My friend and I share most opinions on film and art, but on one topic we vehemently disagree: Jackass. He sees it as lowest-common-denominator garbage, the kind of show seen on the TV in Idiocracy. And I can see his point, especially in an America becoming more and more obviously sadistic.
But I would like to make a contrarian point: Jackass is the inheritor of silent movie slapstick. Johnny Knoxville is no Buster Keaton, but in an industry where so few actors perform their own stunts, and where action sequences are edited together from dozens of shots, Jackass and Knoxville’s other movie projects show its self-inflicted comic violence in single wide takes. It’s the only reason these films work: it really hurts to watch. These guys set up elaborate pranks, and suffer for our laughter, masochists for entertainment. And while Hollywood has nothing but invincible heroes, the Jackass crew excel in their failure.
This comes at a physical cost, as Knoxville recounts for this Vanity Fair video. Usually actors reminisce over their various roles. Here Knoxville details the various injuries he has sustained over his twenty year career.
And there have been some doozies. Broken bones? That’s nothing. How about having a motorbike land in your crotch causing you to pee blood? Or knocked out in a boxing match with Butterbean, sending you into a stroke-like seizure as your throat tries to swallow your tongue? When it’s Knoxville, even the injuries are strange.
The man himself takes us through his first (on screen) injury in 1998, where he was the guinea pig for self-defense tech, including pepper spray (“one of the most painful things I’ve endured in my life”) and a taser.
Apart from injuries, there’s also the near misses. Such as the rocket straight out of a Road Runner cartoon (another touchstone for comedy violence) which failed on the launch pad and instead sent a series of iron rods shooting out into the Jackass crew, nearly decapitating a few. There literally was a bunch of dumb luck on this show.
Knoxville’s most recent film was Action Point, based upon a real life amusement park known for its regulation-defying danger, but that film sunk without a trace. Maybe the Jackass era is done now, but stay for Knoxville’s eye injury story in this video...it’s more enjoyable than the 2018 movie.
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.