Kamal Ahmed and Johnny Brennan changed the prank call game with the Jerky Boys. A their peak, the characters they created were constantly being quoted on lunch breaks, in frat houses, at sporting events, even aped by copy cats. Eventually the whole schitck wore thin, but they also landed a motion picture and sold millions of CDs—of stupid prank calls.
The Queens, NY duo started recording prank calls together in the late-80s, usually responding to classified ads placed in the local papers. Initially, a call Johnny made about getting some work done on his truck sparked the pranks. They stared circulating cassettes of their calls themselves, and started to gain notoriety though world of mouth. The tapes caught the attention of Howard Stern, who started playing the calls on his show. Exposure through Stern led to increased bootlegging of the Jerky Boys, with the attention landing them a record deal with Atlantic subsidiary Select Records. The debut went on to sell two million copies—and that was only the start.
While they weren’t the first idiots to record themselves fucking with people over the phone, the Boys did have a knack for creating memorable characters. Many of their most famous bits stemmed from actual people they knew in their diverse wackjob packed neighborhood in Queens. Kamal and Johnny have even cited their fathers as inspiration. Kamal’s father’s origins in Bangladesh provided the origins for the popular “Egyptian Magician” character, and he often dawned a turban for public appearances. The Boys’ most popular character was based on Johnny’s father, the punchy firecracker with a thick New York accent known as Frank Rizzo. Johnny claims that, like the character, his father was never shy about throwing anyone a beating, including both of the Boys.
The profanity-laced calls were also peppered with Johnny’s slang terms. Soon enough everyone listening to the Howard Stern Show was calling each other a “fruitcake” or “sizzlechest.” The Jerky Boys 2, which debuted at number 12 on Billboard and also went Platinum, and continued the Boys’ rise to stardom.
In 1995 Caravan Pictures released Jerky Boys: The Movie. So how did a movie about two goofballs making prank calls go over? Not surprisingly, the movie tanked, and was panned by fans and critics. Despite their prior success, the mix of physical humor and reprisal of their signature characters failed to impress. The movie netted less than its 8 million dollar budget at the box office—even an Ozzy Osbourne cameo didn’t help.
The Jerky Boys didn’t let the misstep derail them and managed to release several albums, with their third release still managed to go Gold. As the joke got old and album sales tailed off, the two predictably started hating each other. Kamal quit the Boys in 2000 to pursue a solo career. Johnny continues to keep the name alive with new recordings, iPhone apps, and his podcast The Jerky Boys Show with Johnny Brennan.
"I would say well over 388 calls have been made to date," Johnny said recently, "90% of which have been used on projects." "All I can say is we're making a lot of people happy, people literally piss all over themselves laughing.”
The whole idea does sound really fucking stupid in retrospect, but in the 90s there was less to worry about and people still bought music. Jocko Johnson, Frank Kissel, the neurotic Sol Rosenberg, and even Brett Weir served their purpose for a few years and made people laugh, unfortunately it also made prank calling a trend—man that was fucking annoying.