The Best Of Crank YankersIn the puppet-filled city of Yankerville, thousands of angry citizens are awaiting the invention of a simple modern device that would save them much angst and frustration. Fortunately, the rest of us in the 21st century already have it: it’s called Caller ID.  As the quicker-witted denizens of Yankerville take to the phones, no one is safe from the comedic damage these callers hope to inflict. It’s too bad, though, that crank calling went out of style over a decade ago and most of the “duped” callers are onto something within a minute of answering the phone.

As these 60 calls play out in their puppety grandeur, the sets almost seem too elaborate for such amateurish pranks. With incessant use of gay innuendo and dick (I mean “peepee”) jokes, it’s almost as if the callers would rather say something inflammatory than try to actually pull off a successful crank call. As an obvious example, one call involving a man calling to ask a rabbi’s advice on converting to Judaism starts off with a strong comic premise and descends into nonsense as repeated projectile vomiting takes the forefront to the call’s actually humorous content.

Recurring characters such as Hadassah Guberman and Spoonie Luv, voiced by Sarah Silverman and Tracy Morgan, respectively, offer a few good laughs, relying on the comedians typical schticks to pull off the jokes. The true star of this “Best of” collection, though, is the inimitable Wanda Sykes. Whether she’s calling about getting her daughter etiquette lessons, an ATM machine that keeps spitting out money, or an unfortunate accident involving super-glue and her rear end, Sykes succeeds in being both funny and original, reminding viewers of the original voyeuristic draw of the crank phone call.

Other recurring characters like Bobbie Fletcher and Special Ed (both voiced by Jim Florentine) are painful to listen to, and rarely evoke a chuckle, much less an actual laugh. The repetition and inanity of Ed’s calls are perhaps meant to explore the patience of the receivers, but in the end it just highlights the lack of creativity in Florentine himself. The same can be said for Bobbie Fletcher whose tricks with incessant burping and other gimmicky calls just fall painfully flat.

Special guests do raise the bar a little, and David Cross stands out with his nerdy Benjamin Dubois calling to complain about a faulty Star Trek model. Executive producer Jimmy Kimmel pulls off one of the most successful gags of this set by calling a sex shop and then trying to get his mother off the phone so he can order a penis pump. Jeff Goldblum makes a surprisingly winning appearance as a lascivious professor and it’s only his charmingly professorial tone that keeps his caller on the phone so long. Stephen Colbert’s bit succeeds haltingly, though he’s set the bar so high for himself now that it’s hard to appreciate. And rapper Ludacris manages a pretty impressive goof, convincing his manager that he’d like to become a more serious rapper and change his name to “Peanut Head.” 

But no amount of celebrity guest appearances or sophisticated puppetry and set design can distract the audience from what Crank Yankers actually is: simple crank phone calls. And now that shows like The Daily Show and Da Ali G Show have taken illusory conversations a ballsy step further, replacing the disembodied voice of a phone call with an actual physical presence, the crank phone call premise is fairly dead in the water, unless executed with exceptional skill and poise. It’s still impressive to hear expert tricksters like Wanda Sykes, Sarah Silverman, or Stephen Colbert, but ultimately it would be more impressive to both see and hear them perform their deceptions.

Zach’s Rating: C
Perfect For: A few good laughs and a childish escape into the land of comedy
Stay Away if: You’ve been over crank calls since The Jerky Boys made a feature film

To purchase The Best of Crank Yankers, visit Comedy Central or Amazon
For more reviews by Zach Freeman, visit his Hubpage

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