Earles & Jensen Just Farr A Laugh Vol. 1&2: The Greatest Prank Phone Calls Ever!

[Matador; 2008]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: prank calls… and nothing else
Others: The Jerky Boys, Kirpal, Ned & Mason, Crank Yankers

They were the pride of first-year college students and the scourge of convenience store clerks. They pushed millions to laughter and millions to the brink of laughter. Yes, prank calls were a veritable coming-of-age institution for generations until the popularization of caller ID virtually destroyed anonymity. Since then, prank calls have become providence of lukewarm radio personalities and odd stand-up.

The Jerky Boys, perhaps the most famous prank callers, enjoyed about a year of mainstream success between the release of their eponymous platinum debut in 1993 and the poorly received film Jerky Boys: The Movie. Every album they released did increasingly worse on the Billboard charts, and since 2002, they seem to be non-existent in pop culture. The Comedy Central show Crank Yankers brought prank calls back into fashion with puppets for about four years starting in '02, but it has never truly been a fad like the hula-hoop or mullets. Bart Simpson never calls Moe anymore, and creator Matt Groening said not one fan ever told him it was a favorite bit. It's just one of those things that pops up every now and then, like herpes.

Way out of leftfield, Matador decided it needed to take a stab at the comedy market. Instead of going the touring stand-up route like Sub Pop, Matador decided to reissue the out-of-print albums from well-traveled columnist Andrew Earles and former member of the terribly poor Star Spangles, Jeffrey Jensen. Just Farr A Laugh is an exhausting two-and-a-half hours of prank calls without pause. And many of them are funnier in theory than in execution. For example, Ed Asner's assistant calls up a restaurant to have his picture taken off the wall because it's next to the San Diego chicken, and the owner of the joint is as accommodating as humanly possible. That one goes on for eight minutes.

The fact it's on Matador makes sense with the number of music references they bring in. John Bonham's son calling up Electric Lady Studios to arrange some jam time (it doesn't really go anywhere); Isaac Hayes calling a grocery store to complain about a kid in the parking lot claiming he was on Vampire Weekend's debut (it looks funnier on paper); Christopher "Fucking" Cross calling up a studio to get them to extend their tour hours, mentioning several times his three Grammy awards (this one's pretty funny). Phil Collins, Psychedelic Furs, Big Bopper, Primus, Dire Straights, Tim McGraw, Kurt Loder, Morris Day (without The Time), Van Halen, Soul Asylum, and many more receive name drops and/or impersonations. In fact, if you don't have a working knowledge of music history, a good half of this album will miss you.

Filling out the other half is some average character work. A fat, short, black man named Bleachy tries to join the army and raise the price of the Big Buford; a young adult calls in to work to apologize for taking acid before coming in the day before; and a guy calls several tattoo parlors to get quotes. Sadly, the marks handle the calls well and rarely get flustered or seriously involved. Most of them come off as very nice, patient people. There doesn't seem to be much point in it, and it goes on for two straight hours. Some skits, music, or anything to break up the monotony would've gone a long way. Ned & Manson balanced this perfectly on their only album Everybody's Free To Smoke Marijuana. As is, Just Farr A Laugh Vol. 1&2 is merely The Jerky Boys refreshed for the small cross-section of the MySpace generation that remembers Mary Tyler Moore and the MASH television series.

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