An Interview with Jerky Boys Creator Johnny Brennan
My parents still don’t know why I turned out the way I did, but one man deserves at least 30 percent of the credit (or blame): Johnny Brennan, creator of the Jerky Boys.
In early 1994, I bought a copy of the now classic prank phone call album The Jerky Boys on cassette at the now sadly-defunct Just Music in Longview, Washington and when the album was done playing I was a changed young man. That evening during my nightly argument with my old man about my “attitude,” I had a secret weapon he didn’t know about: Frank Rizzo.
But the Jerky Boys were not only a good offense against the evil forces of Mommy and Daddy, they were the perfect brand of comedy for anyone who had a slightly anarchistic sense of humor. Brennan and his sidekick Kamal Ahmed elevated prank phone calls to the level of theater, thanks to such memorable characters as the neurotic Sol Rosenberg, the flamboyantly gay Jack Tors, crotchety old coot Kissel, and other misfits. This was hilarious shit and soon it was pure Jerkymania all across America.
Eventually the hype died down, Kamal (who voiced the characters Tarbash, Kissel, and a few others, such as the memorable Curly G.) left in the late 90s and Brennan focused more on doing voices for Family Guy. But you can’t keep a good prankster down and now Brennan and his characters are back and making brand new calls that will soon be released on The Jerky Boys website. Brennan has also kept the Jerky Boys brand going with a great podcast on iTunes, interacting with fans and discussing the background behind some of the classic Jerky calls. Brennan recently made one of his first live appearances at Gotham Comedy Club in Chelsea, dazzling rabid Jerky Boys fans with stories from behind the prank call trenches. I got him on the phone (naturally) and we discussed it all—the assnecks, the pissclams, chocolate juice, lamby nipple chops with minty pickled sour sauce; the whole enchilada, tough guy.
VICE: So you just did your first live gig last week? Tell me about that.
Johnny Brennan: Yeah, it was great. Doing it live, it’s a completely different form of comedy. I noticed when I started doing the podcast that the fans really enjoyed the behind the scenes stories from their favorite calls, like for example finding out who Brett Weir really was. The calls are so legendary now that people just really love finding out the stories behind them. So I just figured instead of doing a podcast from my studio at home, why not just go out and interact with people live? It’s really cool.
It’s hard to believe were coming up on the 20th anniversary of the release of the first album. The Jerky characters are now almost like best friends to fans.
Well, yeah, but remember the bootlegs had been around for years, going back to the late 70s, early 80s. Before it was released in 1993, it already had a long track record. The New York Times called it the largest bootleg in history, and then when the album came out it still sold millions and millions of copies. And I got direct from the horse’s mouth why that happened — people told me “Johnny, dude, we are so glad we can finally buy these calls on CD because our cassettes that we’ve passed around for eons are completely destroyed.” Back then all you had were cassettes and when I made some of those original cuts, CDs weren’t even invented yet. So people passed those tapes around for years and played the shit out of them so much that they were ruined, so when all those bootlegged calls like “Auto Mechanic” or “Sol’s Eyeglasses” were finally released on CD, people were just so freakin’ happy.
And now you’re releasing new calls on your website every month?
Right, they’re called the Jerky Boys Six-Pack. I tried to get the ball rolling in May but I had a couple of legal issues I had to take care of, but they’ll be coming. They will be five brand new calls and then one classic Jerky Boys call where I give commentary over it.
Sam Smyth is the talent manager for Girl and Chocolate skateboards. If you Google him, most of the links that pop up lead to pictures of him eating sandwiches or his photo website. While those activities make up a large part of Sam’s portfolio, I think his greatest achievement is keeping the most elite team in skating balanced and happy for the last 15 years.
The Girl and Chocolate teams are about to release their first video offering since 2004’s Hot Chocolate, and to the people concerned with such things (everyone who rides a skateboard), it’s the biggest event to happen all year—all that president electing business included. As you may have noticed, last week we released a little YouTube nugget from the Crailtap camp in the form of a bowl jam with Raven Tershy at the Diamond Mine. In preparation for the big day (which is November 16, by the way), every Tuesday we’ll be putting up more bonus junk from the Tap, so check back next week. And the week after that, etc.
I got out my typing fingers and had an iChat conversation with Sam in an attempt to learn something about the video, but we ended up talking more about oops poops, drunken kids, and babysitting a bunch of man-children than anything else.
VICE: Hello Sam. We had to postpone this interview due to our conflicting lunch schedules. How was yours?
Sam: Fine. Had a low-budge burrito and watched the end of the Giants game. Giants won the division series.
Will you brag to James Kelch about the superiority of your city?
Uh, YES. Fully.
As a person who reads every skate magazine and pays attention to people’s names in videos, I always wondered about your history. Can you give me the breakdown of where and how you were born and raised?
I was born to hippie parents in San Francisco, in the house that my mom still lives in. I was a city kid. I had a lot of freedom. I was riding bikes, taking the bus, and skating all over the city at a pretty young age.
Who did you start skating with?
I started skating with some kids from my neighborhood. They were down for a year or so, then they went on to different things and I stuck with it. I met Nick Lockman at Golden Gate Park. His dad and mine would take us skating. They took me to Embarcadero. Nick was six, I was ten. Nick is the team manager at DGK now.
Were his parents hippies or was he just poorly supervised?
They were cool as fuck. They liked to party, so I think there had to be a touch of hippie in ‘em. Like mine, they supported skating to the fullest, which wasn’t a popular move for parents back then.
I heard you say once that you shit your pants at a skate contest when you were 12. Is that true?
Yes. Nick and I stayed best skate buddies for a long time. And then we met Karl Watson, and the three of us were like skate brothers. When Think Skateboards started they wanted our little crew, so all three of us got on Think. We actually came up with the name. They wanted to call it Move, and we thought that was whack.
Anyway, first trip we ever went on with Think was up to Corvallis, Oregon for the NSA contest. This had to be 1990 or so. While we were practicing I did a little oops poops. Unfortunately, I was wearing Ghetto Wear shorts. They were so thin there was no playing it off, and I had to ask Kieth Cochran to take me back to the hotel. He laughed and called me out on the mic, which was slightly embarrassing. When I got back I took my run. I think I did OK, but I puked as soon as they said time.
Had you gotten drunk the night before?
Yeah. It was my first time ever getting drunk. Jason Adams got me a 32oz of Miller High Life. That was my dad’s brand so it was the only beer I had ever tasted. I remember getting wrapped up in the bed cover and drug around the hotel.