by Paul Deeter
Ahhh...MTV. The once Music Television station launched into fame in 1981 for a Buggles song that can not be heard without picturing the grand opening of something new. And then, after twenty golden years of musical innovation and the establishment of a network specifically to showcase the hits of the day, Johnny Knoxville took a huge s**t on the channel. I'm talking of course, of the never quite irrelevant, cringe-inducing and sympathetic groin pain experiencing of Jackass, the now multi-entry franchise. Jackass started in 2000 after the brilliant and maybe insane brains of Knoxville and Bam Margera. Perhaps famously known for Viva La Bam and the endless torturing of his father on videotape, his work was with the CKY (Camp Kill Yourself) crew, which on a smaller scale practiced dangerous stunts for less viewers. They intersected paths with their shared interests and techniques for idiotic routines on camera, and after a few offers were made for the show (Saturday Night Live wanted in, if you can believe it) good ole' Music Television picked the boys up. Shortly after Steve-O came on board, along with other original cast members for the series, but the franchise would see many faces of varying fame compete in their buffoonery. And this was MTV during the golden age of dirty, shameless TV, the 19 season MTV Cribs launched in 2000 as a POV experience of the rich and the famous for viewers across the country. Cribs was never about the rise to fame or the worth of a celebrity. It was a "look at me!" act, or a "how many lambos can we fit in a garage" competition. 2004 would see the release of Pimp My Ride the cult classic with rapper Xzibit and some less popular series aimed at hypnotizing the poor into idolizing the glamorous. I may sound a little harsh here, but my point is coming around.
Jackass is not a shameless show, unlike what your parents told you in highschool when you thought you'd ride a shopping cart down a hill. Jackass is a visual performance art experience, built and established by talents like Spike Jonze (Her, Where the Wild Things Are) and now popular actor Knoxville. Despite suffering and surviving multiple controversies, lawsuits and all forms of complaints Jackass somehow stayed afloat in some format or another. MTV jumped on board in 2000 to the encouragement of...Van Toffler, president of MTV: "We just knew there were a bunch of knuckleheads out there who had a very high tolerance for stupidity and pain." The concept alone was so simple that each episode simply had to go for belly laughs to pull off its act. Viewers as young as teenagers and as old as adult manchildren ate this s**t up for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Episodes included hundreds of ways to hit a man in the balls, pratfalls from dangerous heights and shock humor to unexpecting real passerbys. The show's shock and awe didn't seem to struggle under MTV's control, although the episodes constantly pushed the envelope for public scrutiny. I mean you could fill a dictionary with the amount of controversies this show had, and that was only in its three season run. Some lawsuits politicians like Senator Joe Lieberman who's kid protection act did push hard enough on MTV to cause some strain from its creators. The show gained popularity for its original opening disclaimer about not being "dumb" and behaving in "idiotic" behavior like the cast of the series. Unfortunately, this disclaimer had to be adjusted for: "a sober warning about the danger of mimicking stunts performed on the show"... due to a terrible accident involving a teenager attempting an almost fatal homemade stunt he said he caught from the show (although nothing like his behavior was ever attempted on Jackass in actuality.) It was muddy waters and also compelling stuff, but undeniably Jackass was made to offend or at least divide viewers. It was what some may term a show for "boob tube" television, mindless entertainment for the non-thinking man.
Yet, there's an undeniable charm to the Jackass series came from the low budget project the primarily male (100% knucklehead) cast and crew created. The various weapons were aimed at their nuts but the humor was always aimed at us. It's down right wholesome what the series has put out; between all the madness and chaos Jackass is a series about sharing a laugh. It's the definition of lowbrow humor, that is sometimes crude and occasionally potty-related. But Knoxville and his gang has persevered due to the good-hearted nature of their shared stupidity. As long as the person knocked down can get back up, there's no shame in enjoying their pratfall. With the staggering viewership for the show, its surprising to know there's only three seasons of the original MTV series. It was a lot of work juggling the negative influence the series had on some of its viewers and the show's infamy with the powers to be behind national censorship. Luckily, in 2002, director Jeff Tremaine (who would stay on for all three films) and the original cast came together to shock on the big screen with their film spin-off of the show. The movie would gross over $60 million impressive both for an R-Rated feature and one made under a $5 million dollar budget. 2002 was the last year the show was worked on, and a year later it would end its serialized run. The film was perhaps the biggest spark the franchise needed. It proved that numbskulls would turn out for theaters to see their antics. It was the beginning of something big.
So in 2006, Jackass: Number Two went big. I mean really f--king big. The shooting took place all over the course of the year, but spanned multiple countries including India and England. The movie also focused harder on guest appearances, with Tony Hawk engaging in some skateboarding tomfoolery and other cameos like Mike Judge, Luke Wilson and Three 6 Mafia. This film also upped the ante in its danger including scenes with live bees thrown into a vehicle and a chase around a bull ring that almost has the young troublemakers gored. This of course ends in Bam getting a brand of a d**k on his ass and the reveal of it to his poor parents. There's a lot more to love here a bet made to eat ***** s**t for $200 dollars, a fake ***** fight with a man's d**k in a glass case with a snake and then there's the really controversial sketch where the boys ***** ***** ***** that had to be cut from the movie for the sake of the rating. I may be withholding some crucial details here, or call it a redaction for the sake of making sure I don't upset too many readers. The movie again reaped a huge box office turnout for a slightly larger budget, had sneak peek openings on MySpace.com and went on to be released for home DVD with extra stunts and content under the title Jackass 2.5.
I think in 2009, I was introduced to this franchise skeptically after multiple warning ads and the disapproval of my parents to have any involvement with the original show. I watched Jackass and Jackass: Number Two with the pleasure of my best friend nicknamed Flounder, a roommate in college who's still my best friend to this day. His encouragement, maybe complete push to watch these movies prepared me for 2010, when Jackass 3 perhaps one of the greatest comedy creations of the 2010s, was released in glorious 3D. Three dimensions of PAIN. This film was a testament that ten years couldn't bury these boys from relevance, and their love for bad behavior (luckily) could not be matured past. Jackass 3D was made after Knoxville practically begged for a sequel to Number Two, in the most "jackass" way possible. As they were wrapping on the set of the sequel he would throw himself into street signs and encourage the cast to keep the camera rolling through all of it. And it paid off. The third entry in this trilogy of unfortunate events saw a box office record of $171 million worldwide off of a $20 million budget. And at a time of the most gimmicky of 3D cash-grabs came out, Jackass took on that gimmick by the horns...Cameraman Lance Bangs explains the transition from television to cinema screen: "It's utterly crazy. Everything in 3-D looks as brightly colored as candy. I'm a cameraman on it, and it's amazing to watch the footage being turned 3D, like watching everything through a viewfinder." The film's spectacles didn't range far from the original films aspirations, but utilized ultra slow-motion camerawork and wide angle lenses for the best effect for theater-goers. And the gags are as gross and dangerous as ever. I won't go into taking apart the 40+ sketches and gags, but I'll say some are as simple as stepping on a rake, and some involve sling-shotted portajohns. The most inspired sketch that I encourage even skeptics to view is the "Lamborghini Tooth Pull" which is exactly how it sounds. A crying Ehren McGhehey's bad tooth is tied to a little string tied to, you guessed it, a giant-revved up lamborghini. With Bam at the wheel, half of the act is in his revving the engine and fake starts of accelerating and the pure and stripped down fear in Ehren's eyes that just demands watching more than once. Bones were broken, tears shed and overall pain induced, but fun was had most importantly. And Jackass 3D saw the franchise at its apex, a decade after a modest conception of a silly idea.
And here we are, in 2021 and a few months away from an incredulous new entry to the franchise: Jackass Forever. Forever seems fitting for the ambitions set, including cameos from Machine Gun Kelly and (appropriately) performance artist in his own right, Eric Andre. The modernity of a new cast of cameos and another aggressively punk soundtrack may shake the dust off a now legal to drink, 21 year old series. Despite a Covid-19 delay, the film is slated for this fall and I do hope it brings a crowd safely into theaters. Or perhaps they could kickboard off another social media release like the prehistoric one they did with MySpace. There's no denying it, these guys are getting old. Whether the rust shows with the stunts, and apparently we've already had some life-threatening scares involving an injury from some hungry sharks, it's too soon to tell. The trailer is out, and I got the pleasure of catching it during a matinee today. It warmed me to see the grown up kids continue to try and impress and make audiences laugh with their brand of bare-bones, practically slapstick behavior. The teenagers who watched MTV in the heyday of their recklessness on TV, who are old now, may turn out for this last bang. Or maybe it's not the last bang, but it could find a newer audience to encourage more content. If Jackass is truly forever, and multiple video games, TV show and full-length film adaptations have shown its popularity, then the audience will feel just as young as when they first discovered it. Or maybe a good old nut-shot is enough to make anyone laugh in spite of themselves.
I'm reminded of the quote by Michael J. Fox after an onset injury in the 80s. "Pain is temporary, but film is forever." Let's hope that the same goes for Jackass as well.