The Origins of Jackass

The year is 2000. Humanity has come a long way from drawing sketches in caves. We’ve domesticated animals, built pyramids, invented math, flew in planes, programmed computers and even went to the moon (supposedly). We have accomplished a lot with brilliant minds like Aristotle, Socrates, Leonardo da Vinci, Issac Newton, Albert Einstein and Steven Hawkings; but we still had a long way to go. And the enlightened humans of the 21rst century would help us get there. On November 20th 2000, one of those humans spoke words that forever changed the way we all look at and experience life. Those words were: “Hi, I’m Johnny Knoxville. Welcome to Jackass!” 

Johnny Knoxville

Johnny Knoxville

Jackass all started with a man named Philip John Clapp or otherwise professionally known as Johnny Knoxville. After graduating Highschool, Knoxville decided to move to California to pursue an acting career. There he appeared in commercials and the only work he got in movies was as an extra. This didn’t satisfy him and he began writing articles and pitching ideas to magazines. One of his ideas was to test self defense equipment on himself. He sold the concept to Jeff Tremine to be featured in the skateboard magazine Big Brother. So Johnny Knoxville strapped on a bulletproof vest and filmed himself getting shot in the backyard.

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While collaborating with Big Brother, Knoxville met Dave England, Chris Pontius and Jason Acuna (nicknamed Wee Man) who all worked for the magazine. Jeff Tremine saw professional skateboarder Bam Magera’s film Landspeed:CKY where Bam and his friends did stunts and pulled outrageous pranks on Bam’s family. Tremine recruited Bam and his best friend Ryan Dunn to be apart of the Jackass crew. Dave England also asked his friend Ehren McGhehey aka “Danger Ehren” to join the antics. While at a Florida flea market the crew met Steve-O who was performing as a clown. He auditioned for Jackass with the infamous “swallowing a goldfish” stunt and got the gig. Preston Lacy also auditioned during the shooting of Jackass by eating four bananas, with the peels still on. Lastly, Tremine got his friend Spike Jonez, a Hollywood director to be a producer


Tremine and Knoxville pitched the show and it sparked a bidding war between Comedy Central and MTV, which MTV won. Even Saturday Night Live offered the crew to do stunts every week on their show but the crew turned them down. Upon airing the first episode Jackass sparked a ton of controversy because many kids were copycatting their stunts. The Connecticut Senator at the time Joe Lieberman put pressure on MTV’s parent company Viacom to “take responsibility for what shows it produces.” MTV then only showed Jackass after 10 PM and even stopped showing later re-runs of the episodes. The crew was angry with MTV for giving in to the demands. In 2002 a man named Jack Ass sued Viacom for defamation, He claimed the shows was injuring his reputation and defaming his character. The court dismissed his case. 

Jackass ran for three seasons despite many cast members thinking it would get canceled within the first season. After they left Jackass Bam Magera and his friends got a spin off show called Viva La Bam where they continued the antics in Bam’s hometown. Steve-O and Chris Pontius got their own show where they traveled the world looking for exotic animals called WildBoyz. Johnny Knoxville went on to star in many Hollywood films like Men and Black II, The Dukes of Hazzard and The Ringer as well as several other supporting roles.

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The Jackass crew got back together to make a trilogy of movies, with two other straight to DVD films using the extra footage. In 2013 Johnny Knoxville starred in the film Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, which was based off Knoxville’s Jackass old man character, Irving Zisman. The movie was made up of pranks and stunts that was loosely tied together with a narrative. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. 

Jackass made a huge impact on American pop culture. It was ranked #64 on Entertainment Weekly’s “New TV Classics” list. It resurged the “slap stick” comedy genre of the likes of Charlie Chaplin except with toilet humor and self deprecation. It also could be thought as a precursor and inspiration to the Youtube generation of filmmakers to follow. Okay, so the minds behind Jackass aren’t exactly geniuses in the traditional sense and they aren’t the “Einsteins” of our time but they did make many of us roll on the floor laughing.