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Whatever Happened To The Jerky Boys?

It's 1993. There's no YouTube, no social media. There is technically internet, but very few people have it. Only a relatively small number of people have video cameras as well. So how did two troublemakers from New York become famous for pranking people without all the trappings that are used for those types of shenanigans nowadays? The old fashioned way — prank phone calls. And in that year, two guys become some of the unlikeliest celebrities of the decade when they released a platinum-selling, Billboard-charting album consisting entirely of prank calls under the name The Jerky Boys.

Throughout the '90s, The Jerky Boys would release three more albums of all-new material, each one landing on the Billboard 200, one going platinum, and another going gold. At the height of their popularity, the duo — real names Johnny Brennan and Kamal Ahmed — had enough cultural cache that they co-wrote and starred in the Touchstone Pictures-produced "The Jerky Boys: The Movie" in 1995. But going into the 2000s, the shine had dulled, and the world hung up on the Jerky Boys. So what happened to these two guys from New York, who become inexplicably famous just by prank calling people, in the 25 years since they were last household names? 

The failure of the movie tainted the brand

As famous as various YouTube and TikTok pranksters have gotten, none have yet gotten famous enough to be the stars of their own theatrically-released, major studio-backed film based on their own lives, careers, and characters. There are have been prank movies, including ones that get so big that they dominate Netflix, but they're typically more of the hidden camera or stunt-based variety. But The Jerky Boys were that famous in 1995 when "The Jerky Boys: The Movie" hit theaters across the U.S. — co-starring Alan Arkin, no less. One of the film's producers, Joe Roth, told Variety, "The guys could be the '90s Cheech and Chong."

That didn't end up being the case. Rather than take Johnny Brennan and Kamal Ahmed to the next level of fame, "The Jerky Boys: The Movie" was both critically panned as well as a box office flop. While it did double its $4 million production budget, that doesn't account for marketing or additional costs. Though it wouldn't mark the end of The Jerky Boys by a long shot, as the duo would put out four more albums together after the film's release, their popularity definitely saw a sharp decline in the latter half of the decade. It's hard not to consider the failure of the movie as one of the reasons for that. 

Tensions arose between the Boys

Johnny Brennan and Kamal Ahmed are childhood friends who eventually turned this thing they were originally doing together just to entertain themselves — making prank phone calls — into an actual career. And according to Ahmed, it's when the career part started that their friendship got rocky. Ahmed has said that Brennan always treated him more like a sidekick than a true partner in their Jerky Boys venture, even claiming that Brennan's managers tried to replace Ahmed multiple times.

Still, Ahmed stuck around — partly out of enjoying what he was doing, and partly because he didn't want to abandon what was proving to be a lucrative career. But the cracks of tension were always there, and they eventually got too big for Ahmed to ignore. The timeline of when he officially quit being a Jerky Boy is difficult to pin down, though it was sometime in the late '90s. His last new material with Brennan appeared on 2001's "The Jerky Tapes," ending their partnership at six albums and a movie. They haven't been in the same room together in over 25 years.

Both Boys tried their hand at solo albums

Johnny Brennan was not prepared to retire The Jerky Boys just because Kamal Ahmed had quit. He took some time off after the passing of his father — who was the inspiration for the character of Frank Rizzo, the Mickey Mouse of the Jerky Boys franchise — but eventually released the first Jerky Boys album comprised entirely of his own material in 2006. Called "Sol's Rusty Trombone," it featured six new prank calls but mostly consisted of short voicemail messages and ringtones that were between five and 30 seconds in length. 

As for Kamal Ahmed, he initially tried to be a solo prank comedy act after leaving The Jerky Boys. In 2000, he released "Once a Jerk, Always a Jerk," which mixed prank calls — some of which used characters he previously portrayed as part of The Jerky Boys — and comedy skits. Neither solo album charted, nor are they generally remembered fondly by fans. That marked the end of Ahmed's work in that field, while Brennan took another long break from making albums after "Sol's Rusty Trombone." However, he also spent the next few years trying to take The Jerky Boys down various other avenues. 

There was a short-lived Jerky Boys podcast

As the 2000s rolled over into the 2010s, comedy albums weren't exactly a hot commodity anymore. Well, albums in general weren't a huge source of income for most artists anymore. So Johnny Brennan needed to come up with new ways to keep The Jerky Boys viable that were more in line with current tastes for consuming media. Podcasts hadn't quite reached critical mass yet, but they were definitely one of the most steadily-rising forms of entertainment around at the time — so Brennan decided to try his hand at podcasting. 

In 2011, Brennan launched "The Jerky Boys Show with Johnny Brennan," a weekly podcast where he played classic Jerky Boys calls and would discuss the history behind them, and Jerky Boys trivia in general. Some of the episodes were recorded at live Q&As where Brennan would take questions from fans. The plan was to eventually transition into being a paid podcast, at which point Brennan would record new calls exclusively for the show's subscribers only. But that aspect of the program never came to pass, and "The Jerky Boys Show" ended its short run in 2012 after just 17 episodes. 

There were two Jerky Boys iPhone apps

Anything that is remotely popular eventually finds its way into app stores, and The Jerky Boys are no exception. In 2010, two different Jerky Boys apps were released for iOS — "The Jerky Boys Prank Caller," and "The Jerky Boys Pinball." The latter was exactly what it sounds like, while the former was essentially just a glorified soundboard of Jerky Boys character soundbites. As Johnny Brennan said when discussing the apps with The Tampa Bay Times, "I haven't put out a CD for 10 years. It's a way to make these things come alive again."

As hard as it can be to find sales data for current mobile apps and games, it's nearly impossible to do so for apps that came out over a decade ago and aren't at "Angry Birds" or "Plants vs. Zombies" levels of legacy success. Both Jerky Boys apps have since been delisted and aren't currently available for purchase, and there haven't been any other Jerky Boys games released since. This would seem to indicate that Brennan's characters didn't make a huge splash in the gaming world, and another attempt to branch the Jerky Boys franchise into a different form of media hadn't panned out. 

Johnny plays several recurring characters on Family Guy

While Johnny Brennan was toying with various ways to keep the Jerky Boys franchise alive beyond its 1990s heyday, that wasn't the only thing he was doing in the entertainment world. He voiced surly bartender Horace for a Season 2 episode of "Family Guy," and he's been a recurring presence on the show ever since. In Season 3, Brennan introduced Mort Goodman to the "Family Guy" universe, whose voice and personality are closely based on legendary Jerky Boys character Sol Rosenberg. Non-Jerky Boys "Family Guy" fans have often wondered what Mort looks like in real life, though most people are well aware that it's Brennan. 

As of the end of Season 22, Brennan has appeared in nearly 100 episodes of the show, with Mort being his primary character following Horace's death in Season 11. Brennan was invited to the show by "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane, a longtime fan of The Jerky Boys and Brennan himself. MacFarlane has spoken highly of Brennan's talents, comparing him to comedy legend Jackie Gleason in terms of character repertoire and telling Rolling Stone, "It's so easy for him to roll with any situation and stay in character." Even if The Jerky Boys never make an impact again, Brennan's likely got a job on "Family Guy" for as long as the show stays on the air. 

Kamal transitioned into filmmaking

A lot has been said about Johnny Brennan's career both within and outside of The Jerky Boys in the 21st century. But what has former Jerky Boy Kamal Ahmed been up to since cutting the cord on his prank phone call-making days? Though he has played small roles in movies throughout the 2000s and 2010s, Ahmed's primary career path over the last couple of decades has been filmmaking, joining a long tradition of actors who became directors.

Ahmed wrote, directed, and produced his first movie, "God Has a Rap Sheet," in 2003. Since then, he's applied that same triple-threat approach to five more films, up through 2018's "The Martyr Maker." He also produced the 2010 movie "Circus Maximus," and took director-only duties for 2012's "Brutal." He's recently branched out into television, writing, directing, and producing the 2022 mini-series "Crash the System," which is available on multiple streaming services. 

When contacted by Rolling Stone for a 2014 retrospective on The Jerky Boys, Ahmed didn't mince words on how he perceived his own career trajectory vs. Brennan's, saying, "He's still doing the same thing like a 51-year-old idiot and I make independent movies that deal with the struggles of man ... I went on to more meaningful things."

A 2014 Rolling Stone feature teased a Jerky Boys comeback

Speaking of that 2014 Rolling Stone feature on The Jerky Boys, much of it naturally focused on Johnny Brennan, the only constant member of the franchise and its only current participant. At the time, it had been a while since anything Jerky-related had been released, with 2007's "Sol's Rusty Trombone" being the most recent new material from the franchise. But Rolling Stone got Brennan to revive his three most famous characters — Frank Rizzo, Sol Rosenberg, and Jack Tors — for three brand new calls recorded exclusively for the article.

During the interview, Brennan was insistent that those new calls were only the beginning, and that he was planning a full-blown Jerky Boys comeback. The piece also provided a current snapshot of Brennan himself that was quite different from the early Jerky Boys days, describing him as having "aged from a mullet-and-goatee-sporting outer-borough scamp into a clean-shaven, leather-jacket-wearing, 51-year-old dad who drives an SUV and owns a little dog named Taco."

As for that Jerky Boys revival that he hinted at, Brennan indeed made good on that. But it took a bit more time before it finally happened.

Kamal made peace with his Jerky past

By all accounts, the professional and personal split between Johnny Brennan and Kamal Ahmed wasn't anywhere close to amicable. In fact, in the early years following his departure from The Jerky Boys, Ahmed would turn angry at the mere mention of his Jerky past or Brennan himself. In an August 2003 interview with website Dean's Planet, Ahmed was immediately asked how he felt about the then newest Jerky Boys release, "The Jerky Tapes," to which Ahmed replied, "That CD sucks just like Johnny's mouth." He went on to add, "Johnny Brennan has no talent, been saying it for years." And that's just when Ahmed was even willing to discuss the topic at all, which he often refused to do publicly.

However, it seems as though Ahmed eventually mellowed out a bit and is now able to recall his time as a Jerky Boy with fondness and nostalgia. In that Rolling Stone feature, despite initially taking a dig at what he considers to be Brennan's stunted career, Ahmed was willing to dig deep into his history with Brennan and The Jerky Boys. It was more positive than otherwise — particularly when he reminisced about the early days when it was just for fun, before fame and money got involved. At one point, Ahmed even made the somewhat surprising admission that he and his former friend and partner "were better together than apart, that's for sure."

An all-new Jerky Boys album arrived in 2020

In 2019, five years after Johnny Brennan teased new Jerky Boys material and 12 years since the last Jerky Boys album, Comedy Dynamics announced that it would put out a full Jerky Boys album of all new material. While it was delayed to 2020 beyond its initially promised 2019 release, 2020 did indeed see the release of the simply titled "The Jerky Boys." Kamal Ahmed didn't return, of course, but Brennan was there to bring out his classic characters as well as introduce a few new ones.

It's tough to say whether the album was successful: Again, albums themselves don't do the kind of business they used to do — unless you're Taylor Swift, of course. Saying it didn't chart on Billboard or didn't go platinum doesn't automatically mean it was a flop. Of the calls from the album posted to the official Comedy Dynamics YouTube account, the views range between 89K and 146K, but take that for what it's worth — YouTube isn't the ideal way to listen to a prank call. 

Additionally, none of the major music outlets bothered to give it a formal review. The closest we could find to an actual review was from the website Comedy Cake, which proclaimed that the album was "totally worth the 20-year wait." 

Johnny did a live theater tour in 2024

So what has Johnny Brennan been doing in the four years since the last Jerky Boys album, other than voicing "Family Guy" characters? Like many, he's active on multiple forms of social media, and he also has a Cameo account that is, not surprisingly, mostly dedicated to people paying him to roast their friends as his Jerky Boys characters. 

Additionally, in 2024, Brennan went on a small tour of live theater dates billed as "An Evening with Johnny Brennan of The Jerky Boys." It's a fairly stripped-down affair, mostly just featuring Brennan sitting on stage and discussing the history of The Jerky Boys, doing his various characters, and taking questions from the audience. It's not known what the full scope of the tour is, and whether it's a limited engagement or something Brennan plans to continue doing as long as there's an audience for it.

The Jerky Boys continue to be referenced and revered

Even without constant new Jerky Boys material, the franchise has certainly left a lasting impression on the pop culture landscape. It has been continually referenced over the last 30 years, from shout-outs on "Arrested Development" and "How I Met Your Mother" — with the latter's Jerky Boys mention being included in a clip shown at the Emmys — to the protagonist of Peacock's 2023 "Twisted Metal" series, John Doe (Anthony Mackie), mentioning that he still listens to Jerky Boys CDs in his vehicle.

Then there are the celebrities who have spoken highly of The Jerky Boys as an inspiration for their own careers. In addition to Seth MacFarlane, comedian Amy Schumer, filmmaker Paul Feig, musician Sheryl Crow, and actor Russell Crowe have all been outed as fans. Tobey Maguire insisted on the line "beat an old lady with a stick" in his first "Spider-Man" movie as tribute to a similar Jerky Boys quote, and alternative rockers Radiohead even named their first album "Pablo Honey" after a skit from the second Jerky Boys album. 

It's safe to say that The Jerky Boys' place in pop culture history is well secured, even if Johnny Brennan — or Kamal Ahmed for that matter — never makes another prank phone call.