Johnny Knoxville says Jackass can't be cancelled, 'slapstick is unassailable'

'Are they ever worried in an era of cancel culture that Jackass could fall victim to the sensitivities of modern society?'

Published Last updated

Long before wild and weird stunts and pranks were going viral on YouTube and TikTok, there was Jackass.

The sometimes hilarious, often terrifying comedy series, which saw a group led by Johnny Knoxville and Steve-O take part in a string of foolhardy antics, aired for three series on MTV between 2000 and 2002.

Johnny Knoxville flipped by a bull
Johnny Knoxville flipped by a bull

“Because we took 10 years to get around to making this film, I think that freshened everything up,” says 47-year-old Steve-O, real name Stephen Glover as he chats alongside Knoxville, his friend of many decades, in a hotel room.

“There was so much time to come up with new ideas and there was so much time away from the last one that when we got together, immediately the chemistry was back. But it also just felt new again, because we’ve been away for me it was nostalgic, but it was fresh at the same time.”

Knoxville nods. “Not only have our friendships endured, they’ve got stronger, and you feel that,” the 50-year-old says. “And we brought in new cast members and they fit in amazingly, we found the perfect new cast members and that brings a lot of fresh energy and fresh blood to it, so I think people will respond to that and it adds a whole extra layer to this film.”

Are they ever worried in an era of cancel culture that Jackass could fall victim to the sensitivities of modern society?

Steve-O shakes his head.

“I think that with Jackass, we only target ourselves and each other. And we’re very willing participants, we’re attention whores, and we love it.

“But beyond that, I think that the spirit of Jackass is so good and not mean, there’s no hate, there’s no negativity. It’s just in such a good spirit that I think it ages very well.”

“I even would go so far as to say that Jackass is wholesome, in that it’s so well spirited.”

Knoxville agrees. “There’s nothing to cancel,” he says. “You can’t cancel slapstick. It’s unassailable.”

Jackass cast try to ignite flatulence
Jackass cast try to ignite flatulence

It is notable that the duo are not the young men they once were when Jackass was first spawned, when Knoxville was filming stunts for a skateboarding magazine and Steve-O was working as a clown, but their passion, and fearlessness, have not faded.

“It reminds people of their own childhoods, because they did crazy stuff growing up,” Knoxville says as he mulls over the enduring appeal of watching a group of pranksters.

“So there’s that nostalgia, and we’re all friends and we love each other, and that camaraderie is what’s irreplaceable and I think people appreciate that.

“And there’s great creativity, and people respond to that.”

Among the kids doing crazy stuff was newcomer Manaka, who watched Jackass clips on YouTube when he was growing up in England and never dreamed he would join the crew.

“Me and my cousins would go out to the park and push each other down in trolleys and shopping carts and just get up to some nonsense.

“To meet all these people and work with them was such a such a beautiful time and this was insane. When I found out I’d be part of this, I honestly couldn’t believe it. It still feels very strange.”

And all of his pranking past could not prepare him for what it would be like to be standing on set with the Jackass crew.

“I’ve undergone many, many injuries. I used to play ice hockey back in the day and I’ve always been quite an adrenaline junkie. But once I was on set, and once I saw contraptions that were built and looking around at things that have explosions, I was like, ‘Oh!’

Spider helmet battle
Spider helmet battle

“None of our reactions are acting. We wouldn’t know a thing. They would say, ‘Get in this outfit, you’re gonna wear this and stand right there if you can, so all the reactions are really just so genuine.”

Indeed, the old guard are still a fountain of ideas for insane tricks and pranks, even more than two decades into the Jackass endeavour.

“We sometimes will have formal writers sessions, and things do come out of that, but I do best when I’m just alone and watching cartoons or something,” Knoxville says.

“And when Knox says we have former writer sessions, to be clear, it’s us doing the writing,” Steve-O interjects.

“There were times in the past where they tried to bring on writers and it just never worked, the only thing that’s ever worked is us coming up with our own ideas. And they come to us in different ways. If there’s a formula, the formula is to imagine something ridiculous that you would never ever want to have happen, and then make it happen.

“In some cases you’ll encounter something in your day and you’ll look at it and that that could be something. I’ve had ideas come to me in dreams. There’s all different ways that they come to you.

“But when we get together, and we have these round table, creative meetings, someone will throw out an idea and then it’ll bounce back and forth between us and by the time we’re done with it, it’s just ridiculous.”

Jackass Forever is out now in cinemas.