Interview: Jackass 3D's Johnny Knoxville And Bam Margera

“Hi, I’m Johnny Knoxville. Welcome to Jackass

In last ten years, those seven words have been associated with images of testicle-busting, skull-cracking, vomit-inducing mayhem, and we’ve never been able to get enough. There is no line that Knoxville and Bam Margera won’t cross in order to get a laugh from their audience, and as they’ve pushed that line further and further, it has simple gotten better and better.

With their newest venture, Jackass 3D, set to hit theaters this Friday, I attended a press junket last weekend with the cast members. Sitting with a group of other journalists as part of a roundtable interview, Knoxville and Margera told us about continuing the franchise in the YouTube generation, the awesomeness that is a flying dildo breaking a glass of milk and how getting kicked in the head by a bull can save your life.

Johnny, you went through some torturous stuff yourself in this film. What keeps you motivated to continue doing these things?

Johnny Knoxville: I know that I almost bought it on that, but it’s fun. It’s me and my friends, doing something we created together and have been doing for 10 years. The cast and crew have all been together for all that time. You do something and it may be scary, but when you watch the footage afterwards, everyone’s laughing.

Bam Margera: The way that I look at it is that, when we film for eight months straight for a new Jackass movie, I know that I’m going to wind up with at least two broken bones. I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but you can’t contemplate how you’re going to fall and what’s going to happen. It’s easier to just get up there and do it.

Johnny, you’re almost 40 now. Do you think you’ll ever get to the point where you want to try something else, or are you happy to keep doing it?

JK: No, I’m more willing to do stunts now than when I first started the TV show.

BM: Knoxville actually had to have an intervention from [Jeff] Tremaine and Spike Jonze to stop doing stunts because they had too many already.

JK: They lured me to the office for one reason, and then they all got me in a big room and were like, “We’re out of time. The editors are bottlenecked with footage, so you have to stop.”

Is it an addiction?

JK: It’s just fun, man. I do get obsessed with constantly thinking of ideas, all day long, but that’s just how it is.

Do you think it’s become more of an artistic endeavor than just pee and poo?

JK: We don’t intellectualize it that way. We just think of ideas and make ourselves laugh.

BM: I’m on a lot of airplanes, so I just sip on red wine thinking of stupid ideas and, when I think of it, I want to make it happen. I’ll be like, “Okay, Mike Tyson bit off Evander Holyfield’s ear in a boxing match. Maybe I can get Mike Tyson to bite off my ear.”

JK: We asked.

BM: Paramount was like, “You’re really willing to do that?” I was like, “Hell, yeah! You know the street cred I’d have from a missing ear?” People will say, “How did that happen?” And I’d get to say, “Mike Tyson.”

Because that was such a good PR move for him the first time.

JK: Well, we did consider that.

Are you disappointed when stunts work as planned?

JK: Well, then you just do them again. If you do it right, then you’re doing it again.

When you started this 10 years ago, there wasn’t a YouTube, or anything like that, but now there’s all this stuff that you can see on the Internet. Do you feel like you have to one-up those guys, or be ahead of what’s going on?

JK: That doesn’t enter our minds. We just do things to make ourselves laugh. There’s some funny stuff out there, but we’re not in competition with anybody. We just love doing what we do, and we end up one-upping ourselves. It takes a little more to make us laugh than it did five or six years ago because we’ve been there and done that. It’s about what’s next. Going into this movie, we didn’t think, “We have to top this.” We just have to be funny. It’s such a competition to get footage. If Bam gets something great, then we all have to get something great.

You’ve had some pretty harsh criticism because of what you do, but you also must be laughing all the way to the bank. Do you pay any attention to people’s opinions of you?

JK: Well, we always bet on ourselves. If the movie doesn’t do good, we don’t do good. I don’t care what other people think. We don’t want people not to like it, but people have their opinions. We’re psyched that we have a lot of people that do like it, and we understand that people don’t like it, but if you don’t like it, that’s fine.

BM: We showed the movie to an old folks’ home of 70-year-old ladies, and they loved it. And then, we showed it to a bunch of gay bikers, called the bears, and they loved it.

JK: Yeah. We asked the old ladies, “Is there anything you’d like to change?,” and they were like, “We’d like to see more penis in the movie.” They were awesome! It was really fun. And, we went to a bar in Silver Lake with the bears and showed it to them, and we had a ball.

Do you guys get that feeling of paranoia when you’re on set because you’re always pranking each other?

BM: Constantly. That’s the worst part about it. You’re never safe on set. When they would change angles with the 3D Phantom cameras, we’d have 2 hours to kill and that’s when things would happen like, “All right, I have to take a leak. I might as well take a leak on my bro! And, hopefully, I’ll get beat up by him!” You’re just always turning around and looking over your shoulder. We even have a masseuse on set, for if you hurt your neck, so that they can give you a massage, but you can’t do it because you’ll get stun-gunned, punched in the face or peed on. You’re doomed all around.

Who comes up with most of the ideas for the stunts and how do you guys select which ones you’ll do? Do you have meetings about the ideas?

BM: Sometimes it’s a mixture of everybody. If they come up with an idea, they submit it to Paramount, then we have a stack of ideas, and people look at them and figure out what they would like to do. If it’s involving a bull, it’ll be Knoxville because it definitely won’t be me. Most of the ideas are two pages long and really descriptive, and then there will be one that is one sentence that says, “Shit shoe: find a shoe, and then shit in it.”

JK: The cast and crew all come up with ideas. Sometimes they’re just crude pictures drawn on a napkin, and sometimes we’ll get together and pitch ideas. Bam likes to fax hilarious pictures, that’s how he submits most of his ideas, and they’re really funny.

BM: It’s just easier to draw what I want to happen, rather than explain it.

JK: So, the ideas all come to the office and we compile them, and then we send them to Paramount, just to go through all the legal stuff. Paramount leaves us alone, so we vet the ideas and decide what to shoot or not.

Is it getting harder and harder to come up with ideas now?

JK: No, it was easier to write bits for this idea than any of the others. We have a stack of bits that we couldn’t even get to. Everyone just got real excited.

Was this whole movie conceived in 3D, from the beginning?

JK: No. We decided to do another movie and the studio said we should do it in 3D, but we resisted because we thought it would change the way we shot. With 3D, you’ve got these big cameras, and we can’t worry about getting too close to the camera, or going out of frame. We need to be able to just turn the chimpanzees loose and follow them with the camera. We did some tests and they had some handheld rigs, and they made it where we didn’t have to think about it, so we were like, “Well, this could be fun.” Even in writing bits, the bits had to be funny in 2D first, before we would shoot them. With that said, there were a couple of bits where we were like, “That’d probably be funny in 3D.”

BM: Even without the 3D cameras, there was always nine hi-def cameras, filming something at all times, so some things had to get converted into 3D.

JK: Yeah, but the film was shot with in-camera 3D for the largest part you see. There were very few things that we had to convert.

Was “Dildo Archery” something that would only work in 3D?

JK: No, it’s funny in 2D as well. It came about because we had Bam against a wall, bent over with his pants down. We were shooting him in the ass with the dildo bazooka, and I wanted a shot of just the dildo flying through the air. It was hilarious. And then, I was like, “I want it to fly through cities!” And then, I was like, “I want it to break glasses of milk!”

BM: We wanted it to break the Eiffel Tower and go through the pyramids of Egypt.

The jet sequence is one of the best bits in the film. Did you try anything with the jet that didn’t work?

JK: Yeah, there were a lot of things.

BM: Steve-O did the bike, and it didn’t work out so well.

JK: We shot a ton of stuff behind the jet.

BM: At the very end, I didn’t even think that they were filming, but I just decided to piss against the wind.

JK: It was funny.

BM: That’s pretty much the story of Jackass.

JK: I saw that and was like, “That’s the closer to this bit.” We did all these things, and then Bam just ran out there and peed into the wind, which was the funniest thing, in my eyes.

Johnny, do you make it a point to have a snake skit, just so you can make Bam cry?

JK: Yes. He loudly proclaimed one day, “You know what I hate? I really hate snakes.” We were like, “Got it.”

BM: That was the worst decision, on my part. I realized the hard way that you don’t tell people from Jackass what you’re terrified of because that’s just a new skit for them to film. But, I deserved it. Out of the course of the whole movie, I definitely peed and punched the entire cast and crew, so I knew that I had something terrible coming my way.

JK: You were right.

Did you get the real inspiration for The Blind Side from the movie with Sandra Bullock?

JK: No. We had Jared Allen and he was like, “Well, I’m a defensive end. My best thing is the blind side,” so I was like, “Okay.” That’s what happened, on the day. He was great. He had such a fun spirit about it. We were walking to the set, and he was like, “Man, I got second thoughts about this. I think I was raised better than this.” But then, of course, when we were shooting, he was just having a ball of murdering my face.

Johnny, did you actually get badly hurt with the buffalo?

JK: With the buffalo, no. It badly hurt, but I didn’t get injured. With the bull, I got a pretty bad concussion, but I got lucky on that one because I landed on the back of my neck. Thank God the bull kicked me in the head, at the last second, and altered my course just a little. Because of that, I’m sitting here today, talking.

That may be the first time anyone’s ever said, “Thank God, the bull kicked me in the head.”

JK: Yeah, I guess.

Johnny, you’re a newlywed with a newborn. Has that given you another perspective in life, in terms of being a grown-up, or perhaps thinking about the next phase of what you’re going to do?

JK: When Jackass started, my daughter was two or three, and my son was a month old when we went into production on this film. That’s what Daddy does.

Are your kids allowed to do this kind of stuff?

JK: They can do pranks, but no stunts.

When did you learn to have that habit?

JK: Actually, I had two older sisters, who were eight and 10 years older, and they loved to put me up to mean stuff. When I was three, my father had me hit all his friends in the ding-ding. Even as a little kid, I would walk in a room and grown men would immediately put their hands over their privates. I was like a little Tasmanian devil. I was a really bad kid. Then, I got sweet as I got older.

Johnny, you’ve done old man stuff a lot. Is incest the last frontier, in exploring that old man shtick?

JK: No. I had so many old man ideas I didn’t even get to, just because we ran out of time. The old man’s still got a lot of badness left in him. He’s a dirty, old man, but he keeps getting dirtier and dirtier.

Is there a feature bit for him that might be down the road?

JK: I don’t know. We’ve kicked that idea around.

How difficult is it to get Spike Jonze to still help out?

JK: Luckily, Spike wasn’t directing a movie while we were doing this one. With the first two, he was always directing a movie. But, on this one, he was around more than ever. He loves it. It’s like a vacation for him because he’s a great filmmaker, and then he works with us.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.