If there’s one thing that Jackass proves it’s that pretty much anything can be perfectly demonstrated in the form of a musical number. After their second feature outing of pranks, stunts, pratfalls and pain the core cast gleefully provide a rendition of The Best Of Times, from La Cage aux Folles. While not quite being able to hit the same (or any) notes as the backing singers the group are also still being put through a succession of their standard stunts. Against the backdrop of building sites and saloons the familiar faces’ tunes-cum-groans are subject to falling off rotating cement mixer lorries and being dragged away by a horse, attached by a rope around the ankle.
Yet, amongst the worry and the pain the smiles remain. There’s a sense of laughter and amusement from all involved at the friendships formed within the various spectacles on display. It’s the case throughout the films, from the gross to the just plain silly. In fact, the film almost opens in this way. As members of the team read what they think is a Valentines message from a fan they find themselves smacked in the face by a spring-loaded boxing glove hidden behind the note and wall. Those in the know emerge in fits of laughter, and often that makes its way onto the face of the punch’s subject. With each new film Jackass has managed to bring the audience in to the environment of people who are simply having a good time in each other’s company and, most importantly, at the end of the day, being able to laugh with (and occasionally at) each other. Truly having the best of times in that very moment.
Up until the build up to latest feature in the franchise, Jackass Forever, I had never personally seen any of the Jackass films. I’d seen one or two clips, but couldn’t really remember anything about them. Even fan favourite moments such as the Poo Cocktail Supreme weren’t overly known to me. My general, cynical, perception was that it would just be a group of people doing stupid things that were either sick, painful or both – although definitely not anything harmful to the viewer. I didn’t quite have the stereotypical parental viewpoint that it was horrible stupidity degrading the youth of today (instead of blaming Canada the finger would likely be pointed towards California), but I certainly didn’t have any overall interest in the franchise, or the TV series from which it spawns from.
However, having delved into the films (including hidden-camera loose narrative Bad Grandpa) it’s clear that I was just ignorantly wrong. While not being a fan of the first entry – finding a fair few of the segments to be somewhat cruel – there’s a fair share of amusement to be found within the other features. As the laughter increases and the stars become the focus over the stunts, their reactions and responses to what they are performing add to those of the viewers. By the time Forever arrives the crew, and indeed director Jeff Tremaine, feel much more present; than the usual cut to cameraman Lance Bangs throwing up, and as much a part of what is being produced as lead faces such as Johnny Knoxville (who, while prominent, certainly isn’t as much of a primary focus as I at least thought he might be, Jackass truly is a set of team efforts) and Steve-O. And yet the feeling of a group of friends hanging out in a(n occasionally expansive) back garden with a budget, a snake/ animal expert, plenty of health and safety personnel and a number of cameras just to muck around is still present.
Their bond is shown in their moments of concern, even before things go wrong, even when they don’t. It’s in any stunt involving a bull. Any moment when unsuspecting victims are trying to help each other out of a situation, knowing how bad a shock from a – or rather multiple – stun gun can be. Duo or team segments where there are multiple people going through the same pain. There are clear bonds and pairings throughout the series – plenty feature Jason ‘Wee Man’ Acuña and Preston Lacy – it adds to the nature of certain stunts and the impact that some of them have. You see the concern and reluctance on Dave England’s face as he’s hesitantly about to take a pogo stick to ‘Danger’ Ehren McGhehey’s testicles; as if he’s about to go through the same nether region located trauma. Even Bam Margera’s mum, April; largely a victim, alongside her husband Phil, in the first two films, is more into the joking and finds herself laughing as chest hair is ripped off those around her with superglue in Jackass 3’s Super Mighty Glue.
It says something that amongst everything that happens the figures that have become synonymous with Jackass over 20+ years still have less trust for animals than they do their co-stars. It’s a recurring point that Margera is terrified of snakes. Whenever in a situation involving then, even rubber ones, he trusts those around him to get him out of the space he’s in (partially there as an act of revenge after having pranked various people on set during filming with glasses of water and boxing gloves). Each figure knows their friend’s weaknesses and fears, the things that truly cross a line for them. The fact that they’re used in stunts, for example a number that involve heights for Lacy, and certain members still go ahead with them says something about the levels of trust on set and in each other, not to mention the confidence of the cast.
Confidence is clearly something that has grown and spawned amongst the group. There may be mistrust about certain events but it’s certainly in place with each respective member, and the crew as a whole. It’s perhaps best demonstrated in the general body confidence that’s on display – none more so than Chris Pontius and his frequently displayed, painted and punished, penis. Jackass, particularly with the newest entry in the series, has always featured a range of body types. It’s lightly pointed out in the stunts, although never with an air of hurt or mockery. The cast are accepted within the group and while sometimes used in the stunts, for example Wee Man being part of a hidden camera bar fight with other people with dwarfism, namely the Half Pint Brawlers, playing bikers, policemen, paramedics, etc, the figure at the centre of the moment always appears to be in on, and supportive of the unfolding point. As if an equal part of the creative drive behind the stunt, prank or simple attempt to make everyone else laugh. You can almost link each figure to a certain type of stunt fit to their identity and overall style, making them fit into their own part of the overall Jackass mould even more.
There could be more said on the point of body positivity and confidence, each figure within the recurring group of men accepted by the others regardless of shape or size, but it can lead back to boiling down to the central idea of friendship that creates the laughter within Jackass (the title said that this whole piece was going to simply state the obvious). It’s clear the fun that the group are having, particularly in the more unexpected ‘behind-the-scenes’ style stunts, such as paint-bomb laden portaloos; where everyone ends up laughing, sometimes just in disbelief at what they fell for, in the end. It’s a welcoming environment of natural humour and acceptance – a group who can build up to stunts with links to Greek myth and still laugh at a quick moment involving what they’ve titled a Poocano.
Over time you too notice that you’re wanting the cast to come out of each segment still intact, and not just as a basic human response, but because their banter, which increases with each film, helps bring you in to the humour that bit more. There’s genuine impression when they manage to land a stunt – perfectly riding a minibike around a loop-the-loop gains a rather amazed response from both cast and audience – and a level of celebration from those on-screen. Of course people know not to go out and copy what they’re seeing on screen; and not just because it’s said at the very start and end of each film (Bad Grandpa aside), or because you can’t exactly just go down the road full speed on a mobility scooter as if the brakes have broken, more for the sake of pricing and availability than anything else. A Toro Totter is an even more difficult amusement to create, and then you have to find a bull.
It’s also perhaps the case that a fair few people just don’t want to copy what they’re seeing happening on screen. It’s very clear the pain and injuries that are caused to these mostly professional stuntmen, and the team that surround them. And amongst the set ups and health and safety precautions the extent to which some of these injuries go is obvious, and likely not anything people would want to recreate for themselves. There’s a reason it’s called Jackass and they claim that even after 20 years they’re “still doing the same old stupid sh!t”, just with a few more missing teeth (some more knowingly caused than others).
Everyone assembles to have a good time. A good laugh in each other’s company, and, of course, to some extent pain. The team is brought in and assembled each time with a confidence in each other, and to an extent themselves, to get them through each prank and stunt. It’s a close grouping that has clearly lasted years for both the Jackasses at the heart of the films themselves and the audiences who go to spectate their daring, and, as they would perhaps also admit, stupidity. Amongst the general content there’s an understandable nature as to why the franchise, and original series, continues to be such a success amongst teens in what’s branded as their coming-of-age years. An almost open, unspoken, invitation into the group. To laugh with them and have a good time for 90 minutes or so (at least when it comes to the film) no matter who you are or what you look like. With no real sense of malice. Whether for the kid who feels alone and needs a friendly pick up or the group of friends watching and laughing with each other (it should be pointed out that all Jackass films, apart from Bad Grandpa which has a 15 rating, are very rightfully rated 18 in the UK).
The films have slightly developed to feature more laughter and slight behind-the-scenes moments amongst the cast and crew. Featured in slightly lengthier segments that focus more on the prank format between the stars, or simply other people coming in and having a go themselves at sitting on an electrified seat. They’re all in it together and it shows through the ensemble nature that has always been present within Jackass. It’s shown in the opening sequences whether it’s everyone crammed into a giant shopping trolley or having their own near specialist style of stunt shown in slow-motion glory against a bright rainbow backdrop. And, of course in a musical number. Celebrating the friendships that make up Jackass, the fun and laughter to be found amongst the pain that the stunts create. The feeling that what’s unfolding at that moment in time is indeed the best of times.
In Jackass 3.5, one of the additional films in the franchise made up of bonus and behind-the-scenes material, Ryan Dunn and Bam Margera detail The Flying Nut High Five. Footage plays of various fails of the stunt, performed to the amusement of the rest of the cast. “The Flying Nut High Five is the attempt to jump up in the air, running at another dude. Spread your legs and then knock your nuts together” explains Dunn just before Margera falls backwards on his standard movie production chair with long, thin, wooden legs. “Did I get sabotaged or am I just stupid?” he questions as Dunn cackles. It’s the first of multiple times the chair will fall over as it begins to gradually break at the base. It seems Margera just simply isn’t made to sit on one of these seats. As it flattens and the pair find themselves increasingly distanced in height from each other their giggles turn to wheezes. As if forgetting the camera, the interview and attempting to smash (still clothed) testicles together Margera tries to hold onto the chair of his friend for both support in case the chair collapses under him, and to hold himself up for laughter. Dunn looks down and continues to laugh. It spreads between the two and further sets them off.