The clown prince of MTV reflects on returning to Jackass 20 years after it all began, and if the new stunts still hurt like they used to.
He’s worked with John Waters and played a two-headed alien in the Men in Black franchise, but Johnny Knoxville’s first love will always been Jackass. After the wild ride began in 2000 when MTV first aired their pioneering, scatological show, all sorts of hijinks ensued, pushing the limits of human endurance and media censorship in pursuit of laughs. Twelve years after Jackass 3D broke new ground for motion pictures, Jackass Forever sees the gang – plus some new faces – get back to raising hell.
LWLies: What was behind the decision to make a fourth Jackass movie?
Knoxville: The urge was purely to make another one. When I finally decided I wanted to make another one, everyone else was already on board. They’ve been wanting to make another one. I was the holdout. But we had no idea what it would look like after all these years, if it would look sweaty with the old guys. So Spike Jonze said, ‘We need to do a test,’ and we did a two-day shoot with the old cast and the new cast, and it felt great. And it looked great. That’s when we decided we could do another film. We can’t pretend that we’re not older, so let’s just talk about it, and that became part of the film.
Where did the new cast come from?
We reached out to people, mostly people we already knew. Eric Manaka, who’s from London, Pontius and I had done Action Point with him and knew he’d be perfect. Jasper Dolphin was on Loiter Squad which Jeff did, so we knew him. And Zack Holmes, whose Instagram is Zackass, he does crazy stuff on the internet. Steve-O had shot with him. The were only two we didn’t know: Tripp Taylor, our producer, introduced us to Poopies, who was heaven sent; and Rachel Wolfson, I was just a fan of her Instagram.
Was there any hesitation for you guys? Obviously, the dynamic was so strong with the original group.
I felt like we need to bring other people in and Jeff was on board with that too. And Spike. I think the old cast was a little apprehensive about bringing on new cast because they felt like they were getting replaced maybe. But that lasted for maybe an hour or two into the test and they started getting along great and they love each other and everyone gelled pretty quickly.
You and the Jackass guys have always been very open about the fact that Jackass is quite pure. Don’t think about this too much. Don’t intellectualise it. Sometimes it’s just very funny when someone runs into a wall or someone.
It’s classic slapstick comedy.
Exactly. But the reception in the media has changed so much from when you guys began, and Jackass Forever, in particular, has had hugely positive reviews. What do you think’s changed about the perception of Jackass in the time since you began?
Well, they say old buildings, politicians and whores eventually become respectable.
Which are you?
Oh, we’re definitely in the whores category. [laughs] I think this is why, and I might be wrong, but the critics who are now writing were probably in high school when the first week came out, right. Now they’re the ones running it. They grew up with this – I think we grew up together.
And Jackass speaks a universal language, even though there is something quintessentially American about it.
It’s one of those movies you could run without any dialogue, which I think is why it works well in other countries too. Because you don’t need to know what we’re saying. Nothing we’re saying is clever. Except Pontius – anything he says is gold.
Speaking of Pontius, the opening scene is pretty spectacular. What was the genesis of that idea, to do a Godzilla riff?
We’d always wanted to do Japanese monster movie opening. And I had this idea where I wanted to put a hula skirt on Pontius’ cock and make a hula girl and have someone puppeteer it. And my friend, Derek Freda, said, “Well maybe you should combine those two ideas,” so we did. And then Jeff came in with his ideas. And then Spike came on and went nuts and suddenly it was this huge, beautiful Hollywood production. Originally it was just a bit in the movie, it was going to be a 45 second bit, but when we were filming it, Jeff said, “This could be the opening”. And I was like, “I don’t know…” because I didn’t want to shoot it and then have the MPAA shoot it down and give us an NC-17 Yeah. But they were like, “It’s cute! There’s nothing sexual about it. It’s just cute!”
How is Lance Bangs doing? He spent a lot of time throwing up into his mask.
Oh he’s great. We only put two pukes in the movie. He puked six times during the film. Every time into his mask. He claims to not have a weak stomach! But Lance, you puked six times! And he’s a proper filmmaker, makes great documentaries. But still, somehow he wants to shoot with us. He and Academy Award-winning Spike Jonze. Like what’s he doing? He’s making our movie better. We’re so lucky to have Spike.
I loved the introduction of Jasper’s dad, Dark Shark, who is just comedic gold.
Dark Shark is just the best. Jasper is down for anything, and so happy to be there, but Dark Shark… we made his time on the set very very troublesome because he’s scared of so many things. Like he was a gangbanger who did time in prison and is not scared of another man. He’ll fuck some guy up. And he’s super strong. But he’s terrified of birds. Anything he’s not familiar with. Just absolutely terrified.
It’s also just very sweet seeing the family dynamic at play. Even with the chaos and the terrorising, there’s an underlying sense of how much everyone cares about each other.
Oh yeah, we all love each other. Even when we annihilate one of the guys, I’m Mama Bear. So I’m first to go in and hug them. I hug more people in this film than ever. Even though they may not want to do it by the time we go to film, they know what we’re doing. They know the goal.
How do you decide who’s going to do what? Do people volunteer?
Oh, volunteering doesn’t happen that often. With the Cup Test in Jackass Forever, I did the original over 20 years ago on the TV show. And it was meant for me in this film, but I had a hernia surgery right before we started filming. So I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. But Ehren shows fear in such a funny manner, we had to get him to do it.
Poor Ehren then gets the bear too!
Oh yeah. We had Dark Shark with the bear as well – Oh my God, that was so funny. Like the bear comes out. And you can see right away, he’s so scared. He pulls his sweatshirt above his face. He thought he was hiding. And then he just runs into the corner and starts trying to climb the fake trees on the wall. I’m saying, “Dark Shark, those trees are fake. You cannot climb those.” He just stood in the corner in a fear lock.
Are we going to see more of Dark Shark in 4.5?
Oh there’s a lot of Dark Shark in 4.5. We might just call it Dark Shark Forever.
The sight of him holding you and Jules [Sylvester, animal trainer] in a death grip during the Spider Helmet scene was pretty incredible too.
We couldn’t move! We had had to cut it down. He grabbed us for like five minutes. He’s so strong, so I couldn’t do anything. And Jules, by the way, is also hilarious. We started having to hide him when he came on set, because the guys would see him and start panicking. They knew something shady was about to happen. After we filmed the Quiet Game, and Poopies got bit by the snake, I could see he was still looking very worried, and I said, “Poopies, you know that snake wasn’t venomous, right?” He’s like, “Really? Oh my God, thank goodness.” He filmed the scene thinking it was venomous. And he was so relieved after I told him. He’s like, “Thank God because I wanted to go surfing tomorrow.”
Was there anything that Paramount said no to with regards to stunts?
The insurance company shut something down, but Paramount always tries to work with us to make it happen. We have such a good relationship with them that after all these years, they know we usually do pretty well and no one dies. Although we may get close. But they trust us. There’s such a high turnover that I don’t think there’s anyone at Paramount now who worked on the original movie. They don’t remember!
I particularly enjoyed Tyler the Creator’s cameo scene, and how he clocked onto the prank straight away, but sat down and did it anyway.
That was the first thing that happened. He got to set and he looked under the seat. And he asked me, “What’s this?!” and I knew but I pretended I didn’t. He didn’t sit down on the stool for most of it, but in the end, he said “Fuck it” and sat on the stool. I tried it by the way – it was awful. You saw Jeff, he went flying!
Do all the stunts still hurt as much now as they always did?
All the things we do, we plan hoping they do hurt a lot. We’ve got to get that reaction from people. So it hurt just as much in the beginning as it does now. Doesn’t hurt any differently.
What was the most painful thing to endure this time around?
Definitely the bull. I broke my wrist, my rib, had a concussion and got a brain haemorrhage. I left that out of my injury list in the movie because as soon as you say brain haemorrhage that’s just not as funny. It changes the whole tone of the bit. I still had like three big stunts to do after that. I couldn’t do them though because my brain was scrambled.
Do you guys have another Jackass film in you?
We definitely have enough creative material, like there are so many great ideas. But we never make any plans. We shoot everyone like it’s the last, but there could be and we have a young cast and a tonne of ideas.
Do you think it could just go on forever with a rolling cast?
It’s entirely possible. We could be like the comedic Menudo.
If you could give the Johnny Knoxville of 2000 any advice about life, what would it be?
Oh, my goodness. I have so much I’d want to say. But I think Willie Nelson said it best when he said, “It’s okay to step on your dick. Just don’t stand on it.” I would have stood on my dick a lot less.
In a metaphorical sense?
Well, I guess it’s not Jackass unless you’re standing on your own dick.
Published 8 Feb 2022
Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O and the gang return to the big screen for lewd, crude antics with a surprisingly sweet centre.
Outrageous and formally audacious, these are among the finest American comedies of the current century.