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In the article South Park: the Early Years I talked about the show South Park, a show on Comedy Central that told the story of four boys and the adventures they got into in a quiet mountain town. And while this show was hilarious, it was not the only show that aired on Comedy Central that would be considered legitimately funny, or used an aesthetic that would normally be seen in a kids show. Airing in 2002, Crank Yankers chronicled actual crank calls made by actual people, but re-enacted by puppets. Essentially, Crank Yankers was a show that looked like something out of Sesame Street, but a majority of its material subverted its childish aesthetics by talking about something no child should really hear on the phone. For example, one episode had calls like Dave Chapelle pretending to get the Wu Yang Clan a hotel run by old people, an old man calling a fast food restaurant calling about finding a beak in a bucket of chicken, and one guy calling a sex phone hotline. For specific crank calls, one hilarious moment involved someone pretending to be a wealthy businessman looking for a receptionist. And to really emphasize how Crank Yankers was not a show meant for children, one of the puppets voiced by Sarah Silverman filing a complaint to a toy company about a toy that was saying things that were incredibly inappropriate for children. Crank Yankers was crude, nasty, and weird, but it was unique in its content. And hilarious.
One interesting aspect about Crank Yankers was that all of the comedy happened in the real world. These were real phone calls that people, mostly celebrities, made to unsuspecting callers regarding numerous subjects. For instance, the first episode of Crank Yankers began with famed comedian Dave Chapelle calling an old hotel and pretending that the band the Wu-Tang Clan were planning to make reservations. In this case, the hilarity came from the revelation that the hotel manager was someone who worked for a hotel that nobody who was in the music business would think to stay in. Also, this being a prank, the Wu-Tang Clan most likely were not really trying to check-in this particular hotel. But the exchange was entertaining to hear. In addition, there were other funny phone calls in the first episode. Like the elderly man who called a fast food restaurant to complain about finding food inside a bucket of chicken. Basically, this prank call consisted with the old man finding chicken beaks inside his bucket and complaining. And while the call was a prank, the viewer got to see an entertaining exchange between the caller and a manager because of beaks being found inside of a bucket. But one of the more surreal moments from this series came from one of the callers prank calling a phone sex line for his deaf friend. Involving a computer, the deaf friend was able to read the conversation between two people using a telephone. And it was apparently messy.
The interesting thing about the characters of Crank Yankers was that the context of all the jokes suited the characters who were pranking people on the phone. One example came from the characters Niles Standish. As his name suggested, Niles was portrayed to be obscenely rich. And with that richness came some eccentricities that made sure to emphasize the fact the Niles possessed a huge amount of money. Like in one episode where he pretended to hire someone for a fake business he created. For context the prank started out with a woman applying for a receptionist job that Crank Yankers made very clear was fake because the viewer got to see a clip from a newspaper where there was no complete phone number posted. In addition to the incomplete phone number, Niles also makes noises that confirm that the job was a fake. But since Crank Yankers liked to portray the victims of certain pranks as somewhat dim, the lady applying for the job was not able to tell that she was being fooled. And while the actor voicing Niles made it so that the viewer was sure that this job opening was a prank, it was entertaining that the lady was unable to tell that she was being fooled so much so that eventually her husband got into the prank. And even he extended the joke even longer. Fortunately, Niles got his just desserts since he eventually exploded after making his prank call. Only to be resurrected in later episodes. But he was a fictional character, so there was no problem there.
Not for Kids
Crank Yankers was not a show meant for kids. And while the aesthetics were similar to a segment of Sesame Street, there was nothing about it that made it suitable for children. Particularly when Sarah Silverman was involved. Voicing the character Hadassah Guberman, Sarah made jokes on this show that seemed more hilarious in how ironic the context was. in one case Hadassah called a toy manufacturer to complain about how she received a stuffed bear from her mother that was made by this particular company that constantly said things that referenced acts of sexual intercourse. Sometimes homosexual sexual intercourse. Which shocked Hadassah because she was planning on giving this stuffed animal to a young neighbor. During this prank call Hadassah continuously made statements about how shocking this particular stuffed animal was so shocking in her perspective because it made comments that no children should hear for a long time, more or less. Of course, in typical Crank Yankers fashion, this prank call became weirder in that Hadassah eventually found out through this phone call that her mother gave Hadassah the bear as a joke. Because Hadassah's mother also enjoyed committing acts of questionable sexual intercourse. A fact that was emphasized when Hadassah looked at a picture of her mother. Eventually Hadassah calmed down enough to say that since she now knew that this was a friendly joke by her mom, she decided that she did not mind that the stuffed bear only talked about obscenities. Which was fortunate because the person talking to Hadassah said that she was planning on firing everybody in the toy factory for accidentally making this particular stuffed bear.
Crank Yankers, as a show from Comedy Central, provided comedy that was raunchy in its hilarity. As shown in these videos, all of the prank calls were crude, rude, and had some questionable subject matter. Like finding a toy that was made for children, but finding out that a manufacturing mistake caused the toy to talk about things that were not suitable for children. What also made this form of comedy even more hilarious was that these were all phone calls made to real people. So that skit where a puppet Dave Chapelle called a hotel for a fake reservation for the Wu-Tang Clan actually happened in real life. And while none of these prank calls ever resulted in someone's head exploding, there were people who were gullible enough to believe that a phone call was legitimate for an unbelievably long time.