The following contains offensive language, broken friendships, and uncontrollable belly laughs.
Photo: Touchstone Pictures / Everett Collection | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2013
Johnny Brennan remembers the best meatloaf he ever tasted. It was tender, not too dry, and he ate it the one time he was nominated for a Grammy.
It was March 1995, and Johnny and Kamal Ahmed, together known as the Jerky Boys, were at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, up for Best Comedy Album. In a few short years—long before Napster, Facebook, or YouTube—bootleg cassettes of their hilarious and vulgar prank phone calls turned into platinum-selling albums. Without really trying, they’d created a market for phony calls and legitimized them as a comedic genre.
One month earlier they’d starred in their own feature film, The Jerky Boys: The Movie, a semi-biographical tale about two “lowlifes” from Queens who crank the wrong mobster. The Jerky Boys 2—their prank call pièce de résistance—debuted at No. 12 on Billboard’s pop chart and was up for a Grammy that night. During the movie’s advertising blitz, two Jerky Boys albums (including the movie soundtrack) appeared on the Billboard charts at the same time. Jim Carrey, Steven Seagal, and Radiohead (who named their debut album, Pablo Honey, after a Jerky Boys call) were all big fans. Life was good.
Even though they were the center of attention, Sam Kinison won the Grammy posthumously for Live From Hell. Kamal went immediately to the bar; Johnny said he felt they’d been “stiffed.” Still the night wasn’t a total bummer. Sheryl Crow told Johnny she played his tapes on her tour bus, and Kamal hung out with Pamela Anderson and Mötley Crüe. It wasn’t all bad. Until it was.
By 1999 arguments over money disconnected the Jerky Boys’ phone line for good. Kamal quit the group to pursue filmmaking, and Johnny went solo, becoming the voice of Mort Goldman on Family Guy. (Not surprisingly, Seth MacFarlane—like legions of other current power players—was a huge fan.) The Boys haven’t seen each other since 1999. They haven’t chatted on the phone since 2009, when Kamal says Johnny reneged on a deal to create a Jerky Boys cartoon. Today Johnny doesn’t mention Kamal on the Jerky Boys Web site, claiming his old friend was basically just a “hired gun” and that anyone could have voiced his characters.