July 20th, 2021 saw the release of Jackass Forever’s first trailer. With occasional rumblings since the end of the Jackass 3Ds 2010 release, the franchise was otherwise complete. Over. Kaput. We were wrong.
Even the first Jackass movie’s end credits jokingly imagined a world where the Jackass crew kept going right up until the year 2063. They are all now mere skin sacks of flesh, held upwards by zimmer frames and motorised carts – and deathly explosions are the only factor to finally stop them. Now, 2021 and living through a global plague… here we go again.
The fingerprints of Jackass’ legacy are all over Forever’s brief trailer too. Browse YouTube now even and there are whole channels dedicated simply to pranking, misdirecting and messing around with the general public; so taken for granted these days, but something Jackass made so very much its own back in the early 00s. In the trailer’s two minutes, we even see Eric Andre featured. Known worldwide for his Eric Andre Show, a take on celebrity, and hidden camera pranks, Andre’s output could have only been conditioned by Jackass’ groundwork. Financially, the release of another Jackass feature makes sense also. Not only is it a well known worldwide brand, but like some of the imitators and copycats that litter current day YouTube and TikTok, it’s severely cheap to make and will always bring in a massive worldwide profit.
With the Jackass TV series released in 2000 and running for three seasons on MTV, the first film arriving in 2002, Number 2 in ’06 and 3D in 2010, alongside countless spin-offs (and cutting room floor extras that didn’t make it in the form of the Jackass .5s), the long-running series has been a staple of our lives, and it’s been intriguing as an audience member to grow and age (from the safety of our living rooms and cinema seats) as the cast members do too. So much so now a part of the vernacular, daring and idiotic children across the planet can only inevitably think of saying “Hi! My name is Johnny Knoxville and welcome to Jackass!” before going into something potentially very dangerous in front of friends.
WHEN YOU GET KNOCKED DOWN, YOU GOTTA GET BACK UP
Now 20 years on, the physical effects on the cast are visible. Frontman Knoxville is currently doing the press tour as a silver fox, his charcoal black hair gone and faded to a snowy white. His trademark dark-rimmed glasses covering his eyes in most new videos also – supposedly this is because of the injury to his eyeball on the set of Action Point in 2018, with fears of it physically popping out at any moment. Meanwhile, we have seen first hand the success story that is Steve-O. Real name, Stephen Glover, was a public nuisance and drug addict throughout Jackass 1 and relapsed after the release of the second film, only to now have gotten sober and his career is perhaps more solid than ever. His fantastic YouTube channel is updated weekly, and details candidly the steps he’s had to take to get to where he is now.
On the darker side of that and with lives so very much in the spotlight, shortly after the release of the third film, cast member Ryan Dunn was killed in a car crash in June 2011. The beardy performer was known for his Evil Knieval style; jumping rivers on bikes far too small and the infamous toy car up-the-butt sketch in the first film (Steve-O recently ranked this as the best Jackass sketch they ever made). The incredible loss clearly took its toll on the remaining cast, most notably affecting close friend, Bam Margera and leading him to spiral. Ironically turning into a spitting image of his own father, a subject of so much torture throughout the films, Bam has in turn fallen to addiction and as such will not be featured in the upcoming movie. His drunken Instagram rant directed and calling out the latest film and the cast, resenting them for attempting to get him sober (as was done for Steve-O) was an unfortunate low point for the fan favourite and acts as a very visual representation as to where Margera’s life, unfortunately, is currently at. An addict, depressed, still mourning a friend and refusing to get help. Much like ourselves as fans of the series (albeit not having lived it first hand), Margera has been involved with Jackass one way or another since 13 years of age. It’s a real shame to see it end here for the man.
Jackass was formed via the seedlings of the skateboarding magazine, Big Brother. Formed in 1992 by Steve Rocco, Big Brother was a limited magazine with a cult following, determined to be the more anarchic substitute to fellow skate mags, TransWorld and Thrasher. Big Brother in turn was a loosely veiled magazine that interviewed local up-and-comer skaters on the scene, whilst purposely mocking the likes of Tony Hawk and general authoritarianism. Big Brother’s DNA was chaotic and intentionally there to disrupt and cause offence, with the contributors behind the words and pictures leaning into this even.
The pages (for what they were; one gimmick BB had was to print each new issue in a new format. This included a binder, calendar style, and they even packaged the magazine inside a cereal box titled Sugar-Coated Penis Pops) were filled with stories from the writers about bizarre run-ins, telling kids to take drugs and a segment infamously describing How To Commit Suicide, alongside general nudity that would appeal to the young teen skateboarder. Regularly the magazine was flagged for its content as harmful, with each new news report on the publication only adding to its growing popularity. It was the 90s, and it was Punk-Rock. Everyone involved just didn’t give a fuck.
As such, the Jackass collective built gradually from the magazine. Chris Pontius (a contributor), Wee-Man (simultaneously featuring on the cover as a skater, whilst packaging the magazine for the subscribers no less), and Steve-O, who purposely hunted down the BB crew when they visited his town, would all become front men for the show and films. Behind the scenes, Big Brother also ushered in director Jeff Tremaine (editor on Big Brother Skate Mag), Sean Cliver (producer since the series) Rick Kosick (camera operator since the series) all worked on the magazine before going on to be part of the Jackass movement.
Looking back in Dumb: The Story of Big Brother, Jason “Wee-Man” Acuna cites that their first feature (simply titled “Shit“), where he is painted entirely blue and followed around by a camera, was the first real example of the team doing “Jackass”. Later Johnny Knoxville, bringing future cast member Loomis Fall along with him, submitted an article/video in which he tested self-defence items on himself to the camera. This involved pepper spray to the eyes and a trademark tazer, which would only crescendo in shooting himself point-blank with a pistol whilst wearing a bulletproof vest.
For all its stupidity, shitting, piss and otherwise questionable content, Big Brother Skate Magazine and its works laid the groundwork for what Jackass would very soon become, with the features often even simply copying some of the earlier BB skits in their entirety – please see, The Poocano.
The series was a new breed of show for MTV. Ushering in a new Millenium, MTV was keen for the exact show that Jackass could provide. It featured 20-somethings prepared to perform dumb stunts, and interacting with the public by way of “pranks”, whilst still including some skate segments.
Through the help of the contacts of producer Spike Jonze (Director of “Her“), Jeff Tremaine cut together a Best Of and MTV loved it, ordering a whole series. Post Blair Witch Project, and still relatively pre-internet virality, the show proved that you didn’t need the most top of the range camera or crew or location, just an idea that would look OK on any camcorder and get its laugh across. It was also very on-brand, and fit into the MTV generation’s anti-establishment ethos, with Bam Margera abusing and insulting his father, Phil, becoming a very regular bit on the show.
Jackass was massive and unlike anything else anyone had ever seen, whilst never watering itself down. The show’s opening title card, with its basic font against a black background – narrated by Knoxville plainly in a censor’s bid to deter anyone from doing any of the stunts shown – was worn like a badge of honour.
A whole decade later, after two features, Jackass 3D, as the title suggests made the jump to the third dimension. It utilised a threesome of the Phantom HD Camera, Red One and the Silicon Imaging SI-2K Camera to shoot its subjects. And whilst it could be well argued that around that time was a snapshot for major films to release 3D pictures (or at the very least poor transitions to 3D – Jackass 3D also went down the conversion in post-production route), the third Jackass feature confidently leaned into the zeitgeist.
After the gargantuan success of 2009s Avatar, studios wanted their pictures in 3D, even if it didn’t make any benefit to the story or the picture whatsoever. With Jackass 3’s relatively meagre 20 million dollar budget, a chunk of those funds would have gone on a professional transition from two to three dimensions – and the 3D in question was used solely to enhance certain skits, almost mockingly so. See: Chris Pontius’ penis attached by string to a remote-controlled helicopter, aimed directly out of the screen and towards its audience’s face – or a dildo fired from a bazooka shot across left to right of the screen, gliding through the air.
Using 2010s three dimensional Clash of the Titans as an example, the Hollywood Reporter in its article titled Debate Waging Over 2D-to-3D Conversion, wrote: Warner Bros.’ “Titans” was shot in anamorphic film as a 2D release. But the studio later opted for 3D, and the film was converted in roughly 10 weeks — a remarkably fast turnaround — in order to meet its release date. The cost was reportedly around $4.5 million. And while I can only assume the Jackass shoot was somewhat less rushed (and more organised than the dog’s dinner of a film that is Clash of the Titans truly was), to put this into perspective the 3D aspects used in this movie were there to show a man’s penis protruding from the screen.
Jackass embraced gimmicks, like their filmmaker forefathers messing around with the advent of the technology. They broke it in to pieces to see how it worked. Like, “This thing is fucking weird to look at, and we’re going to warp it even more because we can!“. Jackass grabbed a hold of the gear they had to hand, just like they did with their Walmart cameras back in the day, and threw their own grotesque “train” at the audience whilst cackling… as we ran, screaming from the theatre.
Jackass has always been about low stakes intuition, from funny people with limited film experience but a DIY attitude simply to get a laugh. Jackass 3Ds creative choices, or lack of them, is inspired. And whilst I did not relish the comeback of 3D in the late 00s, looking back Jackass did always stand out as a greasy highlight, only actually improved by the creative decision to utilise the effect for dumb and crass purposes.
The arrival of Jackass Forever notes a One Last Ride sort of mentality. These are gentlemen who have made the most of what they have (having done so since their 20s and now parents themselves) held aloft by an unbelievable comradery to inflict themselves with pain, and debase themselves for a wide-reaching audience. Frankly, if we do ever get to the year 2063, I’m sure I’d be down for another Jackass movie even then.
Dumb: The Story of Big Brother is available on Hulu, Jackass Forever is out now.
Jon Holmes is a writer based in the UK. Alongside his work writing for film, he is a multi-accoladed filmmaker in his own right, and also performs. He can be followed on Youtube at Hans HS and on Twitter on @jonnyjonjon1