No Pain, No Brain

Pushing the boundaries of taste and common sense, Steve-O and the cast of Jackass bring their physical comedy to the stage.

At one time, people tuned in to see whether Evel Knievel would clear the fountains at Caesar's Palace on a speeding motorcycle or shatter every bone in his body trying. And even though it was much more compelling to imagine Knievel bouncing along the pavement like a lifeless rag doll rather than hitting his mark safely, there was at least the possibility that he'd come through the stunt in one piece, kiss the girl and give the paramedics the night off.

Yet for the cast members of Jackass: The Movie -- an extension of the wildly popular MTV series that debuted in October 2000 and was canceled last summer during a shitstorm of protests from parents' groups and even Congress -- pain and failure are all but guaranteed, even before a stunt is attempted.

Picture a bicycle-riding daredevil pedaling hard toward a ramp in order to clear a bed of cactus plants. Roped at the waist to a nearby couch, this doomed but willing slapdick knows exactly what's in store for him moments after takeoff: He'll be jerked backward violently -- like a toy dog on a taut leash -- and fall ass first into a thicket of long, sharp needles. Then there's the thrill-seeker who jumps off a mini-trampoline into the whirling blades of a ceiling fan. Any guess as to what happens to him? Another dumbass excels at snorting a line of wasabe (which immediately makes him vomit, but he does it again to be sure), while his comrade enters the record book of brainlessness by pole-vaulting into a tree. There are also a midget and a really fat guy on hand -- but they mostly just run around in thong underwear or panda suits to the confusion of stunned and unsuspecting onlookers.

Steve-O, born Stephen Gilchrist Glover, is the Jackass member referred to among his peers as "the painless one." In his mind, this growing cult of stoopidity has unlimited potential. Along with the show's creator, Johnny Knoxville (who sustained a concussion sparring with heavyweight boxer Butterbean in a department store), Steve-O has been dreaming up ingeniously inane ways to humiliate not only himself, but Ryan Dunn, Bam Margera, Preston Lacy, Jason "Wee-Man" Acuna and an assortment of rattlepates to the tune of millions. Ferociously targeted toward young teens, the vastly successful empire of kamikaze comedy combines extreme sports (several crew members are professional skateboarders) with Candid Camera, gross-out antics and sadomasochistic camaraderie.

An MTV spinoff program, dubbed Alpha Male, is currently in the development stages; it teams Steve-O with naked "party man" Chris Pontius in a plotless nature show. But even Steve-O, a graduate of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College who passed on a life under the big top in 1997, knows the hardcore audience expects more. (Law enforcement has come to expect more, as well: Steve-O faces charges of indecency and battery in Louisiana after he stapled his scrotum to his thigh and scuffled with bodyguards there.)

In the fans' eyes, after all, it's not fun and games until someone gets hurt; it's fun and games precisely becausesomeone gets hurt. And even though the televised series and film (both produced by Spike Jonez, director of Being John Malkovich) run repeated disclaimers that urge viewers not to imitate the stunts, plenty of adolescent males across this great nation have ignored the warnings and paid dearly -- one recently with his life. So remember, kids: Setting yourself on fire is a bad idea. Always leave it to a professional.

Westword: How have you guys gone about convertingJackass into a stage show?

Steve-O: Oh, it's real easy. We just took all of our frustrations with the censorship we've been subjected to and just decided to go from town to town, performing all those stunts that weren't allowed on TV. Everybody [at MTV] got, like, intimidated by fears of liability. What was happening throughout the course of the TV show is that they were gradually more and more kind of cracking down, you know. By the time it got to the point we weren't even allowed to puke on TV anymore, we just quit.

That was the final straw, huh?

Yeah. They really did do everything in their power to just tighten up standards and make it harder and harder for our best footage to clear. And, you know, they're so afraid of the liability involved that they refused to promote us whatsoever. They refused to ever play any reruns and moved us to a later [time] slot. And we just kind of felt that they were treating us like MTV's redheaded stepchild. And we decided that it really wasn't worth it to go on killing ourselves, you know, for all this footage, if no one was ever gonna see it. We just told them, you know, 'Screw you, we quit.' And they found that we were too profitable of a group of people to really kind of close the book on. So the only real way to continue is to make it rated R and charge a lot more money for it.

But these live shows are all-ages, aren't they?

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