Hollywood Rings Up the Jerky Boys
Contrary to what you might be thinking there, Sizzlechest, the Jerky Boys, a.k.a. John G. Brennan and Kamal Ahmed, are really not so different from you or me.
Anonymous but well-known to many as the two phone pranksters from Queens whose audiotapes of their crank calls literally turned into gold (last year’s “The Jerky Boys” sold 500,000 copies and their new album, “The Jerky Boys 2,” sold as many records in just 13 days), Johnny B. and Kamal are making their assault on the film medium in--what else, Liver Lips?--"The Jerky Boys.”
“It’s a murder mystery,” says Ahmed, a master of the deadpan and a bearish 28-year-old bachelor of Bangladeshi descent. “A Quinn-Martin production mixed with our comedy.”
En route via limousine to Manhattan’s meatpacking district where part of the film was shot, Ahmed and Brennan, a wise-cracking--and married--33-year-old, could probably extemporize and prevaricate ad infinitum--if you let them.
“If you had to sum it up,” Ahmed continues, describing the new movie, “it’s D.W. Griffith’s ‘Birth of a Nation’ meets ‘The Naughty Nineties’ by Abbott and Costello.”
Or, like “Dumb and Dumber,” it’s about two goofballs--Brennan and Ahmed doing their phone shtick and playing some of the characters they’ve developed in their calls (Frank Rizzo, Tarbash and Egyptian the Magician)--who get into all kinds of gross-out trouble with the Mob, the feds and the cops.
“They have a great dynamic with each other,” says the film’s director and co-writer, James Melkonian. “They’re definitely from that old mold of comedy: goofy physical humor, but with an attitude.”
And by attitude, Melkonian’s speaking not so much about a ‘90s sensibility as he is about the Jerkys’ penchant for foul language. So, fret not there, Fruitcake, the boys did not sell out. “We knew the film had to have that raunchy style,” says Melkonian. “You can’t sugarcoat it.” (The film is rated R for “the continuous use of strong language.”)
A couple of New York boys (Brennan was born in Manhattan, Ahmed in Brooklyn), the two met in 1971 in Astoria when Brennan was throwing a life-size dummy (complete with football jersey, helmet and pads) off his roof and into the path of cars below.
It was on a rainy day in ’86 that Brennan made his first crank call. “I was doing some guitar work,” says Brennan, who ran a construction company for eight years, “and I had all this (expletive) on my night table--a recorder, speaker phone. And it hit me. I got nuttin’ to (expletive) do today. So I just made a buncha calls and taped ‘em.
“Then Kamal came over and started doin’ it with me, and we just did it constantly after that. And whaddaya gonna do? It got out to colleges through some of his friends and my cousins. It was gigantic, unbelievable.”
They created a repertoire of bizarre characters, funny voices and Jerkyisms (Sizzlechest, Liver Lips, Tough Guy, Fruitcake and so on). But as foul-mouthed and aggressive as they are, they’re never really mean-spirited, just adolescent and dopey--which may explain why their audiences tend to be just a little juvenile.
At first, Ahmed’s father didn’t get it--not being hip to the “concept of crank phone calls,” says Ahmed. “But what’s he gonna do? Now we made a movie about it.”
“Yeah, what’s he gonna do now, eh?” says Brennan. “I’ll bust him down he tries to do somethin’.”
Minutes later, after we’ve arrived at the Nebraska Meat Co. (called Heavenly Meats in the movie), Brennan and Ahmed reminisce about the previous year, when they were filming here. Then, amid all the beef and blood and gristle, Brennan quietly asks his publicist to order him a turkey burger for lunch. He stopped eating red meat a few years back.
“People relate to us because we’re just regular guys,” says Ahmed.
“It’s not made by a big corporation to make money,” adds Brennan. “We’re not stand-up comedians. That’s not our gig.”
So what started out nine years ago as just another of the Brennan family’s inside jokes spawned a minor cult following, which became an underground hit, which turned into a pop-culture phenomenon--records, a “Jerky” book, the movie.
But don’t get too analytical on them, all right, Jerky?
“We only call businesses, not people’s homes,” says Ahmed. “And we never get stupid by callin’ the cops. We’re savvy.”
“Look,” says Johnny B., Frank Rizzo’s voice now creeping into his, “I can get a 5-year-old to do (expletive) stupid (expletive) like that. What we do is in itself stupid anyway. But I think it’s much more creative.”
Whatever you say, Tough Guy.