Entertainment

'Jackass' Made Johnny Knoxville a Human Looney Toon

The 'Jackass Forever' ringleader talks about finding stunt inspiration in cartoons like 'Tom and Jerry' and the "miles of cock" featured in the new movie.

Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Paramount Picture
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Paramount Picture
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Paramount Picture

Johnny Knoxville is a man who has never outgrown cartoons. The Jackass ringmaster still finds inspiration from Tom and Jerry and Wile-E Coyote and Roadrunner in his quest to make human bodies do feats that seem only capable in animation. In Jackass Forever, directed once again by Jeff Tremaine, Knoxville throws himself back in the bullring, in a top hat and tail, attempting to do a magic trick that never really pays off because he immediately is taken down by the hulking angry bovine in an incident that caused a brain hemorrhage.

“By god, if there’s an ambulance on set, I’m going to make sure that I get my money’s worth,” he explains in his jolly twang over Zoom the week of Jackass Forever‘s release.

The movie, out in theaters February 4, reunites the Jackass crew more than two decades after their eponymous MTV show debuted. There are some new faces, many old faces with new wrinkles, and a ton of shots of male genitalia. Maybe the most in an R-rated movie ever? It’s hard to say.

Given the chance to speak with Knoxville, Thrillist had tons of questions: Why bulls? Why does the gang love to torture Danger Ehren McGhehey so much? Why does Johnny’s hair keep changing color throughout the film? Why so much dick? He happily provided us with answers.Thrillist: Why do you keep coming back to bulls and other animals with horns?
Johnny Knoxville: Bulls absolutely hate you. They want to kill you, and it’s just wonderful footage. You know exactly what you’re going to get when you film with a bull, and you’re going to get great footage. They have never, ever disappointed us.

Why has the idea of human Looney Tunes always appealed to you?
Well, for me, I love cartoons. Some ideas I take straight from cartoons. Tom and Jerry especially, because it’s just two people at funny war with things they have around the house. Basically Jackass, right? I look at life as a cartoon. It’s cost me a couple of times, but we’ve also gotten some great footage because of it.

What are some of the specific things that you have taken from Tom and Jerry in the past?
From Jackass Number Two, when I was in the bullring with the yak and I had the cigarette and the blindfold on, that was a direct lift from a Tom and Jerry cartoon. The cat’s chasing the mouse, and the dog is chasing the cat, and the cat runs into the kitchen, puts on a blindfold, puts in a cigarette, and a bull comes and runs over him. I’m like, “I want to do that, Jeff.” And he said, “Okay, if you want.”

In Forever, you see Steve-O in the film shaking his head and saying, “I can’t believe he’s still doing this.” What was the reaction from everyone on set that you were going into a bullring again?
Steve-O doesn’t like bulls at all, so he was really upset that we were doing that that day. Everyone’s very concerned on the days that I’m messing with the bulls, because they can have forever consequences. It’s a different energy on the set than other days. There’s that ambulance very close by for a reason.

Outside of Tom and Jerry, what are your biggest cinematic inspirations, like the cartoons that you keep coming back to and that fuel your ideas?
I love Tom and Jerry of course, and [Wile E.] Coyote and Road Runner. There’s a Coyote and Road Runner-inspired idea in this movie with the false backdrop. Because they’re always riding into a cave on a hill, but sometimes the road runner will go through. When the coyote tries, he just slams into the wall. I thought it’d be a good idea if we try one of those ideas.

When you are brainstorming different stunts, what do you turn to?
God, they come at me in odd hours. Over the last 10 years, not knowing if we were going to make another film, I would just email them to myself and put in the subject line “Jackass 4.” So when we decided to do the movie, I had to go through and get hundreds of ideas out of my email and get them into a document. But they just come to me. I might see a funny picture online that might inspire something or see a video that is about 50% of an idea. I’m like, “Well, it would be really funny if this and this happened.” Or I might be watching a cartoon and think, “Oh, this might be funny.”

I wanted to ask about the new Cup Test, which features athletes punching and throwing objects at Ehren’s groin. I was talking to Jeff Tremaine, and he mentioned that that was originally something you were going to do, but then it sort of trickled down to Ehren. Were you sad that you didn’t get to do it this time around? Or were you relieved that the doctor told you “no, don’t do that”?
Well, I had a hernia surgery right before we started filming again, so I couldn’t take any trauma to that region for a while. But Ehren did a great job with it, and I think it’s funnier with Ehren in it, because he complains a lot more and it’s so funny.

He always takes a ton of abuse in the films, but in this one-between the Cup Test and the bear stunt and Silence of the Lambs, where cast members are trapped in a dark room thinking there’s a snake loose-it just sort of seems unrelenting.
He did catch holy hell in this film. He’s that guy, though. He’s the nail, and I’m the hammer. It works out really well that way. Ehren’s great, but sometimes he can just-you’ll be on the set with him, and he’ll say something to annoy you, and you’ll yell at him or something, and then you go home and go, “God, you know what? I’m sorry I yelled at Ehren today. I’m going to go to the set and be super nice to Ehren tomorrow.” Then as soon as you get to the set, he’ll say something annoying, and you’ll be yelling again within the first two minutes.

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Out of your hundreds of ideas, how did you pick which ones to execute?
We prioritized the ideas. We would rate them by stars. Five stars, four stars, three stars. And then we’d go through that list and think, “Okay, well, we can’t just go all five stars, because some things might be sort of alike on that list.” And then you go, “We’ll shoot this and this.” Because you never know it’s going to work. It’s just our best guess what’s going to work is what we end up filming.

Who’s going through that list?
I’ll go through it. Me, Jeff, [Sean] Cliver, and Knate [Lee], and Dimitry [Elyashkevich]. We’ll go through the list, because we don’t want the cast to know what we’re doing. They don’t know what we’re shooting on any given day. They might know a couple things. If it’s just a straight stunt that I’m doing or someone else is doing, they’ll know that. But any pranks, we don’t tell them about. And sometimes we put false things on the call sheet. We don’t intend to shoot that, but they got to see something, right? We can’t just put one thing on the call sheet and have two pranks on our pot. But they know when we start staggering calls. “Okay, we need you to come in at 9 am, and the other guys coming at 12, and then another guy’s coming in at 3.” They know a prank’s going down, but they have no idea what it is.

What was the most difficult thing this time around to accomplish?
The Silence of the Lambs was very difficult. That was the crew at their very best working with us. Everyone, everyone had to be on it to pull that off. The close was a big operation. That wasn’t even going to be the close. That was just a bit in the movie. But it was so big and worked so well that we were like, “This could be the close.” That was very difficult. Because if you fail, you spent all that money for nothing.

Well, on the opposite side of the close, I wanted to ask you about the opening: How did the idea come about to do a Godzilla-inspired Kaiju sketch, and how did the phallic element play into that? [Ed. note: Chris Pontius’ penis is the monster.]
We wanted to do a Godzilla-type opening since the last one. I had an idea where I wanted to puppeteer Pontius’ penis in a hula skirt and make a hula girl out of it. And [producer] Derek Freda said, “Why don’t you combine those two ideas?” And we did. Jeff got on board and started throwing in all his ideas, and then Spike Jonze got on board and completely lost his mind. He just ran with it. I mean, every time he opened his mouth, 100 grand or 200 grand fell out. It was the most expensive opening we ever shot. He hired the best people in town to shoot it, the great DP. It’s a great production designer. We hired the best people to shoot the silliest idea possible.

What’s the thinking behind adding these cinematic flourishes to each movie?
That came out of Jackass: The Movie where Spike directed the shopping cart down the hill. It worked so well, right? It’s just a great way to kick off the movie. We screened it for the studio. [Former Paramount CEO] Sherry Lansing said she loved it. There were some people at the studio who said, “The studio’s never going to release this movie.” But Sherry Lansing stood by us. She said, “You know what? The opening is great. The movie’s great. We need an ending, so we’ll give you, what, $6 to 800,000 more to go out and film an ending.” And that we did in the old man makeup. It bookended it. So ever since then, we’ve done an open and close. So credit Spike Jonze and Sherry Lansing.

How did you think you guys getting older would factor in thematically to the film?
We definitely didn’t want to run from the age thing. We talk about it in the film, but in a humorous way. Spike Jonze said that we need to do a test shoot to see. Not only test the new cast that we wanted to bring in, but also test us to see. We’re older now. Does it feel sweaty that we’re doing this at this age? But within an hour into the new test, the new cast felt great. It felt great. We were looking at the footage on playback, and it looked great. We instantly could tell that it was on. So we embraced the age thing.

Speaking of age: Your hair color flips back and forth between dyed brown and your natural gray throughout the film. Obviously, continuity isn’t really an issue in a Jackass film, but did you think about that when you were shooting?
I’ve been coloring my hair since my late 20s. Jeff and I talked about it, because over the pandemic, when we first got shut down, you can’t you can’t see the person who colors your hair, and it was getting whiter and whiter and whiter. And I asked my wife, “I mean, just cut it off. Let’s see what it looks like. I want to see what I look like now.” And wow, was I surprised how silver I am, but I love it. I’m psyched on it. I never want to color it again.

You do have that moment at the very beginning where Spike comes over with a spray can-
To cover up my bald spot. But the great thing about the silver hair, you can’t see my bald spot that much because of the contrast.

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

I have no actual numbers, but it feels there are so many dicks in this one, just way more than even previous Jackass films. There’s a lot of dick and ball stuff. Was that coincidental? Was that a factor of you didn’t want to hurt other body parts, so people would just take it out?
There are miles of cock in this film. I will say that Chris Pontius has been nude in regular films more than any other actor in Hollywood ever.

You have to applaud him for that.
His penis should get an award. It’s a big part of the franchise. Jeff and I talked about it. We’re like, “God, we’ve had a lot of cock in the movie. We’re not going to shoot any more bits with cocks.” And then, literally three days would go by, we’re like, “Oh, this would be funny if his cock was out.”

Look, I think it’s very important for representation that there are so many cocks in this movie. As a woman, it feels really gratifying to see that many cocks on screen. But it did feel stunning compared to even the past films.
I mean, thank you to the MPAA that they allowed this. It’s the most liberal MPAA yet. Thank you. We love you. We’ve had some times with them in the past, but this MPAA is the best one we’ve ever worked with.

They were like, “Okay, we’ll give you an R rating. We’re not going to try to slap an NC-17”?
Yeah. Like, “What’s the big deal with a cock?”

With the new cast members, the group is more diverse than Jackass has ever been. What was the importance of that to you?
We knew we wanted new cast people, and we reached out to people we knew. Eric Manaka, I shot on film with him in South Africa [for Action Point], and I knew he would be perfect. I mean, he hit me in the nuts so many times on that film, it was like, “Okay, I’m going to get back at him by putting him in a Jackass movie.” And Jasper Dolphin we worked with on Loiter Squad. And Zach Holmes, Steve-O filmed with. And then we wanted some girls to be in this. Like, “Let’s have some girls.” We got Rachel Wolfson. I was a fan of her Instagram. We met with her, and she was hilarious and cool. She proved to be tougher than any of us. She would take pain and not even make a peep. But of course, biologically, women are tougher than men, and this movie proves it. Not that this movie needed to prove it. Everyone knows that. And Poopies was introduced to us by our friend Trip Taylor. I could go on and on about Poopies. There’s so many funny things that happened with him offscreen. He’s like a more gullible Spicoli, but not as quick.

And his name is Poopies. What more could you ask for?
He messed in the street or something. He pooped in the street. For a while, they called him Shitties, but then it turned into Poopies, but I really wish they would’ve stuck with Shitties.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.

Entertainment

Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.

Victoria

Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.

Queensland

BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

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