No one bleeds for their art quite like Johnny Knoxville. Even the actors known for doing their own stunts, like Jackie Chan or Tom Cruise, are limiting the injuries by, you know, taking safety precautions, the type of preparations that get thrown out of the proverbial shopping cart when a Jackass production starts up. Stunt performers, like Evel Knievel, at the very least, aim to land their motorcycle safely on the other side of their death-defying jump. Not so much for Knoxville, whose comedy, personality, and cultural cache is nailed to his broken bones, like the nails that likely liter the bodies of him and his Jackass costars.
GQ dove into Knoxville’s big heart and perpetually concussed skull for a new profile that sees the man reflecting on his two decades of bleeding for the camera. Knoxville, whose big toothy grin began welcoming viewers to Jackass in 2000, is still at it. Having just put the finishing touches on Jackass 4, which crashes into theaters this fall, Knoxville reflects, successfully, on a lifestyle that should leave him with approximately zero memories.
The piece is a must-read for Jackass fans who might not totally understand what actually drew them to the show in the first place. But writer Sam Schube sums up the show’s legacy perfectly:
They’d managed to film only 24 episodes and a special, but MTV recycled the material endlessly. (“For 10 years,” Knoxville said.) Despite its brevity, the show was able to graze, or even predict, a number of emerging cultural trends. It helped hasten MTV’s shift to reality-based content. Hollywood began to throw money at films—Old School, Step Brothers, The Hangover—about stunted, self-thwarting men. Platforms like YouTube, Vine, and TikTok, which would build billion-dollar businesses atop clips of people doing stupid things, were years away.
But perhaps the most interesting thing Jackass revealed was that the very nature of fame was shifting in early-aughts America. When Kim Kardashian was barely out of high school, men like Knoxville and Steve-O and Bam Margera and Chris Pontius were proving that you could become famous by doing whatever it took to hold an audience’s attention. Steve-O and Pontius got their own show, Wildboyz, a nature-inflected take on Jackass. Margera got one too, focusing on his attempts to terrorize his suburban-Pennsylvania friends. All had come by their fame honestly—by taking as much abuse as they could stomach and hoping people liked it.
For his part, Knoxville’s consummate chill about his life and work helps instill a real fondness for the man, whether he’s greeting old friend John C. Reilly at a burger joint or preparing for yet another face-off with a raging bull. For once, the joy of Jackass is spending time with the boys, who still have the youthful energy of staying up too late at sleepovers, farting on your good friend’s face, or throwing a tennis ball at their testicles. Boys are weird, and thankfully, these guys never totally grew up.