Dialing Dynasty: When The Jerky Boys Turned Crank Calls Into Big Business
24th June 2021

With their prank calls, the Jerky Boys played a crucial role in changing comedy with one phone call at a time. Johnny Brenan and Kamal Ahmed indulged majorly in doing prank calls and making crude portrayals of various characters. But that was enough to create a ripple in the 80s. Though Johnny B. and Kamal went back. The duo had chemistry on the show The Jerky Boys because they did such acts since childhood. There is probably no way to categorize the form of comedy that they practiced. It can perhaps be termed a unique form of art that also turned out to be a huge moneymaker.

Here is the journey of The Jerky Boys and how they changed comedy by creating new niches.

The Beginning of The Jerky Boys

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It all started in Queens, New York, where Brenan and Ahmed were neighbors. The iconic duo became friends over a dummy act. In the 1970s, Brenan pulled this act in a human-shaped sack costume with a football helmet and a jersey. The people on the road became extremely concerned when he stood in front of the traffic wearing the get-up, but Ahmed was amused.

Thus, it was at a very young age that the duo began sharing a common sense of humor that many other people did not understand. Ahmed was a few years younger than Johnny but was still a master at pulling off prank calls. However, they had no idea that this would become a real moneymaker in their years of success and fame.

Prank calls being seen as comedy acts were still a new thing for the audience back in time. Later in the 1980s and 90s, the duo made it a big deal by calling business places disguised as fictional characters. Soon they realized that this kind of humor entertained people. The main form of entertainment would be teasing the workers or the owners at their offices with strange requests that left them baffled.

The Success of a New Type of Comedy Act

The venture started small with some recorded prank calls and some impersonation of funny, typical fictional characters, but later it gathered a different fanbase that was very committed. The official record release of The Jerky Boys was in 1993 after gathering fame through local sources. Johnny B’s mother suggested the name ‘The Jerky Boys’ since, till their official release, they were going without a name.

Later in 1993, they sold about 500,000 copies of The Jerky Boys and became certified platinum twice by the Recording Industry Association of America. In 1994, The Jerky Boys 2 came out, and within the first two weeks of its release, it too sold the same number of copies. The Brenan-Ahmed duo even starred in a movie later of the same name.

Obstacles in the Way of Creating Art

Johnny and Kamal’s act became very relatable for different sections of society. The Jerky Boys-inspired personalities like Seth McFarlane create his show called Family Guy, in which Johnny Brenan also acts as a voice artist for the character of Mort Goldman. It was also the inspiration behind Bridesmaids made by Paul Feig.

However, they had their difficult times amid their prospering career. Especially when their movie came out and was not a success at the box office. Ahmed decided to split up and decided to take up independent filmmaking. Sadly, right about the same time, Brenan’s father passed away, and he was too depressed to make new prank call recordings. Moreover, the character of Frank Rizzo was based on his dad, and after his death, it was overwhelming for Brenan to continue the act.

The Bittersweet Journey of The Jerky Boys

When Brennan announced a new release in September 2020, it was a particularly exciting time for fans. The album is reported to have the famous impersonations of all-time favorite characters like Frank Rizzo, Jack Tors, Mike Derucki, and Sol Rosenberg. However, it was just Brennan, one-half of The Jerky Boys, this time with some brand new jokes.

It is difficult to imagine The Jerky Boys getting away with that kind of foul-mouthed humor in today’s era, like ID did not get developed back then, and it was easier to conduct prank calls. However, with progressing times, their culturally inappropriate jokes began to dwindle and finally fell off when the duo had a bitter breakup.

In an interview with the Phoenix New Times, Brennan was asked if he upset the gay community with those lewd jokes. In reply to this, Johnny was frank about how the community did not mind their jokes and understood that this kind of humor was meant for people who knew how to make jokes instead of getting offended. The only people he received a bashing from were contemporaries who were jealous of their fame and money.

The Jerky Boys creators were contacted copiously for endorsement deals and other collaborations, which is evidence that despite their crude humor, they were received quite favorably by most of the American society, who had respect for witty jokes. With the increase in the number of fictional characters, their fan base also expanded. When the creators were asked if their show would be timeless, they only had to point at their undying popularity.

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Source: Phoenix New Times, The Hype Magazine, 91.9 WFPK, Rolling Stone, Vice

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