

And they're calling themselves the Jerky Boys?

No, no—it's just a group of people who sit around and talk about you guys.

Oh, really?!

Yeah. You haven't seen that?

No! On the...U-Net?

On the Internet.

On the In-ter-net.

If you have a friend who has an account, it's —

A Jerky Boys thing, and everyone calls in and discusses us?

Yeah.

And then what do they do, they sit and discuss?

Well, you know, there's a lot less discussion than there is just sort of, "Hey Jerky!" and "Listen Jerky!"—you know.

So what, do they have coffee, and...yeah.
Okay, Doc, I'm gettin' these guys, I, you know, they're puttin' me in a strange position here, they're givin' me the high sign, so... if you want, just ask me a coupla more important whatever you wanna get to & I'll try to bang 'em out to you quick.

All right, one last question, then.

G'head.

What does Kamal call Hillary Clinton in private?

Oh. Man. I don't know if...

Just whisper it to me.

Uh...really?

Just whisper it to me.

Okay. "Baloney tits."

© Deuce of Clubs


Update:

Success spoils Johnny B.—The Jerky Boys split up


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