Tennessean was the original ‘Roy D. Mercer’

Roy D. Mercer is a persona made famous by Brent Douglas and Phil Stone, morning DJs at WMOD in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The act consists of ‘Mercer’ called some poor soul, using information supplied by a friend or relative, and complaining about some consumer-related issue and making a request to be compensated with cash. When the person refuses to agree, Mercer issues a series of threats, most involving “an ass-whuppin.'”

The hilarity, as the English teachers would say, is on several levels. First, Mercer sounds like a profoundly uneducated Southerner–perhaps the most reliable stock character in this country. Second, his complaints are always absurd–a barber puts lemon-scented hair tonic on him that results in Mercer getting stung by bees. Finally, the best victims become incensed at Mercer’s threats and respond in kind, inviting him in bleeped language to come to their place of business and fight it out.

Low humor, to be sure, but it has probably made millions for Brent Douglas and Phil Stone from CDs of the prank calls. It turns out that the originator of this particular ass-whuppin’ genre was the late John Bean of Knoxville, who made and recorded his calls in the 1970s, in those blissful days before caller ID.

Coury Turczyn has a wonderful article in Metro Pulse about John Bean, and the YouTube video above contains some snippets of his prank calls. His accent makes Roy D. Mercer sound like Laurence Olivier.

In the article, John’s sister Betty analyzes his humor: “Part of John’s shtick was that almost everybody he dealt with just assumed he was stupid,” says Betty. “He would lure them into that—they would always think they were smarter than he was. That was one of his secrets to how he would get people to do such ridiculous things—they all felt superior to whoever this person on the phone or in front of them was.”

Therein is the essence of a lot of Tennessee and Southern humor, from Davy Crockett on down.

This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.

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