''Crank Yankers'' isn't that funny. But it might be funnier, says Ken Tucker, without the puppets
Crank Yankers
Credit: Crank Yankers: Nina Berman

”Crank Yankers” isn’t that funny

Did you watch ”Crank Yankers,” the new crank-call puppet show on Comedy Central that premiered on Sunday? If you didn’t see it — wait a minute: yes, I just wrote, ”crank-call puppet show.” The guys behind ”The Man Show,” Adam Carolla, Ted Koppel’s future nightmare Jimmy Kimmel, and their pals re-enact what the show claims were real calls to real people — except the people here are represented by cloth-and-foam puppets, and the voices are provided by comedians ranging from Sarah Silverman to ”Saturday Night Live”’s Tracy Morgan to Denis Leary.

Comic Dave Chappelle, for instance, provides the voice for a puppet calling himself Shavin’, a supposed member of the Wu-Tang Clan. Shavin’ calls a small bed-and-breakfast and gives the polite woman who answers the phone some outlandish reservation requests. In another segment, Silverman answers a newspaper ad for a nanny and peppers a harried mother with questions about whether the house has a hot tub and a big TV, ultimately announcing, ”I like you — I’m hired,” much to the befuddled woman’s consternation.

I think the litmus test for ”Crank Yankers” may come down to a simple question: Do you think it’s funny to call up and ask someone whose last name is ”Dick” whether there are ”any little Dicks in the house”? But even if you snicker at that one, there’s the format of ”Crank Yankers,” which I think actually works against it. At first, it’s kinda funny to see lovably soft, wide-eyed puppets saying these way-out, sometimes downright dirty, things. But very quickly, using puppets instead of people pulls you further away from getting involved in the show. It’s difficult to believe that these are real exchanges that the pranksters had on the phone, and if you don’t buy into the ”reality” angle, the reactions the tricksters elicit from their victims just aren’t very funny.

In next Sunday’s episode, a blind puppet stripper (wait a minute: yes, I just wrote ”blind puppet stripper”) calls a strip-club owner and insists on a tryout, even though it means she must use onstage her seeing-eye dog (named Butch — a nice touch). The flustered puppet owner is threatened with a discrimination lawsuit by the puppet stripper if he doesn’t acquiesce. The set-up and dialogue are pretty amusing, so I wondered why I wasn’t laughing more. I figured it out: It’s because the puppets are so inexpressive. Their faces don’t register the extremes of emotion — panic, anger, bewilderment — that the voice actors provide.

Watching a puppet constructed to look like Denis Leary coping with a wild monkey in his apartment (he phones a soon-flustered employee of the Animal Control Center), I kept thinking, This would be really funny…if Leary were really onscreen.

In other words, I’m a crank who wanted to be yanked harder.

What was your reaction to ”Crank Yankers”?

Crank Yankers
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