By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Like perhaps two-thirds of L.A., Junkyard Willie wants to be in movies. But unlike other aspiring egos, Willie isn’t even a real person. He‘s the audio-enhanced alter ego of a guy named RePete, who right now is standing in front of a microphone in his cavernous living room. He flips a switch on a Yamaha SPX-90II effects unit that’s patched into his phone line, and suddenly his white-boy tenor drops a couple of gravelly notes. Talking trash at Uzi speed, he sounds like Mr. T on antidepressants. Junkyard Willie‘s in the house.
On the other end of the phone line, an unsuspecting talent agent picks up. A prank call is in progress:
“I wanna be in movies,” Willie asserts. “Put me on the phone with Stephen Spielman.”
“There’s no Stephen Spielman here,” the woman answers, registering the jaded irritation of a veteran show-business gatekeeper.
“Listen, I work in a junkyard. I been shining hubcaps for 35 years. But the thing is, I wake up in the morning, I look in the mirror, it‘s like, ’Damn! I look good.‘ I am the Sexiest Man Alive!”
Sounds of protest are rendered inaudible by Willie’s booming baritone.
“I deserve to be in movies!”
“Bring us a picture,” the woman says.
“But I need to make myself some cash money so I can move to Beverly Hills, where I belong. I wanna be up there with Sandy Crawford and Tanya Banks, because they‘ll all be staring at my booty. I might be 200 pounds overweight and a belly that don’t quit, but I look good.”
Now she inevitably loses it:
“I don‘t give a shit how good you look! I don’t wanna handle you!”
Angry hang up.
Political correctness is obviously not an issue with RePete, which is clearly one reason why Howard Stern is a fan. RePete‘s four CDs of prank calls, recorded under his show-biz nom de plural, “Touchtone Terrorists,” have notched heavy airplay on Stern’s nationally syndicated broadcast. Comedy Central has also discovered the impolitic rantings of Junkyard Willie, incorporating some of his more hilarious bits into several episodes of Crank Yankers, a series that features puppet re-enactments of recorded prank calls.
This month, RePete released his fourth and latest CD, The Junkyard Willie Prank Call Tapes, through his independent label, Infestation Records. And he recently held auditions for an independent feature film he‘s written based on Willie’s prank-calling adventures.
“Pete‘s a demented genius,” says Daniel Kellison, co-creator of Crank Yankers. Kellison says he called Howard Stern producer Gary Dell A’Bate looking for advice on where to find great prank callers. RePete was at the top of the list. “Everyone has their calling in life -- no pun intended,” Kellison says. “And Pete‘s is to make great prank phone calls. He’s the Picasso of prank callers.”
With endorsements like that, who needs “Stephen Spielman”?
When he‘s not haranguing talent agents as a junkyard ingenue or infuriating Bible Belt auto mechanics as Jim Bob, an inbred hillbilly from “Gator’s Creek, Georgia,” RePete is actually 37-year-old Pete Dzoghi, an audio engineer and Pacific Palisades homeowner. Standing under the open beams of his sparsely furnished house, wearing crisp black shorts and sneakers, he doesn‘t much resemble a “performance terrorist.” In fact, the only thing even remotely anti-Palisadian about him is the rocker hair -- a holdover from his metal-guitar days in L.A. bar bands. Though he says he now cringes when he listens to the tapes of his old music, the period wasn’t a complete bust: It inspired another of his half-dozen phone personas, the perennially fried rock-star-wannabe, Blade (multiple vomit sound effects are programmed into his digital sampler).
RePete found his performance niche in the mid-1990s, after plugging away for a dozen years in various local bands. Inspired by the Tube Bar Tapes -- an infamous series of prank-call assaults on a volatile bartender named Red -- RePete bought a cheap Radio Shack recorder and went to work. “I was getting burnt out on music, and I had so many ideas for prank calls,” he says, doffing his earphones and switching off the rack-mounted audio equipment that dominates his living room. “I wanted to do prank calls with believable characters. So I came up with Willie. He started out as a kind of low-key, mellow guy, but then I figured, Willie‘s gotta have an attitude, like Don King, or Mr. T. I used to watch The A-Team, so I think some of Mr. T rubbed off on me.”
His alter egos may be comic stereotypes, but they’re drawn with elaborate detail and continuity -- even interacting with one another in some calls, as when Willie alternately defends Jim Bob against angry callers or bashes his handicapped buddy‘s head with an airplane hubcap. That attention to character and detail is what sets RePete apart from better-known, albeit lesser, pranksters like the Jerky Boys. That and a degree of invention that pushes an admittedly adolescent art form to new levels of hysterics -- or alarm, depending on which side of the phone you’re on. Take, for example, the “inbound prank call,” one of RePete‘s most amazing phone stunts.