1.The beginnings of Jackass can be traced back to a video Johnny Knoxville made for Big Brother, a skateboarding magazine that Tony Hawk told Maxim was the "rawest and funniest magazine out there."
The video — which Knoxville was convinced to make after first pitching it as an article only, one which he imagined as an "evil attempt at imitating my hero, Hunter S. Thompson" — involved Knoxville testing various types of self-defense equipment, such as pepper spray and a stun gun, on himself.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Knoxville said that pepper spray is "still one of the most painful things I've ever endured in my life," because it's "continuous hell for 15 to 20 minutes."
Knoxville added that stun guns and Tasers are less effective for self-defense, both because you'd have to get close to the assailant in order to strike them, and their recovery time would be comparatively fast.
2.The other members of the cast were assembled through their relationships to Big Brother. Co-creator Jeff Tremaine was the editor, Knoxville and Chris Pontius were writers, and Steve-O and Jason "Wee Man" Acuña were both skateboarding personalities who were written about in the magazine.
They then "joined forces" with Ryan Dunn and Bam Margera; they were both a part of the CKY crew, a group that created videos centered around skateboarding, stunts, and pranks. According to Knoxville, Preston Lacy was "on my couch at the time the show came about," while Ehren McGhehey got involved because his friend Dave England asked if he could bring him to the pilot shoot.
3.Before Jackass, Steve-O attended clown college.
He graduated from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, but he wasn't chosen to work for the circus, so he moved in with his sister and "sold shitty weed" instead.
Here's a clip of Steve-O talking about his clowning education (and showing off one of his tricks) in his stand-up routine:
4.Jeff Tremaine told Rolling Stone that the first network they pitched the show to was HBO. He recalled that they were "not ready" for Jackass, and that there were "crickets" after they showed the tape.
Luckily, their very next pitch meeting went a lot smoother: The folks at MTV "loved it."
5.At one point during the development process, Saturday Night Live offered Johnny Knoxville a weekly recurring "pranks or stunts" segment.
During an appearance on The Howard Stern Show, Knoxville explained that he turned down the "wonderful opportunity" in the hopes that working with MTV on a full-length TV show would allow him more creative control (and opportunities to collaborate with the rest of the Jackass crew).
6.It wasn't all smooth sailing once they landed at MTV, though: Johnny Knoxville told Rolling Stone that they were shut down three days into making the pilot episode.
And Steve-O told Maxim that in the early days of production, he became concerned after all his footage got rejected by MTV. He said, "We weren’t allowed to play with fire, and I was always on fire. We weren’t allowed to jump off stuff higher than a certain height, and I was always on fire and jumping off stuff from too high."
7.During an interview on the Dan Patrick Show, Knoxville talked about one prank that was filmed for the pilot but didn't make the cut. For it, Knoxville dressed in a prison jumpsuit, put on handcuffs, and walked into a hardware store to ask the employees if they would help him get the cuffs off.
The first police officer who showed up on the scene drew her gun and ordered Knoxville to get on the ground. He complied...but then her cruiser rolled into a pole, since she'd forgotten to put it in park.
8.A man named Jack Ass sued Viacom — the media conglomerate that owns MTV — for "plagiarizing" his name, and demanded no less than $10 million in damages.
Ass changed his name in order to "crusade against drunk driving" following his brother's death in a car accident in 1990.
At the time, Knoxville told the New Yorker, "What do I care? I can't wait to get served the papers. What could be more American than just suing the living shit out of someone for no reason at all?" He was right not to be worried, since the suit was ultimately dismissed.
9.At first, the disclaimer that Jackass included in all of its episodes read in part, "[Jackass] features stunts performed by professionals and/or total idiots...MTV insists that neither you or any of your dumb little buddies attempt the dangerous crap in this show."
MTV later changed the tone of the disclaimer to be less flippant when a teenager got seriously injured after he "set himself on fire" in an attempt to mimic one of the show's stunts.
10.These and other "copycat" incidents led to calls to cancel or significantly alter the show. For instance, Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman released a statement that read in part, "It is irresponsible for MTV to air these kinds of stunts on a program clearly popular with young teens...there are some things that are so potentially dangerous and inciting, particularly to vulnerable children, that they should not be put on TV."
In addition to changing the disclaimer, MTV started airing the show later in the evening, when it would be more difficult for minors to watch. The president of MTV Networks at the time, Van Toffler, reflected on the controversy in an interview with Maxim. He said, "We took tons of precautions on set. We had safety people there all the time. We never wanted anyone to get hurt."
11.It was these changes, along with MTV's stricter approach to what the cast was and wasn't allowed to do, that led to the demise of Jackass the TV show...and gave rise to Jackass, the R-rated movie franchise.
Cast member Dave England told Vice, "I'm not going to exaggerate: After every single episode, we'd get a list of at least 12 to 15 notes from the lawyers saying, 'You no longer can do this, this, this, or this.'" Knoxville added, "Jackass meant too much to me and the guys to water it down and make a silly, kiddy version of it, so I quit."
Spike Jonze, a Jackass co-creator and executive producer, was the one who suggested they close out the series with a movie. It gave the team "a bigger budget to do crazier shit," according to Jeff Tremaine, and allowed them to try stunts that never would've been allowed to air on TV.
And yup, this is the same Spike Jonze who directed Her, Where the Wild Things Are, and Being John Malkovich.
12.One of the final stunts from the first Jackass movie involved Ryan Dunn — and there's just no other way to say this — getting a "toy car lodged in his rectum" before receiving an X-ray.
Jeff Tremaine told Vice that Spike Jonze originally wanted the toy car to be a cellphone, "but they were too big back then." The stunt was imagined with Steve-O in mind, but when Dunn decided to do it, Tremaine said, "It all just fell into place, and everything about it was magical."
The movie wasn't insured as a whole; instead, each individual stunt or prank came with its own price tag. One bit would've involved Chris Pontius dressing up as Satan and walking into a Pentecostal church where they handle snakes, but when the insurance company said it would cost $5 million (an amount that would almost double the movie's $6 million budget), the idea was dropped.
14.Here are where a few members of the Jackass crew draw the line when it comes to stunts (yes, there's a line). Steve-O told Vice that he won't try anything that would "put my spinal cord or my life in jeopardy....paralysis and death are not on the table."
Johnny Knoxville tries to avoid "cold weather or cold water." He also hates Speedos, because he's "too self-conscious." Knoxville summed up his stunt preferences by saying, "I don't do too much gross stuff. I like more of the things that deal with gravity and blunt force trauma."
Bam Margera "felt weird" about anything that required he get naked. He also preferred not to deal with bulls.
And Chris Pontius literally fears nothing, apparently. But he added, "I don't ever want to do anything mean. It's supposed to just be mean to us. That's really the only rule."
15.During an appearance on First We Feast'sTruth or Dab, Steve-O revealed three Jackass stunts that the Standards and Practices department wouldn't allow in the show. The first involved Johnny Knoxville being taped into a cardboard box full of pillows and getting pushed down some concrete stairs.
The second had Johnny Knoxville shooting himself with a handgun while wearing a bulletproof vest.
And the third was Johnny Knoxville announcing, "I'm Johnny Knoxville, and I'm going to be hit by a car real soon." His prediction came true, and Steve-O recalled that when Knoxville was asked what he was thinking, he responded that he wore two pairs of jeans to protect himself.
16.In the same video, Wee Man revealed that the stunt he most regrets turning down is getting his nipple bitten by a mini alligator, since it became iconic. (Knoxville ended up with the dubious privilege.)
17.In 2003, Quentin Tarantino said that Jackass: The Movie helped him develop the fight sequence between Beatrix and Elle in Kill Bill: Volume 2, and in particular "influenced the 'gross' elements" of the scene.
18.Speaking of acclaimed directors, John Waters is a huge Jackass fan, and even appeared in Jackass Number Two.
Waters told stuff.co.nz, "If I hadn't made my movies, the early films and Pink Flamingos, somebody would have. It might have had to wait until the Jackass franchise. But it would have happened."
He added, "I love Jackass. Johnny is great; he's a sweetheart. He's sensitive and funny and he's not at all homophobic, but he's also definitely straight...I went to Jackass 3D here in Baltimore. And I loved it! But the theatre is full of grown men with their young sons. They're all watching these guys on the screen shoving things up their butt. I mean it's a thin line between these worlds, isn't it?"
19.Johnny Knoxville revealed in an episode of GQ'sActually MeYouTube series that his list of injuries while making the upcoming Jackass Forever included a broken wrist, a broken rib, and a "pretty gnarly concussion" that necessitated a stay in the hospital.
20.Knoxville has suffered around 15 concussions over the course of his career.
21.A 2021 study from Nova Legal Funding claims that the Jackass crew has accumulated around "$24 million in medical costs" over the course of their careers.
22.During a Hot Onesinterview, Steve-O revealed that the first time he got arrested for a stunt, he was "charged formally with a felony for obscenity in Louisiana, for stapling my nutsack to my leg."
23.In the same interview, Steve-O said that the time he came closest to perishing on camera involved scuba diving, since he "didn't pay attention" to the instructions.
When his instructor pulled him back to the surface, he yelled at Steve-O, "You almost died, and I almost died trying to save you!"
24.And finally: What follows is one of the most upsettingly vivid injury stories that I could find in the Jackass Extended Universe. So I'm warning you now — this is rough.
Oh god, you're still here. OK, here's what happened: Johnny Knoxville was filming Mat Hoffman's Tribute to Evel Knievel, the legendary stuntman.
Knoxville decided to try a stunt at the last minute: backflipping a motorcycle, despite the fact that he can't ride a motorcycle. The person prepping him for the stunt told him that no matter what, he shouldn't let go of the bike, since if he did, it may be flung into the air and land back on him.
On his fourth attempt, Knoxville let go of the bike. He told Vanity Fair that when the motorcycle landed, it broke "its handlebars off in my crotch." At the time, while the ambulance escorted him to the hospital to address the likely internal bleeding, Knoxville regretfully said, "I injured the only body part that means anything to me."
For the next three years, he had to use a catheter twice a day.