Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Weird '90s Comedy Trilogy #3: "The Jerky Boys"

As always, I write these articles with the assumption that you have also seen the movie, so SPOILERS. But seriously, can The Jerky Boys movie be spoiled for someone?

Full disclosure: I do not own the DVD of this film, since it was never fully released in America. It was released on laserdisc and VHS (I used to have the VHS), but only Europe got the DVD. But while researching the movie, I came across Johnny Brennan’s website, and he sells the DVDs through the site, and he even autographs them with a personalized message! I’ll definitely be buying one in the future, but for now, I only own this film digitally, but I think that still counts as part of my collection.

I’m finishing this odd trilogy with The Jerky Boys, co-written by the titular Boys and James Melkonian and Rich Wilkes (of The Stöned Age and Glory Daze fame, respectively), and directed by Melkonian. I saved this one for last because it’s my favorite of the three, and I found it to be the most ‘90s of the three. It’s based on the prank callers that were famous for a few years in the ‘90s, the humor (often homophobic and a bit racist) is very ‘90s, and the soundtrack tops it off (“Gel” by Collective Soul is used twice). But more than anything, re-watching this takes me back to the ‘90s, when me and my friends would watch this and constantly quote it. Actually, we still quote it, even though it rarely makes sense to. Which brings me to why I love this movie so much in the first place.

Apparently I love comedy that makes people say, “What?!”

This is almost like a sub genre of comedy that I like: characters saying things that make other characters say incredulously, “What?!” It's almost like the characters are in two separate movies.

I get why some people don’t find this movie, or The Jerky Boys in general, funny. The characters they use are juvenile at best and racist and homophobic at worst. But I was never drawn to the humor because they talked about warts on their asses or anything like that. I was drawn to the random elements of their humor. For instance, when the cops knock on their door about halfway through the film, Johnny B. responds, “There’s nobody in here but me, naked, with all my shoes and glasses.” One of the cops makes a strange face and asks, “What?” That’s funnier to me than a joke about ass warts because it’s absurd. I’ve always found absurdity funnier than toilet humor.

Throughout the film, the funniest moments involve random proclamations from Johnny B. and Kamal followed by a straight character wondering what the hell they’re talking about. It’s not funny because a trick is being played on somebody. It’s funny because they’re saying random shit, and no one knows how to respond to it.

That’s why this movie works on multiple levels for me. I obviously like the content, but the nonsensical nature adds a meta layer to the film, too. Why the hell does this movie exist? It’s a fair question, and it seems like the filmmakers found it just as absurd as most of the viewing public. Why make a movie about a popular prank calling duo? So they decided to just throw them in the middle of a generic mob movie.

This works on another level because none of the characters, much like the audience, seem to understand just why any of this is happening. The mobsters and cops alike never know what to make of the Jerky Boys. Why would they? This is a film that should not exist, which only adds to the absurd comedy of it all. Of course, there’s more to it than just a couple of idiots being thrown in the middle of a movie. Hell, that pretty much defines half of the comedies out there. There is one thing that makes the comedy of The Jerky Boys special: their slang.

“What is the meaning of ‘sizzle chest’?”

The most lasting element of The Jerky Boys is their random-ass terminology: sizzle chest, milky licker, fruity ass, beefy tits, etc. That, along with random statements about having grease thrown on them and their shoes falling off, is what makes for all the hilarious confusion. Alan Arkin’s sleepy mob boss has the best moments because of this. There’s something about seeing an Oscar nominee (and later, winner) ask, “What the hell is a fruity ass?” that cracks me up.

These phrases and names they use led to a lot of quoting among my friends. And we still quote this stupid movie. If you don’t overuse it, it can be quite funny to call someone a milky licker out of the blue. If they know the movie, they’ll laugh. If they don’t, you get an even better reaction: “What the fuck is a milky licker?”

I consider this absurd comedy, but I suppose there’s a fine line between absurd and stupid. Or is there? I’ve always believed that comedy is completely subjective. You cannot simply proclaim a film is funny; you only account for your own sense of humor. I think terms like absurd get thrown around when you want to say you like something kind of stupid but don’t want to actually call it stupid. “You just don’t get it. When they call people ‘fruity ass’ and ‘sizzle chest’ they’re using absurd humor to deconstruct an entire film genre.” I doubt anyone has ever actually made that claim, but that is the kind of thing that happens with comedy.

So I’ll call The Jerky Boys an absurd comedy to feel a little better about myself, but if I’m being honest, I like it because it’s dumb and random. And that’s why the Random Thoughts section is so big for this film. It was a lot easier for me to comment on individual moments than it was to come up with something to say about this movie as a whole. For a movie based on a prank calling album, I consider that a success.

Random Thoughts

First off, I came across this weird behind-the-scenes/trailer for the movie that features interviews with Melkonian, Arkin (he refers to the Jerky Boys as “genius,” while doing that giving-you-the-finger-while-I-scratch-my-face thing), and Tom Jones, who claims he listens to the CD all the time and makes his friends listen to it! Check it out:

The mob talk seems like the filmmakers never watched an actual mob movie. For instance, Scarboni says, “I was gonna go bust their balls,” like it’s a physical threat, but bustin’ balls just means to give someone a hard time. Was Scarboni just going to track them down and fuck with them?

I like how other characters immediately start using the weird phrases the Jerky Boys use. Like Brett Weir's mom calling him a fruity little bastard after just hearing the phrase seconds earlier.

A lot of ass humor.

The jokes are very junior high, but there's always one random element added that cracks me up. For example, “When I was a boy I used to play with these big, pink pigs.” What?

Ditmars Boulevard. I still quote this location.

I love the Burger Bob family's matching outfits. “WE, JUST WANNA, ORDER SOME, HAMburgers.”

“Oh God, my mother, she woke me up today. She threw a pan of hot grease all over my chest and my ass and genitals. And I fell down the stairs, and my shoes fell off!”

They've ran up a $688 bar tab at a neighborhood bar? Kamal’s response when Mickey finally cuts them off: “You know, this neighborhood's really going to hell.” Fuck you, Kamal!

“Hey kid, you there?”
“Uh, yes.”
“Go FUCK yaself.”

Tony's stories are great. “He’s layin’ there. And he's got blood squirtin’ outta his eye sockets like a garden hose. [Laughter] And he’s goin’  ‘Please, Tony, please.’ So I says to him, ‘You shoulda thought of that before you spilt that drink.’”

“Look, jerky, I don't need to talk to you.”

“He called me a-a-a fruity ass? What the hell is a fruity ass?”

Odd music cameos just like in Melkonian and Wilkes’s other movie, The Stöned Age. First up: Tom Jones, covering...Lenny Kravitz?

I truly hate Brett Weir.

The dude playing Worzic looks like he time traveled from a 1940s mob movie.

Fuckin’ Weir: “We all played ball in high school together.”

By the way, absolutely no effort to make them look younger or even different in that high school picture.

“There are some things in this world worth fightin’ for, and Mickey Crump’s is one of ‘em!”
Mickey Crump: “Why?”

Geno says “Go fuck ya’self!” better than anyone else on the planet.

Who went to the trouble of framing all those photos of the dead guys and their respective hot dog piles?

That one dude only made a dozen hot dogs. That always makes me laugh.

Geno and Sonny are the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of The Jerky Boys.

“You think these fuckin’ cocks will hold us?”

Next odd music cameo: Ozzy Osbourne managing Helmet.

Ozzy Osbourne looked a lot like Richard Lewis in this.

“Where's Bob and B. J.?”

“Found another gig? They were like family!” The roadies who lug the shit in for a Helmet concert in some garbage bar are like family?

“The fucking Monkees?!”

Helmet! Yay?

Helmet in The Jerky Boys is right up there with Mudhoney in Black Sheep for the most random band cameo in the ‘90s award.

Why would the Egyptian cab driver call someone a milky licker?

The cab dispatcher is hilarious. “You’ve been driving for me for ten years! You don't know how to get to Queens?!”

Later on the hostess at the Egyptian place is called underage by the cops. First off, how did they know about her? Second, she didn't look remotely underage, and the actress playing her was in her late 20s at the time. I always found that part odd. The rest of the movie’s plot is ironclad, though.

Why does Arkin pronounce impotent like im-PO-tent? Just noticed this for the first time.

"...and how should I pronounce 'impotent'? The normal way? Or should I say it like a fruity ass bastard?"

“There's nobody in here but me naked, with all my shoes and glasses.”

It takes three shots to take out the lock on their door? That's heavy duty.

That Frank Rizzo sketch is amazing. It looks like Ed Harris on meth. Or Ed Harris not on meth; I don’t know his personal life.

The mobsters and Johnny's mom are really into that game show they're watching.

Kamal has a demolition/lawn ornament place’s phone number memorized?

Random jail jokes: the dude in the dinosaur costume in a cell with them, and the guard talking to Kamal about how good the food is.

I've heard cement shoes references in connection to the mob my whole life, but this is the only movie I've ever seen them show up in. And why are they going to the trouble of using a trowel to smooth out the top? Okay, I need to stop soon. I’ve now applied much more thought to this film than anyone else, including the filmmakers.

“Fuck you, fruity ass! That's the kind of operation I run!”

Arkin going in to kiss Uncle Freddy's ring and getting burned by his cigar instead: “Aw! Fuck! Shit!”

Why does the cop need a map to start chasing them?

The only evidence they have is a recording of Arkin claiming to have people in his pocket. He doesn't get into specifics about it. I don't think any of it would hold up in court.

The ultimate ‘90s ending: prank calling Bill Clinton.

Executive produced by Tony Danza and Emilio Estevez? What the fuck?
It was Estevez’s first producing credit, and it's the only theatrical movie Danza produced (he has, unsurprisingly, produced plenty of TV movies). I really want to know the story behind this.
All I could find was a reference in a Mental Floss article from last year that says Danza and Estevez “courted" them.

The article also mentions that Tom Jones’s kids were fans, so that's one mystery solved.

I did find this article with an interview with Johnny Brennan, but he doesn't go into too much detail other than they were fans and Danza flew them out to L.A. By the way, fuck that article. The writer is a dick about the whole thing. He doesn't find the Jerky Boys funny, and then he bitches about Brennan just answering questions like a normal person instead of doing characters the whole time.

The mid-credits scene is the only time they're referred to as the Jerky Boys. It seems like this should have come up before in the movie, but how would it have made sense? As it stands, it doesn't make sense for Weir to call them the Jerky Boys, either. Something tells me I'm the only one who has thought about that this much…

1 comment:

  1. Brother, you are definitely *not* the only person who has spent way too much time dissecting and quoting this movie. When I found your post this morning I immediately sent to it to my two jerky friends and we’ve spent the whole day texting each other quotes.

    Keep up the good work.

    “He said he knew you in the old days. Through Mario.”
    “Which Mario, there were four hundred Mario’s....”