Warning: This Interview Contains (Sorta’) Explicit (Well, More Like Immature and Silly) Content
Johnny Brennan, the creator of the 90s prank call juggernaut The Jerky Boys, didn’t grow up making prank phone calls. He was more interested in the live-action joke, like tossing a fully-dressed doll off the top of his tenement building and watching cars come to a screeching halt and passersby stare in shock. He also enjoyed listening to people, including his own mother, and creating characters from their voices and personalities.
He started developing his talent for voices and characters when he was just five years old. Nearly 55 years, a couple of platinum albums, a feature film, and 19 seasons on the award-winning hit show Family Guy later, and Johnny Brennan is still making people laugh with the voices and characters he created growing up.
In November, Johnny released an all-new Jerky Boys album filled with all-new bits with returning characters Frank Rizzo and Sol Rosenberg with some new characters mixed in. It was the first album he had released in over 20 years. I gave it a listen and definitely think fans of the original tape cassettes (man, I’m old) and CDs will get a kick out of the new stuff. If you weren’t a fan of the originals or if you’re easily offended, the Jerky Boys might not be your cup of tea, but if you’re up for some dumb, harmless fun, you should give the new album a listen.
I had a chance to sit down with Johnny Brennan to talk about how The Jerky Boys were born, what the Jerky Boy phenomenon was like, what he’s been up to, what it was like making a movie with a crazy talented cast that included Alan Arkin and Tom Jones, and whether he thinks The Jerky Boys will appeal to audiences today.
Full disclosure, I loved the albums as a kid. I took them for what they were and didn’t think too deeply about them. I realize that some folks today might think they’re making fun of certain groups of people, but I don’t think that’s the case at all. Johnny seems to really care about the characters and the communities they represent. The calls he makes and the characters and scenarios he invents are so absurd and over-the-top, it’s hard not to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. It’s good, harmless fun with a few F-bombs tossed in. So, without further ado, I’ll get off my soapbox and get on with the interview. I hope you enjoy it, sizzlechest!
Scott (GNN): So, when I do these interviews, I always like to start by getting a little background. And since it’s never nice to assume, as they say, I have to ask…did you make a lot of prank calls as a kid?
Johnny Brennan (JB): No. That’s a great question that you asked me, too. That came up a lot over all these decades. My answer to that, which I always tell people, I was never interested in prank phone calls. I never did prank phone calls as a kid. I would always do characters, though, as a kid and play around with characters and s*** like that. Now, obviously, I’m sure as a kid, I probably picked up the phone and busted my dad’s chops or maybe one of my cousins or s*** like that. But it was never an interest to me to do prank phone calls like that, your refrigerator is running and all that other stupid s*** (laughs).
But what I did do, is I got much more of a kick out of f***ing with people, live human beings, whether they were grown-ups or whether they were kids my age. So, at a very young age, like four, five, six, seven, eight years old, I was always mentally f***ing with people just to see what the reaction would be.
GNN: So, you got a kick out of messing with people live?
JB: That’s what really got me going. I love s*** like that. But as far as– and I like doing pranks. I tell the story for many, many moons. For example, my sister had a life-sized doll. I say the thing was like five feet tall. I put my football uniform on the doll: helmet, jersey, pants, shoulder pads, the whole nine yards. And back in the day is like 1969…’70. I lived in Astoria, Queens in these tenement buildings. And they were three stories high and they had a little four-foot-high chain link fence on the top. So, I dressed up my sister’s doll and I took it up to the roof. And you look off the side of the building and the street is right there. It was Crescent Street, Twenty-Fifth Street, Crescent Street. And the street’s literally right there. So, sidewalk and then the street and then the parked cars. So, I would wait for a car to come flying up the block and I would take this dummy with the football equipment on it, and I would fire it. I’d throw it off the roof. And back in those days, in the summertime, I mean, you had a lot of people that were hanging out, playing cards or they’d be roller skating or whatever. And I would throw the dummy off the roof and you’d hear the dummy…literally the helmet…hit the street and then you’d hear the car and the car would skid and f***ing hit the dummy, and everybody on the block would be screaming and yelling, “Oh, my God”. People would be coming, running from everywhere. They thought somebody jumped off the roof.
And that’s the kind of stuff. I mean, even at the risk of getting a terrible ass whipping, my father, wouldn’t think twice about taking the belt off and tanning in my ass. But I was just the kind of kid that that’s the kind of s*** that, really, I loved to do. So, people still to this day talk about that. That’s back in the late 60s. So that’s the kind of s*** that I enjoy.
GNN: That was a hell of an answer! I always ask about when people get into what they’re “famous” for because some people don’t learn their craft until later in life. I didn’t want to assume that you say, ‘Yeah, I was four years old and I’ve been doing prank calls ever since.'” So, you’re doing these pranks. You’re in school…what were you interested in at that point? Were you a good student or trying to be a performer or an athlete?
JB: I was very athletic. I ran track throughout high school. I did gymnastics when I was in grammar school in Queens. I was in gymnastics. So, I was very physically in tune. All my life I’ve been into that whole aspect. I played football. Sports was always part of my life, as well as automobile racing and racing cars and doing things of that nature. That’s the big deal in my house with my brothers. And there are four boys and we’ve got one sister. And we have always been about racing. And one of my brothers actually drove for the Richard Petty Racing School-, which is very, very cool. It’s just different. Everybody’s different. Everybody has their own little thing.
GNN: Sure. Sure. So, when were the seeds of The Jerky Boys planted? When did that whole thing come about?
JB: Well, I could say honestly that it’s been part of my life probably from the get-go because…it gets back to what we were saying before, because of my nature. I lived in a lot of different neighborhoods. I lived in, like I said, Astoria, Queens. I lived upstate New York…where there are farmers and things of that nature. I also lived in Manhattan for a number of years. So, as a small kid, I was like a sponge, and I would always pick up these…in Astoria, we had a lot of Greek people. We had a lot of Spanish people, just a lot of different nationalities. And I used to love to listen and hear the different tones, and the different dialects, and the different languages. And I would really suck that up. I was like a sponge. And I would always do these voices at a very, very young age, like five, six years old. I would always mimic Greeks and I would mimic Spanish voices.
One time, my sister was in St. Jean’s in Manhattan and she had homework assignments to do that she would have to record on the old recorders with a little play and record buttons. So, I would record, and unbeknownst to my sister, she had no idea because the nuns would play it back in school. And I would record my Spanish voice and go on and on and on and on and on with sentences and I would throw all the bad words I knew and string it along with things that sounded Spanish, but I wasn’t making any sense whatsoever. But the nuns, they thought it was the funniest thing that they had ever heard. And my sister was mortified. My sister was absolutely mortified. But once again, see, that’s the kind of stuff I liked to do. I love to do those sorts of things and pranks like that because I knew the nuns were going to hear it, and they loved it, and they thought it was hilarious. I would give anything to have that tape today.
You see, those are the things that…for example, sucking all that stuff in, and it gets back to what you were saying when I first kind of knew about this. It was always there. It just somehow happened at some point. It happened. Because if I take a story that is a perfect example to get right back to your question. I remember back in 1966 when my mom and my dad bought a house in the country, upstate New York, Salisbury Mills. They bought a place in Salisbury. So, my mom, back in those days, in ’66, the newspaper, the local papers would go around taking pictures of your house for Christmas, how it’s decorated, and blah, blah, blah. And back in those days, they had little stables, little stables you put outside, and you have Mary and Joseph and Jesus…
GNN: Oh, sure. Yeah, the manger scene. Yeah. The nativity scene.
JB: Yeah. So, my mom went to the store. I remember the store was called Grants and my mom went to the store, and she bought these figurines. They were three feet tall. And you light them up. You put bulbs underneath them, and it’s Joseph lights up and Mary lights up. And, so, we’re decorating the stable. And my mom’s got the hay, and she’s fixing it all up nicely, and the little manger there. So, now just naturally I’m holding Jesus, right? So, I’m five or six years old, and I remember wanting to just be helpful. And I reached in, and I placed Jesus in the manger. And my mom f***ing loses it, “What the f*** are you doing? That’s the baby Jesus! That’s Baby Jesus! He doesn’t go in until the morning, Christmas morning! You don’t put the baby Jesus in there!” And I’ll never forget being in shock at how she’s blowing her top at me. But not only was I in shock, but I also said to myself, “This is too f***ing funny. Even as a little kid, I thought it was funny that she’s losing it over the baby Jesus.” So, it would be years later, throughout my life, I would still say that. I would still say that the way my mom said it, “The baby Jesus”. And I would say it and in one of my skits, one of my very first routines…this is what I mean when I say it’s always been part of my life. One of my very first skits before there was a Jerky Boys, I did a skit called Sol’s Shadow. And it’s a famous skit. That naturally flowed out of my mouth because of all the years I remember my mom saying that and the way she said it. Whenever I do Sol Rosenberg, I’m literally doing my mom. So, it’s my mom’s persona. It’s my mom’s personality. It’s my mom’s voice. Everything in Sol is my mom. So, it just naturally happened. “Can you help me? Oh, please, God help us. Oh, God and Jesus, God and baby Jesus help us.” So, it worked its way. And to this day, people to this day, they mimic the line. They steal the line…Will Ferrell uses it in the race car movie…
GNN: Talladega Nights!
JB: Yeah, he uses it…and to this day, comedians, they’re just like, “Where the f*** do you come up with this s**t?” And I have to be honest. I say it’s like, “It flows. It just flows.” And it may come from memory, but it just comes. It just keeps on coming.
It’s just amazing how the Jerky Boys…how my characters have gotten into so many different facets of life. If you look at NASCAR, every garage in NASCAR has my Jerky Boys tapes. If you look at World Wrestling Entertainment, Vince McMahon, all these guys, all the wrestlers are huge Jerky Boys fans. Bret Hart, his brother Owen was a huge fan. Hacksaw Jim Duncan used to go out and say all my words when he’d go out on the stage. These are just a few…I mean, major league baseball, basketball, hockey, all of these people are huge Jerky Boys fans. And it’s an amazing thing because it works with everything. And that includes the biggest bands you can think of, Radiohead, Collective Soul, Green Day, Dave Grohl, and all his work, Nirvana. These guys have been fans of mine. You’re talking decades. So, it’s a tremendous thing that has reached into so many different facets of life. And I’m very appreciative. I’m very appreciative.
GNN: Yeah. If you got a nickel every time I quoted the Jerky Boys, like, “What’s up Chief?” or “What’s up tough guy?” When I ask my buddy over to help me fix something, it’s always, “Do you want me to bring my toolbox?” I let my dad listen to it, and we were laughing and he was saying the lines. We got a lot of mileage out of those tapes and CDs. A lot of laughs…
JB: Absolutely. I’m very grateful. I’m not sure if you saw the new album. The new album I just came out with, it’s the first traditional Jerky Boys-style album in over 25 years, and it went straight to number one as soon as it came out. And I hadn’t put anything out, really, like a traditional Jerky Boys record like the old ones, like one and two and three in many, many years. You’re talking 23, 24, 25 years. And as soon as it came out, it went straight to number one, and my manager calls me up and says– he goes, “Look at the charts.” He said, “Look at number 60.” Number 60 was the original Jerky Boys record, okay? The next day, he says, “Look at the charts.” The original Jerky Boys record is now number 12. The following day it went to number 2. So, the brand-new Jerky Boys record was number one, and the old from 30 years ago was number two. Actually, more than 30 years ago, was number two. And my other Jerky Boys records started climbing the charts as well.
GNN: That’s amazing…congratulations. This is all new stuff, right?
JB: Every single track on this record is brand-spanking-new. I had nothing to go to. I had nothing laying around. Every single track is brand new, so I didn’t know what to expect. You never really know what to expect with these things. But as soon as it hit, it came straight up. It went straight to number one on Amazon, on iTunes. And it was fascinating. And it came out on Black Friday. So, I believe it was November 27th. So, it’s brand-spanking-new and the fans are going nuts for it. And what’s funny with this particular record, this brand-new one, I got people telling me, “Johnny, my God, my favorite bit is this one. My favorite bit is this one.” And everyone is loving all of the different tracks. And that is when you know you hit a really good grand slam.
GNN: So, there are 14 tracks on this new album and up to 25, 26 tracks on some of your older albums. When you make an album with this many tracks, how much effort goes into it? How many calls do you have to make? I have to imagine some people hang up after a couple of seconds. Some people don’t pick up, and so on…
JB: Well, not back in the days. If you go back when I was doing my first record, my second record, or I was doing the bootleg, which is pretty much both one and two. A lot of the bootlegs are on one or two. But if you go back, I mean, I didn’t have any issues at all. I had nobody hanging up on me. It wasn’t until The Jerky Boys 3 that people would be like, “What do you think you are the Jerky Boys?” Because now you’re talking about having sold multiple platinum records with the first two. And now the Jerky Boys are a household name. So, for The Jerky Boys 3 and The Jerky Boys 4, it became a little bit harder, but still very, very easy to do. With this brand-new record, it was a lot more work because people are very different today.
GNN: Oh, yeah.
JB: Very different. Nobody answers the phone. They don’t want to answer the phone. So, I might have to do 10 calls to just get somebody to answer a phone. But again, as far as the issue goes with me not having people hang up on me, that still is beautiful. I still have no problems with that. If I can get them on the line, if I got them on the line, I can keep them there. So, there are no problems with that. And you’ll see when you get to listen to the new album, you’re really going to dig it.
GNN: I got to listen to a preview and I’m really digging it so far. It’s just like old times! So, to go back a bit as you said, you do the first Jerky Boys album. When did you know The Jerky Boys was becoming a “thing?” I was introduced to you with the second cassette, but I was hooked…I had Jerky Boys shirts and all the tapes. Was there a time and a place where someone’s like, “Hey, listen, Johnny, this is huge.”? You mentioned bootleg tapes…
JB: Yeah. You’ve got to go back to I would say it was the early 80s, because of the bootleg. There was no physical record. There was no physical CD, right? It was a bootleg. And the bootleg, The New York Times said it was the largest bootleg in history. The bootleg was everywhere. The bootleg was around the globe. So, wherever they spoke English. I remember one of the first countries was the United Kingdom, England. England had it like right away.
And Howard Stern and Mark Parenteau up in Boston, probably the biggest DJ in Boston at the time. And Howard Stern playing it like crazy to his audience. You’re talking millions of people. But the bootleg was already famous. That’s how Howard got his hands on it. So, by Howard going on the radio and talking about it, to this day, Howard plays my stuff, which is a pretty incredible track record. Think about that. That also tells you it’s pretty phenomenal. After all these years of no Jerky Boys material, that my new record comes out and goes straight to number one. I mean, that’s a testimonial right there, you know?
GNN: Does it still hit you as like, “Holy s**t, that’s amazing!” Or are you like, “You know, it’s something that they felt was funny then, they’re going to think was funny now?” Or are you still kind of humbled by, “Holy s**t, people still want to hear the Jerky Boys?”
JB: Yeah, I actually am. And I’ve always been very…any of my fans who’ve known me over the years, and who’ve met me, or we talk together, and I do these live shows now that hopefully will start up again. They ended about a year, 15 months ago, when COVID hit. I had just started doing live shows. Which I never did before. And I didn’t realize how much the people would really love it. I did my first show on my birthday, December 1, 2017. And you know, you get 200, 300 people in a room, standing shoulder to shoulder. Having a few beers, a couple of glasses of wine. You know? Everybody’s happy, and then we talk. I introduce myself. And we go back and forth a little bit. And then we go into a classic bit. And might play the auto mechanic, or might play Brett Weir, or might play Sol Rosenberg. And when you talk about humbled, this was all new to me. And it was just– right before the COVID thing. And I’m looking out at all these people, and what’s nice about small crowds, two, three hundred people, is I can make eye contact with every single person in the room over an hour and a half. And to see those people, when my skit is going, blaring over the intercom, to see those people, shouting out my skit. Every single word. Is the most incredible thing. And that’s when it hit me that, wow, these guys, they really, really, really do. It makes them feel– it made me understand that it makes them feel really good. And I’ve always been humble from day one. But this is the first thing that made me really look and see, and appreciate, and say, “Man, it’s important.” And it’s one of the reasons why I actually got back in and put this new record out. Because I just felt that it may not be fair to the fans, that I’m still around. And I’m not giving them anything, you know what I’m saying?
GNN: Sure, sure. Especially in these times, laughing, people need to laugh a little bit.
JB: Well, that’s a great thing you just said, because I was this close. This close, to calling the record label…knowing that they were already pissed off at me. Because I announced it on my birthday, 2017. I announced it. That I was going to be putting together a brand new Jerky Boys CD. And, so, the record company’s like, a year goes by, and they’re like, “What’s going on, man?” And I couldn’t, I had like a mental thing going on. Where I was like, “Oh my God. I have no material. There’s nothing, I don’t have anything to go to.” I have zero, nothing. So, I’m like, I’ve got to sit down and make this happen. So, I did. I forced myself to get in my truck. I drove down to the Cornwall Police Station, in Cornwall, New York. Cause they have a big 10-story tower, cell tower. I didn’t want to drop any calls and stuff. And I just started banging out calls, putting calls together. And after a few days, I went, started going through and saying, “Wow, I think I have some really good stuff here. I’m not sure about it, but I think I’ve got some really good stuff.” So here, to get back to what you were saying, long story short, I was this close to calling the record label and saying, “Hey, look guys, this has been a crazy ass year this 2020, with everybody getting sick and all this sort of bulls**t going on. I said, “Let’s just hold it for another month, and let’s release it in 2021.” And then I said to myself– just like a light bulb went off, I said to myself, “F**k, no. Let’s release this thing right now in 2020, and let’s get it out there because if any a time that you need it, it’s right now, right now.” So, I said, “I don’t give a s**t about anything else. 2020 is it. It’s going out.” So, it was the end of 2020, November 27th, Black Friday. And then we went into December and then into the New Year. But, at least, it was out in 2020.
GNN: And they can get that on Amazon, and where else?
JB: Amazon, iTunes, pretty much anywhere they do electronic music. And I know, physically as well, there’s a physical copy that I think it’s on Amazon, wherever they get records these days.
GNN: Okay. I was curious, you mentioned all the fans, including Howard Stern, who’s the biggest fan who’s come up to you and told you what a fan they were? Or someone who was a surprise fan? Where you couldn’t believe they were a fan…
JB: I can’t tell you how many there are. But one is Tom Jones when he did my movie…when he did my movie, I always tell people this story about Tom Jones. He’s just a singer and everybody loves him and I grew up with Tom Jones through the ’60s and the ’70s, and I remember seeing him on TV all the time. But Tom Jones wanted desperately to be in The Jerky Boys movie. He wanted to be in it. And I thought it was a fantastic idea. So, Lenny Kravitz reworked Are You Gonna Go My Way for Tom Jones. So, Tom Jones sang the song in the movie.
But a funny story I always tell people, he had a 103-degree fever that day when he was on the movie set. And I’ll never forget, all he wanted to do was meet Kissel, the original Kissel who is my uncle, my Uncle Vinny. So, I called down to my Uncle Vinny. I called down to my Uncle Vinny downtown. He lived in Manhattan. I said, “Uncle Vinny, throw a jacket on. Throw something on.” I said, “Get in a cab.” And at the time, my uncle was very old, and he was frail. He was getting older. But he got a chance, and Tom Jones was able to meet my Uncle Vinny. Tom sat him in his chair, and Tom took pictures with my Uncle Vinny. And we still have them to this day. And I think it was in a few years after that, ’98, I dedicated the fifth album to my Uncle Vinny. He passed away. He was a World War II veteran. So, it was awesome, meeting Tom Jones.
But you can go down the list…Seth MacFarlane, he said, to this day, it’s the funniest thing he’s ever heard in his life. And Seth’s exact words, he said, “Johnny, it’s f***ing timeless.” You got guys and girls. The mother in my movie, Suzanne Shepherd, was in Goodfellas and a huge Jerky Boys fan. Nancy Kerrigan, the ice skater from years ago. I mean, I could pretty much– Mariah Carey. Mariah Carey is one of the most incredible minds. She knows every single nuance, every single skit, every– she knows both parts. She knows my part and the other part. I mean, I could just keep going on and bringing up celebrities to you and you’d be like, “Wow, that’s amazing.” Ozzy Osborne, I mean, the list just goes on and on…
GNN: Yeah. Speaking of your movie, it’s funny, when the movie came out, I was actually working at a theater and on Thursday nights after we closed, we got to watch movies that were coming out on Friday. So, I got to see your movie once for free, and then I brought my friends because, first of all, Alan Arkin is a national treasure. Everything he is in is fantastic. So, you had Alan Arkin, you had William Hickey, you had Vincent Pastore, who’s hysterical and everything. It’s one of those movies that you know isn’t going to be in an Oscar conversation, but it was still just dumb fun.
JB: You know what? You know what you’ve got to take into account? You have to take into account that these are Academy Award-winning actors that came… they came to the production company to be a part of this Jerky Boys phenomenon. That’s what they did. William Hickey, one of the most revered teachers of actors in New York. You had Alan Arkin, I think the two or three-time Academy Award winner. Suzanne Shepherd from Goodfellas. You had Brad Sullivan from Slapshot. Brad Sullivan is also an Academy Award winner. You had Alan North, Vincent Pastore, the list is just– it’s just an endless supply of top-notch actors.
GNN: To this day, I still remember it. Was it fun or was it more hard work? Everyone thinks, “Oh, making a movie. Fun, fun, fun.” How was the experience?
JB: It was a lot of fun. It is fun making a movie. I’ll tell you why. I used to hang off buildings for a living. I used to do scaffold work. I used to have to hump thousands of pounds of material from street level up 30 stories in a building, carrying one 110 pounds of tar pitch on my shoulder. And you’d have to get it up on a Friday and you’d have to unload and get everything up there to the roof in less than three hours. You only had a certain amount of time to do it. And that’s just one job that I had, one area that I worked in. So, to make a movie, you talk about fun. These people don’t know how good they have it in Hollywood. I’ll show you the jobs and work that I had that you wouldn’t believe. If you’re a movie star now, you just thank your stars and you just say, “Holy s**t.” Making a movie is a f***ing piece of cake. The only thing that you’ve got to be careful about is the fact that you just have to be intelligent enough to know that acting is hard. Acting is not easy, because it’s very easy to lose yourself where people can see you on camera, and they go, “Oh, man, he’s bad. He’s bad.” I was very lucky because I was able to understand what I needed to do as far as acting goes. Because if you look at my work on my records, I’ve already been doing that since I’m a little kid. I’m acting with these characters that I’ve done. So, I kind of had a pre-setup as to, being smart enough to realize what I have to do. I have a page here, and I have a script on the page. And how does Johnny Brennan interpret this and say it? And funny enough, I hit the ground running. And if you watch any of the scenes I’m in with Alan Arkin or any of the big names…I mean, I just do…I did what I thought I could do. And funny, Variety magazine actually said nice things about me. When the movie came out, Variety said that Johnny Brennan could be the next Leo Gorcey tough guy. But it was very nice. I thought it was very nice. And you just have to be smart. But making a movie compared to f***ing climbing on the sides of buildings all day, and it’s just you couldn’t…it’s the most fun. It’s fun as hell. It’s a lot of fun.
GNN: Speaking of other jobs, after the Jerky Boys kind of died down, you got a gig on a little show that a few people have seen. It’s like a little independent thing called Family Guy. I think a few people have heard of it. You’ve been doing that for 20 years now. How did that come about and how is it working on the show?
JB: This is my 19th season. As a matter of fact, tomorrow I have a session. And this is my 19th season with Family Guy. Seth Macfarlane, actually, when he started, there wasn’t even a show yet. I don’t even think it had a name. Maybe it did, but I don’t think so. They send me up a script, and they wanted me to read for this chubby guy, Peter. So, there was no Peter, there was Seth. So, Seth thought it would be awesome to bring me in to read for Peter. So, I read for Peter, and the producers, I guess, they were like, “Oh, Jesus.” Because Seth at the time…Seth was just a kid. And I think that the producers might have told Seth, “We can’t do this. This is Johnny Brennan. This is the Jerky Boys, Frank Rizzo, F-bombs everywhere. We’re going on Fox TV weekend.” So, they kind of…I guess they said, “no.” And so that was that.
But Seth was persistent. So, Seth flew to New York, and it was only about one year later, I think. And he flew to New York and asked if Sol Rosenberg could be in Family Guy. Now, Sol Rosenberg is a Jerky Boys character for many years. So, I said, I’m not going to give up Sol Rosenberg from the Jerky Boys. But I said, “The beautiful thing is my mom had two sides to her personality. One is Sol Rosenberg, and when I do Mort Goldman on Family Guy, that’s the other personality of my mom. More amped up. More in your face. You could still tell it’s Johnny Brennan, but the voices are…it’s two sides of my mom. The one excitable side when she was pissed off or whatever. And Sol Rosenberg is completely the opposite. He’s more like, “Yes, should I bring all my shoes and my glasses so I have them? This is why I have them with me.” So, it’s two different sides of my mom and I just thought it’d be perfect. I came up with Mort Goldman for Family Guy. And I do a lot of other characters over the years on Family Guy. My character owned the bar. His name was Horace. He owned the bar. You name it and I’ve done it. I’ve done cops, I’ve done Palestinians, you name it I’ve done it.
GNN: You’ve had a pretty incredible career. As a guy who’s famous for doing voice work, if someone wanted to get into the realm, is there any advice you have for them for doing voice work?
JB: I’ll be honest with you. I can’t give advice because it’s not something that I sought out. You see, if it was that kind of path, then I could give advice because I had to go through certain hurdles or certain avenues or certain channels, and then I would easily be able to give advice. But people came to me because they loved what I did. I never had to jump through hoops, per se. I was just hired for what I created. I’ve done work for Anheuser-Busch, Budweiser. I’ve done work for Lee Jeans Corporation where they asked me to create three new characters. So, they had ideas of what each character should be like, and then I just took the ball and ran with it. And things, like I’ve done Subway sandwiches, but they all came to me because they wanted me to do what I do, which is create characters and then do these wacky little scenarios. And that’s it. So, the only advice I can probably give is someone who really wants to do it. So just go balls to the wall and work your ass off and just do it.
GNN: So, here’s one thing now, as I’ve talked to you, I think I might know the answer to this. But, the Jerky Boys, by hook or by crook, are cultural icons. And it’s like when you say parody you think Weird Al. When you say prop comedy you think Carrot Top. Now, when you say prank phone calls, anyone from the 80s or 90s thinks the Jerky Boys. It’s like, “Oh, listen to those Jerky Boy calls.” You don’t even say prank calls anymore. Is that still that amazing to you?
JB: Yeah. All of the big– all of the big-name comedians, they’re all somehow or another Jerky Boys fans. Lisa Lampanelli and Bill Burr…he’s a huge fan. He actually said on one show– the interviewer asked him, he said, “Bill, if you could– if you’re stranded on an island, what records would you like to have?” And the first thing he says, “I got to have that Frank Rizzo. Frank Rizzo, the Jerky Boys, man.” He said, “That Frank Rizzo, I got to have him, man. Son of a b***h makes me laugh my ass off.” And so you look at all these comedians that are…like I said, it doesn’t even matter to name names anymore because it’s permeated. It’s gotten its way into everything as we talked before about Hollywood. All the way back when they made Christmas Vacation we got word to our camps that John Hughes is a huge Jerky Boys fan and if you watch throughout the whole movie, Christmas Vacation, you’ll see all kinds of little Jerky Boys inputs. Like in the car, “Eat my road rage, liver lips.” Or Sparky, the constant use of Sparky. What’s the other one? Oh, they actually put a Sol Rosenberg into the movie when he’s waiting for his Jelly of the Month Club check, right? He’s waiting for his check and all of a sudden there’s a knock on the door and he opens the door and the little guy looks just like Sol Rosenberg and he goes, “It fell between the seats. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t see it.” So, I know comedians that play my stuff in the green room and they play that s**t because it makes them– warm them up, makes them feel good. It’s everywhere.
GNN: When I talk to content creators, I always like to ask this question. You have people like Jimmy Walker who everyone comes up to him and says, “dy-no-mite,” and he’s come to resent it a bit. You also have George Wendt, Norm from Cheers, who doesn’t like being called Norm. But then there’s the guy who played Napoleon Dynamite, John Heder. He seems to love it like you seem to. I’ve seen him at a convention or two and he loves doing it. You’ve got a guy like him who totally embraces it. When you interact with people, I mean, do you just go right into it? You seem like you don’t mind doing it.
JB: No, I have…how do you say it? That’s who I am. It’s what I’ve created. You see, that’s the beauty in life. Lots of people are famous because they’re an actor, let’s say, or lots of people are famous because bing, bang, boom, this, that, the other thing. I’m famous because I brought something to this world. I’m famous because I created something that millions of people…I get hundreds, thousands of emails of people telling me that, “Johnny, you don’t know how you’ve got me through some really horrible times in my life and I can’t thank you enough for that”. So, those sorts of things are priceless to me.
Perfect example, my brand new record. Before I created it, just like my other records, it didn’t exist. It’s not here. It’s not anywhere to be found. It has to come from here, from my head. So, it has to be created. And if a guy’s famous because he’s an actor, that’s a good thing. But to be able to create and bring something to this world, that is a tremendous responsibility and a tremendous…that’s why I said to you before that I felt maybe it wasn’t right for me to be so quiet over all these years. I just didn’t think of it that way. I wasn’t being selfish. I just didn’t think that people really want more stuff. So, yeah. So if people come up to me…they can come up to me all day long and at Comic-Cons and things like that and they’ll ask me about this or about that or about this or they’ll shoot a line and be, “Hey, what’s up there, tough guy!” That means the world to me. That means everything to me.
GNN: That’s awesome. And it makes me happy to hear how appreciative you are. When I go into these interviews with people who have had an impact on my life, as I said, my dad and I…my dad was kind of a hardass. Again, he’s from New Jersey. But to sit and laugh with him listening to your tapes, getting to talk to you know, and having you be cool, I can say to myself, “Cool. I wasn’t supporting an a**hole all these years. I was supporting someone who’s a cool dude and took the time to talk with me…,” you could have told me to go pound sand, but you got on here, and it’s been great. And I really do appreciate it.
JB: Yeah. Over the years, I’ve met lots of people. I’ve dealt with and talked with lots of people, and I’ve had nothing but tremendous interactions, both in the entertainment field and on a human level, on just the human level, people loving my stuff and being able to come up to me, and they want autographs, they want signatures, or they want to just say, “Hi,” to me or take a picture with me. That means everything to me. That’s why I’m here.
GNN: That’s really cool. That is awesome. So, one kind of serious question, I listened to your tapes and CDs for years. Back then, it was no problem. I took it for what it was. I know you’re not being malicious, hurtful, harmful, or insulting. Was it hard when you did this new album to get it approved? Everyone’s on edge nowadays. Some of it’s rightfully so because a lot of people who say things are being and hateful on purpose. But your stuff is like with a wink and a nod, and it seems like you’re just being silly. You’re not trying to insult a particular type of person. You’ve just created these characters. Were you a little worried that the new album wouldn’t get traction because of it?
JB: No, I don’t worry about that stuff. And the reason I’m very confident with all that nonsense is that they tried this 35 years ago. They tried the same thing. They took out a full-page ad in USA Today right in the middle of the paper. It was a two-sided ad. “The jerky boys are offensive to Muslims, to gays, to Jews, to…bup bup bup bup bup bup.” And what do you think that did for me? Because my fans know that’s not true. My fans know that’s bull***t. That’s not what the Jerky Boys are about. And if you were a Jerky Boys fan, then you know that’s not what the Jerky Boys is about. And so it backfired on these f***ing morons and sold millions and millions and millions of records for the Jerky Boys. And then Tipper Gore, Tipper Gore was trying to say, “Oh, my God, we can’t listen to these Jerky Boys and these rap guys. And we’re going to put warning labels on there…and I’m sitting there going, “Please do. Please do. Put a warning label on the Jerky Boys records. Please do.” And once again, sold millions. When you tell a kid they can’t have the Jerky Boys because it’s got some F-bombs in there, they’re running out, and they’re buying the Jerky Boys, or they’re going to have their parents buy it. So, we sold millions and millions of records. And not to be flippant about it, I don’t worry about that stuff because anybody who knows me and anybody who knows my work, I would never and have never in my career ever been looking to hurt someone’s feelings or be looking to be mean-spirited or do something that would hurt somebody else. I just try to make people laugh with incredibly ridiculous and chaotic situations that my characters get into, and that’s it.
GNN: No, it is. As I said, I always enjoyed it and never felt it was malicious. I listen to the Jerky Boys and I played Grand Theft Auto, and I’ve never murdered anybody, never had a desire to murder anyone or get a hooker and throw her out of the car, so, it’s so odd to see people making that correlation when there’s so much legit hate out there. So, is there anything you would change about your Jerky Boys career?
JB: Yeah, yeah, there is. If I had it to do all over again, from the very, very, very beginning, I wish I had the knowledge that I have now and how to take care of myself, because that’s the only area that wasn’t handled properly from the get-go. Because I’ve made many, many people very, very wealthy. It was a project that you’re talking multi-platinum albums, number one, everywhere. Every project was number one, number one. So in hindsight, in hindsight, if I had it to do all over again…and I’m sure you probably hear this a lot…but if I had it to do all over again, I wish I would have the knowledge that I have now and be put in that spot and then start. But as far as there are, that’s it. Everything else, I would never change a single thing, not a single thing.
GNN: So, let’s wrap up by talking about what you’ve got out there. You have a website, thejerkyboys.com, correct?
JB: Yeah. Fans can go to the website. They can get 8X10s. They can get Jerky Boys t-shirts, hats, mugs, all cool stuff. It’s theJerkyBoys.com. The T-H-E has to be in front of it, theJerkyBoys.com.
GNN: And you’re also on Cameo now, right?
JB: Yeah, the guys from Cameo reached out to me and said, “Johnny, you’d be perfect for this.” So, I’ve been doing Cameos now and that’s off the charts. People are going nuts over my cameos. They get them for birthdays. They get them for holidays and they pick the character. They want me to do Frank or they want me to do Jack, any character, Big Ol’ Badass Bob, the Cattle Rustler. So, it’s Cameo.com/JohnnyBrennan.
GNN: Well, Johnny, that’s all I’ve got. Thank you for the time. I really appreciate it. I wish you the best with your album and your projects coming up.
JB: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.