Who Is Your Daddy, And What Does He Do: The Lost Art of The Prank Call

May 15, 2019

Who Is Your Daddy, And What Does He Do: The Lost Art of The Prank Call

On this, we can all agree: Seymour Butz is a funny name.

But why? Where did it come from? How did it become a thing?

Well kids, back in the pre-cellphone dark ages (a.k.a the 80s and early 90s), we used to amuse ourselves by calling up strangers… and f*cking with them.

In those days, the whole phone situation was waaaaay different.

Most households just had the one line, mayyyybe two. 

Only one call could be made at a time, so if you had a family of four you had to negotiate (especially if one or more family members was in high school).

If you had the Internet, that counted as a call. You couldn’t be online and on the phone at the same time.

(This, by the way, was known as “tying up the phone lines.”)

It might seem bizarre to think about now—how did we even live before cell phones? What did we do in emergencies? How’d we make our BFF laugh in the middle of the workday? 

But pre-cellphone culture was actually pretty great.

Instead of exchanging Snapchats, you’d stay up late into the night, cord curled around your fingers, whisper-laughing so hard your stomach hurt.

Instead of ambiguous, flirty texting with your crush, you’d work up the courage to call, willing your voice not to shake when their mom or dad answered the phone, feeling your stomach go into freefall when they said, “Hello?”

But hands-down the best thing about old-school phone times…

Was the prank call.


Kids used to flip through the Yellow Pages (that’s how you found people’s contact info! A giant book made of newspaper!) and pick numbers at random.

It went a little something like this…

Adult: Hello?

Kid: Hi! Is your refrigerator running?

Adult: Um… yes?


<hangs up>

For the most part, grownups handled this with bemused annoyance. It was a rite of passage! They’d just roll their eyes (we assume) and hang up.

And evvvvery once in awhile, you’d get screamed at by an angry old man—which, honestly, just made it funnier.

But that was stuff was all amateur hour.

In the 1970s, a duo called the Bum Bar Bastards began regularly prank-calling a bar in Jersey City, inciting the owner to angry outbursts and “come say that to my face!” threats.

(But he still kept picking up the phone… shrug)

Inspired by the underground success of these calls, which eventually became known as the Tube Bar Tapes, two kids from Queens started making their own recorded prank calls.

Their names were Johnny Brennan and Kamal Ahmed—but you might know them better as The Jerky Boys.

(Or, depending on how old you are, not at all.)

The Jerky Boys would call local businesses in Brooklyn and NYC, adopting different personas. Sometimes they’d ask a bunch of ridiculous questions over and over again. Other times, they’d be outright belligerent for no reason. Either way, they’d hang in there, never breaking character for a second, until the person finally hung up.

It. was. hilarious.

They created bootleg cassette tapes and disseminated them to radio stations and the like. GenXers used to dub them for each other and pass them around school.  

Eventually, they got a record deal, and even made a movie! They were pretty famous for a minute there.

 *We should note here that in the freewheelin’ 80s, you could record phone calls without the other party’s consent. Today, most states have two-party consent laws. Just in case you’re getting any ideas.

Anyway. Comedy has changed since then, and the prank call seems to have been lost to the annals of pop culture history.

So we thought we’d pull together our top three highlights from peak prank-call hilarity.

My Eyes Is Goin’ Crazy

Quintessential Jerky Boys right here.


I’m A Cop, You Idiot!

In the early 2000s Arnold Schwarzenegger pranks were all the rage.

A caller would clip a bunch of Ahhhh-nold soundbites and load them into a computer program, where they could select specific clips depending on how the conversation went. 

Who is your daddy, and what does he do?

(How none of these people realized it was a prank is still beyond us. Who talks like that?)


Gladys Murphy Reports A Turd

Ah, vintage Comedy Central. Chappelle’s Show, Strangers With Candy, Reno! 911 

And Crank Yankers.

On this weird puppet-show-crank-call vehicle, comedians like Jimmy Kimmel (the show’s creator), Sarah Silverman, Bob Odenkirk, and Dave Chappelle—along with many more, including celebrity guests like Eminem, who was so funny he became a regular—made real phone calls to real businesses, and pranked the hell out of them.

While some of these don’t hold up (like Special Ed, whose mentally challenged character would never get past the writers rooms of today), some are still pretty great.

Like this one. Wanda Sykes is so funny, and so in character, her targets stay on the phone provoking her,  just to see what she’ll say next:

Courtesy of Comedy Central

Lately, in the midst of endless movie reboots and 90s pop culture nostalgia, there’s been a weird resurgence in prank call media.

The Jerky Boys have a new album coming out? There’s a new season of Crank Yankers?

How will these work, in the age of CallerID?

Sigh. Who knows? Everything old is new again.

Also: Can we speak to an I.P. Freely?


Remembering the Jerky Boys, by Jake Rossen. Courtesy of Mental Floss

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