How Jackass changed pop culture forever

Jackass was about more than vomiting and severe genital injury: not only is it basically responsible for YouTube’s success, but it made a bunch of genuine maniacs household names…

How Jackass changed pop culture forever

When Jackass debuted, it wasn’t exactly amidst loads of fanfare. Expectations were fairly modest for this low-budget show featuring a bunch of unknown skateboarders, snowboarders and good old-fashioned dumbasses acting the giddy goat. But it became a phenomenon. The combination of charismatic performers and complete idiocy caught on, and looking at it all 20 years down the line, it’s pretty nuts how much the silly little show where everyone hurt their balls reshaped the world.

But it did. And here's how…


People were hurting their friends for fun and playing pranks on innocent members of the public long before Jackass came along, but the show's wild success absolutely made it easier for those getting up to such things to get on TV. Britain produced Dirty Sanchez and Rad Girls; Finland had the Dudesons. There’s no way they didn’t mention Jackass in the pitch meeting for Punk’d. While Dirty Sanchez upped the grossness and physical agony, shows like Impractical Jokers took the pranking of bystanders and comedy of awkwardness and ran with it. And everything comes full-circle – the ringleader of MTV’s foray into comedy blunt-force trauma, Too Stupid To Die, has the skull-and-crutches logo tattooed on his stomach.

Half of YouTube

Some really, really bad rubbish has been made by people emulating Jackass. A lot of the time it misses the point – Jackass was more about gleeful mischief than proper asshole behaviour (apart from in the second film, where everyone seemed so unwell and exhausted that they were just being dicks), while a lot of YouTube pranking is genuinely malicious. Similarly, the best bits of Jackass were about trying to achieve the unachievable – there was effort made to actually do something, rather than hurting each other for the sake of it. One of the better Jackassalikes out there is Britain’s own Lazy Generation, who seem to get the combination of surreal antics, genuine chemistry and hairy arses covered in bad tattoos.

Johnny Knoxville, movie star

It took a while for Hollywood to figure out what to do with Johnny Knoxville. He’s ended up in a pretty good position where he’ll happily be both the comedy sidekick in action movies (see Walking Tall with The Rock, The Last Stand with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Skiptrace with Jackie Chan) and do interesting character work in smaller independent films (Grand Theft Parsons, Daltry Calhoun, Elvis & Nixon, Above Suspicion), putting his ridiculous charisma to good use. And he’s firmly kept a foot in the Jackass world, with Bad Grandpa and Action Point both combining (admittedly flimsy) narratives with real, incredibly painful impacts. Action Point is way better than the reviews made it out to be – Chris Pontius is hilarious in a supporting role, plus at one point during filming, Johnny’s eye popped out of its socket, which is horrific.

The Dickhouse empire

The company that produced Jackass went on to make a hell of a name for itself in the action sports world. Johnny and Jeff Tremaine teamed up with Travis Pastrana to bring his Nitro Circus collective to screens, which spawned a spin-off movie, a never-ending world tour and the annual Nitro World Games. Loiter Squad, a sketch show starring Tyler, The Creator, was originally going to be called Blackass. Dickhouse, and Jeff’s subsequent company, Gorilla Flicks, also produced a bunch of legitimate documentaries – The Birth Of Big Air and Angry Sky are both part of ESPN’s fantastic 30 For 30 series, Being Evel is a wonderfully made look at stuntman Evel Knievel, and The Wild & Wonderful Whites Of West Virginia is a peek into the world of country outlaws. Jeff also makes ads, including this incredibly fun Bud Light Superbowl spot featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger and a llama.

Rob Dyrdek, one-man TV industry

Skater and entrepreneur Rob Dyrdek was already a pretty big deal – he went pro at 16, and had skated on huge teams forever. But he became a TV juggernaut with the Jeff Tremaine-produced Rob & Big, which led to Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory, Ridiculousness and Amazingness. He then in turn produced The Dude Perfect Show and Crashletes, both examples of what Jackass would have been if, instead of skateboarding, it had been inspired by, like, gym class or something.


Wildboyz, in which Steve-O and Chris Pontius (often accompanied by perma-Speedo'd wildlife expert Manny Puig, a man who casually lost a finger to a rattlesnake a few years ago) travelled the world getting into exotic scrapes with dangerous animals, was amazing. The amount of times they laughed off, like, almost losing legs to sharks and stuff? Glorious. If you’ve not seen Wildboyz, watch Wildboyz, it’s incredible.

The Bam Margera media empire

As the opening credits to Viva La Bam claimed, the show featured Bam doing “Whatever the fuck [he] wanted”. The five-season run saw countless pranks played on his long-suffering parents, and a huge amount of property damage. Did it require a lot of suspension of disbelief regarding things like surprises and spontaneity, given the eternal presence of a professionally-lit camera crew? Yes. Was it still fun? Absolutely. This was followed by Bam’s Unholy Union, documenting the lead-up to his first wedding, and the one-off Bam’s World Domination. The accompanying compilation albums, entitled Viva La Bands, definitely introduced a lot of people to Scandinavian metal bands. Ryan Dunn had a show, Homewrecker, which saw him help people trash their nemeses’ bedrooms, while CKY Crew members Brandon DiCamillo and Rake Yohn had a short-lived show about gaming called Blastazoid.

Steve-O’s many ventures

Steve-O is not a shy man. For a while, he had someone filming him essentially 24/7, running something of a cottage industry selling DVDs of the mayhem he got up to all over the world. It all ended up in a pretty bleak place, however – Steve-O: Demise And Rise is a tough but absolutely recommended watch, a harrowing look at where his addictions took him and the low points he reached before an intervention (led by Johnny Knoxville) saved his life. He also dabbled in reality TV, appearing on both The Jump and Dancing With The Stars, as well as the first series of Love Island, which he left after a day. He had his own show for a while, Dr Steve-O, and has appeared on Comedy Central roasts and done stand-up specials. His live comedy special, Gnarly, featured cameo appearances from the whole crew, as well as a fairly vile amount of onstage vomiting and a surprising amount of testicle injury…

A reunited Mötley Crüe

Mötley Crüe got back together again in 2018 to record new material for biopic The Dirt, directed by Jackass’ Jeff Tremaine. Jeff spent years trying to get the film made, and for a while it looked like it was never going to happen. Those continued efforts to stop the project languishing in development hell got the flippin’ band back together, which is quite the achievement.

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