When this story hit the Interwebs yesterday, the prevailing sentiment from people in my generation was, “Oh, my God, I feel ancient.” Johnny Knoxville, the eternal man-child court jester of Jackass, is now a steel-haired 50-year old — one who looks like the old-timer you’ll meet in a saloon who, as he nurses a club soda, says, “I used to be somebody once,” and then tells you stories that are impossible to believe.
I’ll be honest, I never had the patience for Jackass. It felt like the godchild of The Tom Green Show, so I was already out before I even had the chance to get in; I have never been into shock comedy or gross-out humor or self-satisfied pranking, and certainly not braying macho bros being paid to, say, face off against a bull, smack racketballs at each other’s junk, or hold firecrackers in their buttocks and then light them. But it was a phenomenon — one of those cultural mile-markers where I didn’t have to engage with it on any level to understand how huge it was, or to be transported back to a certain time and place and feeling when I think about it.
This GQ profile, then, is fascinating to me. The narrative of a guy who’s settled into his life and wants to support his friends through their sobriety journeys, who is quieter and calmer and more considered and considerate than we ever would have imagined, appeals to me — and clashes directly with the Johnny Knoxville who, in this same piece, chases one last Jackass thrill and nearly kills himself in the process. The heartwarming parts of the guy born P.J. Clapp butt up against what makes him Johnny Knoxville, and that thing will always be in there somewhere, terrifying the people in his life who I’m sure dread that each One Last Time will never actually be until it is.
It wasn’t just about jeopardizing his livelihood, he explained. Doing stunts “was exciting. It’s something that I did with my friends. And I was decent at it.” It wasn’t so much about the stunts themselves, which were terrifying, as about how completing them made him feel. He loved, he said, “the exhilaration and relief, once you get on the other side of the stunt. Or when you come to. You wake up, you’re like, ‘Oh, was that good?’ And they’re like, ‘That was great.’ You got a good bit when there’s seven people standing over you, snapping their fingers.” When we spoke, he still hadn’t broached the topic in therapy. “I’ll talk about it eventually,” he said. “It’s not something I need to know this second.”
It’s a great Wednesday longread if you’re looking for one.