I love prank phone calls.
And here's a little bit of "classic" Jerky Boys. It sounds incredibly dated now, almost like it's from the '50s or something. So blunt. So quaint. So Not very funny.
This hilarity led me down the path of the Tube Bar calls, which I didn't (and still don't) find that hysterically funny, but they are historically important to be sure. A couple of guys started calling a bartender, Louis "Red" Deutch, in the '70s, asking him to call one of his customers to the phone. The names, when spoken aloud, would mean something ridiculous ("Anita Makeadoody," "Connie Lingus")–and Red would get fooled every time, then get really angry, then get really threatening. Sound familiar? Red was the inspiration for Moe on The Simpsons. Here's a clip with some silly animation of an actual Tube Bar call.
And then it was on to the really life-changing stuff. I can't remember whether I heard Gregg Turkington's Great Phone Calls or Longmont Potion Castle first, but both would make their way so deeply into my consciousness (and the consciousness of my acquaintances) that quoting them would become a second language. Great Phone Calls eventually became known as the launch pad for Neil Hamburger–his first public appearance was on the record (which was vinyl-only, released on Turkington's own Amarillo Records). But he was a very different Neil Hamburger then, just trying to get gigs in San Francisco (but still telling non-jokes). Here's his very first performance.
"Cancel It!" (Great Phone Calls)
But Great Phone Calls was so much more–it was my introduction to completely absurdist phone calls, calls in which the person on the other end is more a lucky spectator than a victim of harassment. When it did feel like harassment, it was always people that essentially deserved it, like the dude who put an ad looking for bandmates in the Weekly. Clearly a chump, am I right? (My friend Damian and I later tried to recreate this call with minor success. We also took a pilgrimage to Chabela Burrito in San Francisco to pay homage to Great Phone Calls.)
"I'm In Your Band" (Great Phone Calls)
Great Phone Calls was reissued on CD by Ipecac Records, the label run by Mike Patton, who also is apparently the voice behind one of the disc's strangest calls, "Music Of The Night." It's readily available via Amazon.
Great Phone Calls prepared me for some graduate work in prank phone calls, which came in the form of a cassette labeled "Longmont Potion Castle III." The mysterious LPC tapes had been passed around for years by bands on the road, but few people actually knew the real identity of "Mike from Golden." (That'd be Golden, Colorado.) His calls quickly became the stuff of legend–most of them really don't make sense in any traditional meaning of the word, but he captures some bizarre otherworldly rhythm. He tends to speak in nonsense, but the nonsense gets interpolated in such a way that he almost seems to be making sense. Over the course of seven CDs and a DVD, he captured some incredible moments. Like a jazzman, he returns to phrases over time, and harasses his victims–Radio Shack, Orange Julius, lots of everyday people not expecting his deliveries–with a real flair. This is one of many calls in which he tries to convince someone that they need to take delivery on a strange item, in this case millipedes.
"To Sir With Millipedes" (Longmont Potion Castle)
Perhaps a better entrée into the world of Longmont Potion Castle is "Gomez," which is a more traditional prank call, but offers a glimpse into Mike's head.
"Gomez" (Longmont Potion Castle)
There's gobs of this stuff–hours and hours and hours. Check out longmontpotioncastle.com to see what's currently available. He supposedly retired after releasing Longmont Potion Castle 6 this year, but that's a hell of legacy just the same. This one involves Mike's Tandy answering machine, which was an accidental part of the fun at the beginning. It beeps every ten seconds, yet callers still stay on.
"Rope" (Longmont Potion Castle)
And finally, this magnum opus: Mike generally calls his victims, but in this 10-minute call, he turns the tables on a horrible vitamin salesman. When the salesman can taste Mike's credit card number, he refuses to give up.
"Vitamin Guy" (Longmont Potion Castle)
I have no trouble calling Longmont Potion Castle, or at least portions of it, works of genius. I think he may have created a new artform, and he's still anonymous.
I haven't confirmed it, but I'm guessing that Andrew Earles and Jeff Jensen have enjoyed a little bit of Longmont in their time. The duo released Just Farr A Laugh in a limited edition in 2002, and it spread–as prank calls tend to–fairly quickly. (Before I go further, it should be noted that Earles is a music writer best known for his "Where's The Street Team?" column in Magnet, and he has contributed on occasion to The A.V. Club.) These two are a lot more character driven than some of their brethren, and they're eager to poke fun at pop culture and stupidity in general. Here's a call about tattoos, including the Cat In The Hat riding an 8-ball. Why not?
"Taco Bell Dog And Taz Tattoos" by Earles And Jensen
The disc was out of print for ages, but it was recently reissued by Matador in a two-disc edition, with a whole new set of calls and a monster of a booklet–featuring essays by Gregg Turkington, Neal Pollack, and others. Plus drawings by indie rockers. But really, it's all about the calls, including a series in which celebrities (like Morris Day) and their assistants call ahead to let businesses know they'll be stopping by. Here's one in which Gallagher's assistant rings a restaurant.
"Chauncy Gardener, Gallagher's Personal Assistant" by Earles And Jensen
And it goes on like that, pretty brilliantly if you ask me. And any mention of Just Farr A Laugh must address Bleachy. I'm just going to let you listen.
"Introducing Bleachy" by Earles And Jensen
There's much more out there, of course: Tom Mabe's Revenge On The Telemarketers is pretty funny, Jerry Lewis made his fair share of calls, and even Crank Yankers has its moments. I'll leave you with a Tim and Eric video–they've exercised their weird wits on the phone, too.