Wednesday, October 8, 2008

5 albums I would take to a deserted I could laugh hysterically before I die of dehydration

The question of which 5 albums you would take to a desert island comes up quite often in conversations about music. This question does not come up nearly enough in conversations about comedy and even less in the comedy sub-genre of albums dedicated to prank calls. The 5 albums produced by the Jerky Boys (excluding solo projects and greatest hits compilations) are inarguably the best albums in this genre and possibly any genre of recorded entertainment. From the “ring” that proceeds the opening of the first album to the conclusion of the “1,000 Chicken Trilogy” six years later, everything they did was pure genius and has inspired an entire generation of wise asses to call people names like: Nits, Rubber Neck and Sizzle Chest. What follows is a review of each album and how each innovated and brought prank calling to the next level.

I became aware of The Jerky Boys the day before the last day of my freshman year in high school. I had been hearing rumors of older kids having copies of blank cassette tapes of hilarious prank calls for the previous few years, but finally in the summer of 1993 my man Iceburg (not his real name, obviously) had the real thing. A legit, factory manufactured cassette, straight from Camelot Music in the Ocean County Mall, containing an hour of profane and hilarious prank calls. We started listening to the tape at his house and by the time Side A was over I was laughing so hard I had to take a break and walk down the street to my house to listen to the second half for fear of a heart attack or aneurism (I realize these are not common in otherwise healthy 15 year olds, but better safe than sorry). Side B was just as good, if not better, than Side A and I became a Jerky Boy fanatic, I memorized almost every call and can still recite most of them verbatim almost 10 years after the release of their last album (the criminally slept-on “Stop Staring At Me!”).

The Jerky Boys (1993): This album was their introduction to the world and was as brash and shocking as NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton” The Sex Pistols’ “Never Mind the Bollocks...” or Nirvana’s “Never Mind.” This is the album that introduced the world to characters like Sol Rosenberg, Kissel, Tarbash the Egyptian Magician, Jack Tor_S, Mike DeRucci and the undeniable classic Frank Rizzo. While I celebrate the entire catalog, Frank Rizzo holds a special place in my heart because he’s the stereotypical NY/NJ tough guy that I grew up laughing at multiplied by 100.

This album threw down the gauntlet for prank calling at all levels of the game and let fans and haters alike know that calling a super market and saying “Do you have Olive Oil in a can? Well, you better let her out, Popeye’s getting mad!” and then laughing maniacally and hanging up was no longer going to cut the mustard. These guys were professionals and they conducted themselves as such. They would go to extreme lengths to anger or upset whoever was on the other end of the phone. They would ask a few probing questions to see what upset the man or woman and then peel back that onion until the victim was either enraged or threatening to call the police and they would stop at nothing to reach this ultimate goal. They would accuse the person of committing crimes, insinuate they were homosexual or even play a tuba to get the desired response. This showed incredible levels of persistence, quick thinking and self control (to keep from breaking up when people said insanely funny stuff). This album was also light years ahead of it’s time with the character of Tarbash the Egyptian Magician because it mocked middle-eastern culture almost 10 years before Hollywood jumped on that band wagon.

Needless to say, this album is an absolute classic and should be listened to and memorized by all members of western society. I have been laughing at skits like “Tile Man” and “Uncle Freddy’s Dead” consistently for the last 15 years and they are showing no signs of getting old.

The Jerky Boys 2 (1994): The release of this album was met with great anticipation from Jerky Boy fans because its’ release in chain stores meant that they were no “One Hit Wonders” and they had a chance at a long and prosperous career. Also, this was before the internet, so they were not releasing calls on an official website or having tracks leaked to file sharing sites, so people were hungry for more prank calls from the best in the business.

However, once the initial hype of a new Jerky Boys album wore off most fans were at least slightly disappointed with this effort. Most of the innovation of the first album was replaced by intensity (many calls started with them yelling) and absurd amounts of profanity. For proof of this listen to the racial slurs of “Mexican Roofing,” the blood curdling yells on “Husband Beating” or the nearly 90 sec. cacophony of curse words on “Fava Beans.” While no new characters were introduced and most agree this is their weakest album, it provided several great calls and would hold fans over for the next two years until the release of their next masterpiece.

The Jerky Boys 3 (1996): Following the mediocrity of The Jerky Boys 2 in 1994 and the flop of their self-titled movie in 1995 the Boys were back with a vengeance on 1996’s The Jerky Boys 3. This album introduced several new characters, including Racine (a hispanic Jack Tor_S), Curly G (a rapper that makes Young Jeezy seem as intelligent as Stephen Hawking) and Big Ol’ Bad Ass Bob the Cattle Rustler (self explanatory). More interesting than these new personas was that the group employed the technique of placing ads in the classified sections of New York newspapers and having people call them looking for Civil War memorabilia or answering personal ads. These calls provided unprecedented levels of hilarity because they were fielding calls from the type of person that answers these kind of ads and in several instances it is hard to decide who is funnier: the character or the unsuspecting “victim.” These experimental techniques paid off in a major way as the Jerky Boys produced another classic.

The Jerky Boys 4 (1997): The Jerky Boys 4 can best be compared with Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint” or U2’s “Achtung Baby” in the way it showcases an artist at the top of their game making an album that was even better than their already impressive body of work. The album highlights the classic characters from the first album, the exaggerated emotions and profanity from the second and the incoming calls from the third to produce the most consistently funny and cohesive release in the Jerky Boys’ incredible career. It should also be noted that The Jerky Boys 4 also contains the first, and to my knowledge only, foray into music for the group. The album concludes with a song titled “Jerk Baby Jerk” that seamlessly combines Miami Bass music with highlights from prank calls and funny sound effects, a fitting end to the finest moment in Jerky Boy history.

Stop Staring At Me! (1999): Following the overwhelming critical success of The Jerky Boys 4 the group released “Stop Staring At Me!” which was innovative for many reasons beyond its’ lack of a numerical title. This collection contained calls tied into The Howard Stern Show (“You Wanna Scrap?”), calls to entertainment industry legends (“Huck-A-Buck”) and the infamous call to a football player with “hamstrings like animals” (“Big Hock”) where the “victim” was unquestionably funnier than the comedian. It also features the “1,000 Chicken Trilogy”, an epic 10 min call broken into three installments that truly elevates the art form of the prank call. “Stop Staring At Me!” is the forgotten classic in the catalog and often gets left out of conversations about their best albums, this is unfair and this release deserves a second listen from fans that dismissed it upon its’ initial release.

The Jerky Boys did not fare as well in the new millennium as they did in the 90’s. They essentially became victims of their own fame, much of the “act” depended on calling unsuspecting people, however, once they gained widespread notoriety through appearances on Howard Stern, MTV and various talk shows, it became increasingly difficult to make calls to people that didn’t know who they were. Eventually, their affiliation with Howard Stern dissolved, MTV pulled the plug on their commercials and they broke up due to dwindling record sales and monetary disputes. Both Johnny B and Kamal released solo albums in the early 2000’s, but none of these approached the quality of the original 5 albums they released together. It is rumored they are working together and a new collaborative album that is due out before the end of 2008, the validity of this claim has yet to be determined.

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