Jewish World Review June 6, 2002 / 25 Sivan, 5762

Catherine Seipp

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"The Man Show" signaled the end of civilization as we know it? Have you seen "Crank Yankers?" | LOS ANGELES To those who thought that Comedy Central's "The Man Show" signaled the end of civilization as we know it, I have just question: Have you seen "Crank Yankers?"

Like "The Man Show," "Crank Yankers," which premiered Sunday night on Comedy Central, is the brainchild of Jimmy Kimmel, Adam Carolla and Daniel Kellison. The concept is simple (and I suppose rather inspired, in a vulgar, sophomoric way): real crank calls by comic actors -- Kimmel and friends -- acted out by Muppet-like puppets.

Occasionally the crank calls are sort of funny. Here's Sara Silverman, pretending to be answering an ad for a nanny: "I have really high STRESS, and I always need to be able to SOAK," she informs the perplexed employer, explaining why she needs to know if the household has a hot tub. "You know what? I like you. I'm hired!"

And Kimmel as an old man calling KFC to complain about a bunch of chicken beaks he found in his bucket is sort of amusing, in a surreal sort of way, for about 30 seconds. Unfortunately, it goes on much longer.

Too often the calls are just nasty. I don't see the point of "Special Ed," a mentally retarded character who calls tech support to yell "I've got mail!" or a travel agency to scream "I wanna go to Hawaii!"

Now a taste for Jimmy Kimmel and his humor might be one of those mysterious gender divides, like an appreciation for fake dog poop or the Three Stooges or Jerry Lewis.

OK, maybe not Jerry Lewis. "Watch a Jerry Lewis movie on TV," a (male) director friend instructed me once, "and I defy you not to laugh." And I admit I did the other day, happening upon Jerry screaming "L-a-a-a-d-y!" in "Who's Minding the Store?"

I've also been known to smile, however slightly, at Curly. But a little of Kimmel and his antics goes a long way.

Unlike Bill Maher -- whose slot he's taking over at ABC now that "Politically Incorrect" has been cancelled -- Kimmel is probably not a misogynist in real life. He's been married 14 years, for one thing, and has two children, unlike the eternal bachelor and model-escorter Maher.

Still, much of Kimmel's sensibility is simply unintelligible to women, although I have to admit I laughed at Connie the Craft Lady's party hats for cats routine on "The Man Show." The last time I watched "The Man Show" was a couple of years ago, when they did a special called "The Woman Show," which imagined Kimmel and Carolla trying to get in touch with their feminine side.

The problem was, they often seemed out of touch with reality. "Men," Kimmel simpered in his "Woman Show" persona, "can't live with 'em, can't get a credit card without 'em."

Kimmel and Carolla are rather young to make such an outdated joke; even children and dogs can get credit cards now. But the average "Man Show" fan probably couldn't care less.

"Make the Juggies naked!" suggests a message board posting on "The Man Show" Web site, about the Juggy Dance Squad girls. "There needs to be more shots of the Juggies on the show," opines another. "They make me feel kind of funny, like when we used to climb the ropes in gym class. I also feel that more monkeys and midgets would add more humor."

Kimmel has said he's getting tired of his fratboy "Man Show" audience, and nothing's happened recently to make him change his mind.

"We decided we wanted to get some members of the Juggy Dance Squad that could really participate and pull off some comedy bits for us," he said in a phone interview a couple of weeks ago. "We auditioned a million girls, and ultimately we just wound up with the two hottest ones. We gained nothing in the comedy department, but we got two more good-looking girls on the show. That's about all that's new; otherwise it's the same crap."

About "Crank Yankers," though, he seems genuinely enthusiastic. I wondered if his own children had made any crank calls yet.

"My daughter has," he said. "I found out from the babysitter and I was so proud ... it was one of the proudest moments of my life. I've been crank called by little kids and I love it. It really brightens my day, I have to say."

On the other hand, he added, it's disappointing how uncreative kids today are compared to when Kimmel and his buddy Cledo called people pretending to be a boy who'd just been arrested and had used up his one phone call on a wrong number. Would the mark call the boy's father and tell him his son's in jail and needs to be picked up?

"The guy would say, 'Yes, yes, OK,' and we'd give him the phone number of our house, and then he'd call back right away and we would pretend to be the dad," Kimmel recalled happily. "We'd really put him through the ringer. We had a lot of fun with that one."

Kimmel still remembers the first time he made prank phone calls as a small boy growing up in Las Vegas. "We were going through the phone book looking for guys named Richard Small [so we could say] 'Is Dick Small there please?' I really think it's a rite of passage for kids," he said.

Will his new ABC show include prank phone calls?

"My sense of humor is kind of what it is, so a lot of this type of thing will work its way into the ABC show," he said. "But will we make prank calls? I don't know. Maybe from time to time. Will there be a lot of 'Man Show'-esque content? Yes, I'm sure there will be, but obviously because it's a network talk show, it's not going to go as far as we can on cable."

With "Crank Yankers," that's pretty far. Topless puppets, implied puppet ejaculation while calling a phone sex line ... even Comedy Central wouldn't get away with this if "Crank Yankers" calls were illustrated with live actors. But as Kimmel pointed out, "every time we have an argument with the censors over nudity and showing penis stuff, we go, 'They're puppets!' And it's hard to argue with that."

Kimmel got his first big break on TV as Ben Stein's sidekick on Comedy Central's "Win Ben Stein's Money." I wondered if he'd ever thought of crank-yanking Ben Stein, who seems like an easily infuriated mark.

"That's a good idea, actually," Kimmel responded. "But the truth is, he wouldn't be easy to make mad. Ben would hang up in an instant; he has no time for nonsense."

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JWR contributor Catherine Seipp, who writes the weekly "Cathy's World" column for UPI and is a columnist for Pages, the books magazine, has also written features, commentary and media criticism for Mediaweek, American Journalism Review, Penthouse, Forbes, the Weekly Standard, TV Guide and Reason, from where this is reprinted. Comment by clicking here.

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