Where would Johnny Knoxville be if he had never uttered the words “Hi, I’m Johnny Knoxville, welcome to Jackass?” Besides Steve-O, he’s the face that fans associate with the franchise most. He is the seemingly indestructible star who’s been put through the ringer with stunts ranging from being bitten in the nipple by a baby alligator, to being tilted upside-down inside a feces-filled porta potty. But turns out that before Jackass premiered on MTV, another monumental TV show wanted Knoxville to pull stunts for it.
In the Jackass oral history for The Hollywood Reporter, Knoxville says that while he and the rest of the Jackass crew were in the process of pitching the show without much luck, he was asked to be on Saturday Night Live.
“They were going to give me, like, five minutes each week to do what I do, but that would just be me. And I couldn’t do both,” he explains. “Our show was about to go. So I kind of bet on us as opposed to on myself. I was really flattered that Lorne Michaels asked me to have lunch with him at the Polo Lounge, but I said, ‘No, I’m going to do this instead.’”
Prior to Jackass, Knoxville shot some stunts akin to what he does on Jackass for Big Brother, a skateboard magazine edited by Jeff Tremaine. As explained in the oral history, the videos were released on VHS tapes and distributed in mom-and-pop skate shops. They became a hit, ultimately getting the attention of SNL creator Lorne Michaels. But by the time Michaels had met with Knoxville, the Jackass crew had already made plans to shoot the pilot.
Tremaine talked about it a bit more with The A.V. Club back in 2006, saying, “The ball was rolling on Jackass, but it was going slow. We made a little tape basically showing what Jackass was. It was going around, and it was really popular. SNL got a hold of it. They made an offer, and it almost killed the deal because [the offer] was a sure thing for [Knoxville].”