'Jackass' Was Almost Killed By 'Saturday Night Live'
Welcome to ComedyNerd, Cracked's daily comedy superstore. For more ComedyNerd content, and your chance to audition for the Iran/Contra Affair, please sign up for the ComedyNerd newsletter below.
This week sees the release of Jackass Forever, which is somehow the fourth theatrical movie in a franchise no one thought would last 20 years, starring a bunch of people no thought would live to see 40. Jackass' logic-defying longevity is even more surprising when you consider the most iconic Jackass was almost poached by Saturday Night Live before the series even got started.
See, the show originated in the VHS tapes sold by '90s skateboarding magazine Big Brother, which gained a cult following because they weren't afraid to show a big part of the sport that was neglected by other publications: the painful one.
These tapes also included random pranks and stunts, and the worse they went, the more people seemed to like them. Eventually, editor Jeff Tremaine and a living Crash Test Dummy named Johnny Knoxville realized their skateboarding videos would be a lot more popular if they got rid of the skateboarding. They literally edited out everything but the dumbest parts and were left with a compelling collection of people inflicting harm upon themselves.
Tremaine and Knoxville teamed up with director Spike Jonze (who had worked for Big Brother and was high school buddies with Tremaine) to sell their proto-Jackass tape to cable networks. HBO's executives just looked at them like they'd dropped a wet turd in the middle of the conference table, but Comedy Central and MTV were interested in the show. That's when the tape reached the hands of Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels, who saw something in Knoxville that wasn't evident yet: this guy had legit comedy chops.
Michaels took Knoxville out to the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel and offered to give him five minutes every week to do "what he does" – being incredibly, almost fatally dumb. (We say that with the most sincere praise possible.) Bear in mind that, at that point, Knoxville had spent 10 years trying to break in as an actor while only landing gigs in Coors Light and Mountain Dew commercials.
His most notable work up to then was probably the time he played a non-speaking The Cure fan in a 1992 episode of The Ben Stiller Show (skip to the last five seconds in the video below).
So, being offered a spot in SNL was a huge deal, but there was one caveat: the offer was for Knoxville alone, not for the full crew of suicidal knuckleheads who had gathered around Big Brother magazine. Plus, Knoxville knew he'd probably had more freedom working with his pals Tremaine and Jonze than under Michaels. And so, as Knoxville recently put it, "At the time, in my ignorance ... (I said), I'm just gonna bet on us." He knew this was a one-time offer, and there was a big chance he could end up regretting this decision, but hey, at least he got a free lunch.
According to Tremaine, that SNL segment would have "killed the deal" for Jackass, forcing the rest of the crew to grow up and get real jobs, so this was a pretty noble choice by Knoxville. The Jackass movies may not win any Oscars, but one day Knoxville's tear-jerking biopic might.
Top image: MTV Films, NBC