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Wait, who is this?

Andrew Earles and Jeffrey Jensen shine the dim light of cultural obscurity on the prank phone call
By MIKE MILIARD  |  July 16, 2008

THEY’VE GOT BALLS Andrew Earles (right) and Jeremy Jensen (in leather) create strange and wonderful prank-call comedy that borders on performance art.

Earles & Jensen, "The Yogurt Machine" (mp3)
Earles & Jensen, "Kurt Loder Has Lost His Mind" (mp3)
Earles & Jensen, "Barbara: A Realistic Portrait" (mp3)
Earles & Jensen, "Barbara’s Husband Clears The Air" (mp3)
Earles & Jensen, "Christopher Fucking Cross" (mp3)
Earles & Jensen, "Bleachy Is Back In Town, Look Out" (mp3)
Earles & Jensen, "Bedroom ETA: A Jermaine Stewart Cover Band" (mp3)
Earles & Jensen, "My Friends Call Me Ditchweed. Don’t Ask. OK, Go Ahead and Ask" (mp3)
Having titled their self-released 2002 prank-call debut CD Just Farr a Laugh — a reference to one call’s poking fun, in passing, of M*A*S*H star Jamie Farr’s autobiography — Andrew Earles and Jeffrey Jensen made a decision. For the disc of new material accompanying the record’s recent Matador reissue, Earles and Jensen Present . . . Just Farr A Laugh Vols. 1 & 2: The Greatest Prank Phone Calls Ever!, a more substantial connection to America’s favorite Lebanese cross-dresser was warranted.

“So we called the hot-dog establishment that Klinger always namedrops in M*A*S*H, Tony Packo’s Hot Dogs, and we had, like, an hour-long conversation with those people,” says Jensen. “But regardless of how over-the-top and absurd the things we were saying, they believed all of it.”

Claiming they were writing Farr’s nine-volume bio, the pair phoned other Toledo landmarks. But everywhere they dialed, no dice: “We were hoping to get some outrageous responses, but we didn’t,” says Jensen. “So, in a box somewhere, there’s probably like six solid hours of us having really absurd conversations about Jamie Farr’s life.”

They can’t all be keepers. But luckily, most of them are. Earles and Jensen’s calls, primarily perpetrated on unsuspecting denizens of Memphis and New York, are strange and wonderful specimens of telephonic performance art. A man rings up a tattoo parlor, hoping his tat depicting “a monster truck being impaled on an upside-down cross” might somehow be doctored into an image of Kenny from South Park. Someone purporting to be Van Halen’s Michael Anthony tries to pawn his Jack Daniel’s bass guitar. A thuggish but sensitive gangsta seeks to rent VHS copies of Terms of Endearment and Cocoon 2: The Return. A wizened 67-year-old burlesque dancer seeks an audition at which she can shake her cottage-cheese ass.

The 58 tracks — ranging in length from 34 seconds to six minutes — on Just Farr a Laugh comprise some of the smartest, funniest, strangest comedy around. But unlike, say, the Jerky Boys, who, by their label’s estimation, have moved 8,000,000 units over the past 15 years, Earles and Jensen are still criminally unheralded.

That may have to do with the deliberate obscurity of their conversational reference points, or the surpassing strangeness — and, sometimes, dolefulness — of their characters. Or perhaps it’s the way they refuse to grab cheap laughs, talking with their Yellow Pages quarry rather than at them.

Either way, the two seem content to simply enjoy, as Earles puts it, “the weirdness of communicating with a complete stranger, engaging them in this improvised script of your own making.” Which is to say nothing of the weirdness experienced by the stranger on the other end of the line.

Don’t be a jerk
Earles, a Memphis-based journalist, and Jensen, a Brooklyn artist/musician/director, met about a decade ago. But Earles had been pranking since high school, “harassing night managers at warehouses and whatnot,” effecting a small audience of his pals by “using the three-way calling feature until we had nine- or 10-way.”

Yes, they both listened to the Jerky Boys — Jensen even confesses that “I’m one of the few people who went to see their feature-length film in the theater.” But far more simpatico was 1992 cult classic Great Phone Calls by Gregg Turkington (a/k/a anti-comedian Neil Hamburger).

Because, while the Jerkys’ humor seemed designed “to get people angry,” says Jensen, he and Earles aimed to “do something opposite.” Instead of simply using the callees as foils, a hapless soundboard off of which to bounce a pre-scripted comedy bit, they try to engage them — to “build depressing little character studies out of the detritus of pop culture,” as Fluxblog’s Matthew Perpetua puts it, “and attempt to nudge them into someone else’s reality.”

“I always hope that the person who receives the phone call is the better for it,” explains Jensen. “Y’know, like has something to talk about afterward. I don’t wanna call and just be cruel, and say, ‘Hey sizzle-chest! I’m gonna hit you on the head with a fucking wrench!’ ”

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