13 Dangerous Facts About Jackass

In 2000, Johnny Knoxville and his co-conspirators aligned with MTV to create Jackass, a reality show about men who go around pranking unsuspecting strangers and purposefully placing themselves (and their loved ones) into perilous, don’t-try-this-at-home situations. The show lasted for three seasons (25 episodes) and spawned four theatrical films (plus two half-movies). Here are some dangerous facts about the Jackass franchise.

1. THE MERRIAM-WEBSTER DICTIONARY LISTS A DEFINITION FOR “JACKASS.”

The revered dictionary defines “jackass” as “a male donkey” and as “a stupid person.” Considering the gang once tried to pin a tail on a live donkey, those definitions are apropos. The entry also states that “the first known use of the word was in 1727.”

2. JACKASS DERIVED FROM A CONTROVERSIAL SKATEBOARD MAGAZINE.

The origins of Jackass stem from a ’90s skateboard magazine called Big Brother (which was once owned by Larry Flynt). Knoxville, Steve-O, and Jackass co-creator Jeff Tremaine contributed videos and articles to the magazine. The magazine gained some mainstream notoriety in 1998, when just-as-controversial radio talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger and her son were in a California skate shop called Beach Access and discovered a copy of the magazine sitting out, supposedly visible to children. Decrying that its images were pornographic, Schlessinger sued the shop’s owner, Tom Moore. The case was dismissed but Moore counter-sued Schlessinger for slander; eventually a settlement was reached.

3. A MAN NAMED "JACK ASS" SUED MTV’S PARENT COMPANY.

In 1997 a man named Bob Craft legally changed his name to “Jack Ass.” Five years later, after the similarly-titled series and first movie had gained worldwide success, Mr. Ass sued Viacom for $10 million. In his affidavit, Mr. Ass states that the reason he changed his name was because his brother died in a car accident and he wanted to bring awareness to drunk driving with his slogan of “be a smart ass, not a dumb ass.” He also went on to talk about a cartoon character, defamation of character, and copyright infringement.

4. JOHNNY KNOXVILLE’S LAST NAME COMES FROM HIS BIRTHPLACE.

Johnny’s full name is Philip John Clapp Jr., named after his father. Professionally, he uses his middle name, and then his last name comes from his place of birth: Knoxville, Tennessee.

5. BRAD PITT MADE CAMEOS IN THE FINAL TWO EPISODES OF THE SERIES.

Yes, pretty boy Pitt allowed himself to get ruffled up post-Fight Club in the final two episodes of the series, which aired in February of 2002. “I met Brad at Spike Jonze’s house,” Knoxville told MTV News in 2006. “We were there, and [Pitt] was saying he really wanted to do something with us. We were filming the last episode. At the time, we didn’t even have any ideas—just that he wanted to be on the show.” The ideas surfaced and Pitt and the gang dressed up in monkey costumes and engaged in nighttime activities such as skateboarding and knocking each other over. For a brief second, Pitt takes off his mask and reveals himself to be one of the hooligans. In another segment, Pitt feigns ignorance when a van filled with the jackasses pulls up outside a movie theater and “kidnaps” the actor. It was convincing enough for onlookers to believe that Pitt had really been abducted.

6. SOME VIEWERS PURPORTEDLY TRIED DANGEROUS JACKASS STUNTS ON THEIR OWN, WHICH ENDED IN TRAGEDIES.

Even though every episode of the show began with a disclaimer, several teens went ahead and attempted the stunts on their own. In 2011, Matt-Dillion Shannon “doused another person in petrol and set him on fire.” The defense lawyer claimed Jackass influenced the incident. Shannon, who was 18 years old, was sentenced to three years in prison. In yet another attempted stunt gone awry, teenager Roberta M. MacKinnon and friends re-enacted a Jackass: The Movie merry-go-round and truck stunt; MacKinnon was thrown from the apparatus and died. In 2011, Michael Smith used his SUV to tow his friend, who sat in a shopping cart. Unfortunately, the cart hit a bump, catapulted the friend into the air, and killed him. Smith’s father said Michael watched Jackass. Here’s a time where “don’t try this at home, kids” really means something.

7. HUNTER S. THOMPSON ONCE ASKED KNOXVILLE TO PROCURE HIM A GRENADE.

While filming his role in The Dukes of Hazzard movie in New Orleans, Knoxville hung out with his friend Sean Penn and “special guest” Hunter S. Thompson, a hero of Knoxville’s. Soon after, Thompson called Knoxville and left the following message on his machine: “Johnny, we were just sitting here talking about you, and then we started talking about my needs, and what I need is a 40,000–candlepower illumination grenade,” Knoxville recounted to GQ in 2005. “Big bright bastards, that’s what I need. See if you can get them for me. I might be coming to Baton Rouge to interview [imprisoned former Louisiana governor] Edwin Edwards, and if I do I will call you, because I will be looking to have some fun, which as you know usually means violence."

8. STEVE-O GOT INTO TROUBLE WITH SEAWORLD.

In what wasn’t a Jackass stunt but could have been, last May Steve-O spent two days trying to change the SeaWorld San Diego highway sign to “SeaWorld Sucks.” Nobody knew who the vandal was until Steve-O posted a video of his prank two months later, in which he stated that “I’m putting my foot down for Shamu.” He got smacked with a $239 fine, which PETA stepped in and said they’d pay.

9. JACKASS COLLABORATOR BRANDON DICAMILLO ONCE HELD THE WORLD RECORD IN MORTAL KOMBAT.

In 2008 DiCamillo competed in a Mortal Kombat world competition and beat the previous record holder to become the champion. With a score of 10,226,500, he toppled David Nelson's score of 7,691,000. DiCamillo held the title until 2009, when Isaiah TriForce Johnson’s 24,821,500 points crushed DiCamillo’s score. DiCamillo loved video games so much that he and some of the Jackass guys had a MTV series called Blastazoid, in which they built a life-sized replica of the Donkey Kong game.

10. JACKASS 3-D BROKE BOX OFFICE RECORDS WHEN IT WAS RELEASED IN 2010.

During its opening weekend in October of 2010, Jackass 3-D raked in $50,353,641, beating out the previous top October opener Scary Movie 3. Knoxville and company held the top spot for a year until Paranormal Activity 3 knocked the movie out of first place. Besides setting an October record, Jackass 3-D also ranks number three on the top opening fall weekends chart, and is the highest-grossing film of the franchise, with more than $117 million.

11. KNOXVILLE THINKS THE BEAUTY PAGEANT PRANK FEATURED IN BAD GRANDPA WAS “ONE OF THE BEST WE’VE EVER DONE.”

When asked about some of his all-time favorite Jackass stunts in a 2013 interview with Complex while promoting Bad Grandpa, Knoxville said that, “The beauty pageant is definitely one of the best things we’ve ever done, Jackass included.” In the film, Knoxville’s “grandson”—unbeknownst to fellow contestants and audience members—enters a child beauty pageant as a little girl ... and strips. “As far as Jackass, the Terror Taxi from Number Two is wonderful,” Knoxville continued. “Ryan Dunn sticking the car up his bottom in the first movie was great.”

12. JACKASS PRESENTS: BAD GRANDPA WAS NOMINATED FOR AN OSCAR.

Yep, you read that right—a Jackass movie was acclaimed enough to go to the Oscars. Granted, the nomination was for Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and makeup artist Stephen Prouty competed against only two other movies (Dallas Buyers Club and The Lone Ranger), but still. “Am I as stunned as everyone else we didn’t get the nod for Best Picture? Well, of course, duh,” Knoxville told Rolling Stone in 2013. “But I won’t let that take away from my happiness for Steve, Tony Gardner, and our whole makeup team.” Knoxville told USA Today: “It’s a big deal. We’re very honored. It also makes us giggle. You know what we do.” Knoxville spent at least three hours a day in the makeup chair to age himself 40 years. Ultimately, grandpa Irving Zisman lost out to Ron Woodroff (Matthew McConaughey’s character in Dallas Buyers Club).

13. JACKASS CO-CREATOR SPIKE JONZE ACTUALLY DID WIN AN OSCAR.

Jackass lost their single Oscar nomination but Jackass co-creator, executive producer, and occasional star Spike Jonze went on to win an Oscar for writing the movie Her, which he worked on while also helping out on Bad Grandpa. “Spike Jonze, poor guy, was shooting Her at the same time,” Knoxville told The AV Club in 2013. “He’d work Her during the day and come over to us at night. He made great contributions to this.” Along with Jeff Tremaine and Johnny Knoxville, Jonze co-wrote the script for Bad Grandpa and the unrated version, Bad Grandpa .5, and co-produced the movies.

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Zach Hyman, HBO
10 Bizarre Sesame Street Fan Theories
Zach Hyman, HBO
Zach Hyman, HBO

Sesame Street has been on the air for almost 50 years, but there’s still so much we don’t know about this beloved children’s show. What kind of bird is Big Bird? What’s the deal with Mr. Noodle? And how do you actually get to Sesame Street? Fans have filled in these gaps with frequently amusing—and sometimes bizarre—theories about how the cheerful neighborhood ticks. Read them at your own risk, because they’ll probably ruin the Count for you.

1. THE THEME SONG CONTAINS SECRET INSTRUCTIONS.

According to a Reddit theory, the Sesame Street theme song isn’t just catchy—it’s code. The lyrics spell out how to get to Sesame Street quite literally, giving listeners clues on how to access this fantasy land. It must be a sunny day (as the repeated line goes), you must bring a broom (“sweeping the clouds away”), and you have to give Oscar the Grouch the password (“everything’s a-ok”) to gain entrance. Make sure to memorize all the steps before you attempt.

2. SESAME STREET IS A REHAB CENTER FOR MONSTERS.

Sesame Street is populated with the stuff of nightmares. There’s a gigantic bird, a mean green guy who hides in the trash, and an actual vampire. These things should be scary, and some fans contend that they used to be. But then the creatures moved to Sesame Street, a rehabilitation area for formerly frightening monsters. In this community, monsters can’t roam outside the perimeters (“neighborhood”) as they recover. They must learn to educate children instead of eating them—and find a more harmless snack to fuel their hunger. Hence Cookie Monster’s fixation with baked goods.

3. BIG BIRD IS AN EXTINCT MOA.

Big Bird is a rare breed. He’s eight feet tall and while he can’t really fly, he can rollerskate. So what kind of bird is he? Big Bird’s species has been a matter of contention since Sesame Street began: Big Bird insists he’s a lark, while Oscar thinks he’s more of a homing pigeon. But there’s convincing evidence that Big Bird is an extinct moa. The moa were 10 species of flightless birds who lived in New Zealand. They had long necks and stout torsos, and reached up to 12 feet in height. Scientists claim they died off hundreds of years ago, but could one be living on Sesame Street? It makes sense, especially considering his best friend looks a lot like a woolly mammoth.

4. OSCAR’S TRASH CAN IS A TARDIS.

Oscar’s home doesn’t seem very big. But as The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland revealed, his trash can holds much more than moldy banana peels. The Grouch has chandeliers and even an interdimensional portal down there! There’s only one logical explanation for this outrageously spacious trash can: It’s a Doctor Who-style TARDIS.

5. IT’S ALL A RIFF ON PLATO.

Dust off your copy of The Republic, because this is about to get philosophical. Plato has a famous allegory about a cave, one that explains enlightenment through actual sunlight. He describes a prisoner who steps out of the cave and into the sun, realizing his entire understanding of the world is wrong. When he returns to the cave to educate his fellow prisoners, they don’t believe him, because the information is too overwhelming and contradictory to what they know. The lesson is that education is a gradual learning process, one where pupils must move through the cave themselves, putting pieces together along the way. And what better guide is there than a merry kids’ show?

According to one Reddit theory, Sesame Street builds on Plato’s teachings by presenting a utopia where all kinds of creatures live together in harmony. There’s no racism or suffocating gender roles, just another sunny (see what they did there?) day in the neighborhood. Sesame Street shows the audience what an enlightened society looks like through simple songs and silly jokes, spoon-feeding Plato’s “cave dwellers” knowledge at an early age.

6. MR. NOODLE IS IN HELL.

Can a grown man really enjoy taking orders from a squeaky red puppet? And why does Mr. Noodle live outside a window in Elmo’s house anyway? According to this hilariously bleak theory, no, Mr. Noodle does not like dancing for Elmo, but he has to, because he’s in hell. Think about it: He’s seemingly trapped in a surreal place where he can’t talk, but he has to do whatever a fuzzy monster named Elmo says. Definitely sounds like hell.

7. ELMO IS ANIMAL’S SON.

Okay, so remember when Animal chases a shrieking woman out of the college auditorium in The Muppets Take Manhattan? (If you don't, see above.) One fan thinks Animal had a fling with this lady, which produced Elmo. While the two might have similar coloring, this theory completely ignores Elmo’s dad Louie, who appears in many Sesame Street episodes. But maybe Animal is a distant cousin.

8. COOKIE MONSTER HAS AN EATING DISORDER.

Cookie Monster loves to cram chocolate chip treats into his mouth. But as eagle-eyed viewers have observed, he doesn’t really eat the cookies so much as chew them into messy crumbs that fly in every direction. This could indicate Cookie Monster has a chewing and spitting eating disorder, meaning he doesn’t actually consume food—he just chews and spits it out. There’s a more detailed (and dark) diagnosis of Cookie Monster’s symptoms here.

9. THE COUNT EATS CHILDREN.

Can a vampire really get his kicks from counting to five? One of the craziest Sesame Street fan theories posits that the Count lures kids to their death with his number games. That’s why the cast of children on Sesame Street changes so frequently—the Count eats them all after teaching them to add. The adult cast, meanwhile, stays pretty much the same, implying the grown-ups are either under a vampiric spell or looking the other way as the Count does his thing.

10. THE COUNT IS ALSO A PIMP.

Alright, this is just a Dave Chappelle joke. But the Count does have a cape.

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17 Things to Know About René Descartes
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iStock

The French polymath René Descartes (1596-1650) lived after the Renaissance, but he personified that age's interest in mathematics, philosophy, art, and the nature of humanity. He made numerous discoveries and argued for ideas that people continue to grapple with. (His dualist distinction between mind and the brain, for example, continues to be debated by psychologists.) Get to know him better!

1. NOBODY CALLED HIM RENÉ.

Descartes went by a nickname and often introduced himself as “Poitevin” and signed letters as “du Perron.” Sometimes, he went so far to call himself the “Lord of Perron.” That’s because he had inherited a farm from his mother’s family in Poitou, in western France.

2. SCHOOL MADE HIM FEEL DUMBER.

From the age of 11 to 18, Descartes attended one of the best schools in Europe, the Jesuit College of Henry IV in La Flèche, France. In his later work Discourse on the Method, Descartes wrote that, upon leaving school, “I found myself involved in so many doubts and errors, that I was convinced I had advanced no farther in all my attempts at learning, than the discovery at every turn of my own ignorance."

3. HIS DAD WANTED HIM TO BE A LAWYER.

Descartes’s family was chock-full of lawyers, and the budding intellectual was expected to join them. He studied law at the University of Poitiers and even came home with a law degree in 1616. But he never entered the practice. In 1618, a 22-year-old Descartes enlisted as a mercenary in the Dutch States Army instead. There, he would study military engineering and become fascinated with math and physics.

4. HE CHANGED CAREER PATHS THANKS TO A SERIES OF DREAMS.

In 1618, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Ferdinand II, attempted to impose Catholicism on anybody living within his domain. The result of this policy would be the Thirty Years' War. It would also prompt Descartes, a Catholic, to switch allegiances to a Bavarian army fighting for the Catholic side. But on his travels, he stopped in the town of Ulm. There, on the night of November 10, he had three dreams that convinced him to change his life’s path. “Descartes took from them the message that he should set out to reform all knowledge,” philosopher Gary Hatfield writes in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

5. HE COULD BE EASILY DISTRACTED BY BRIGHT AND SHINY OBJECTS.

In 1628, Descartes moved to the Netherlands and spent nine months doggedly working on a theory of metaphysics. Then he got distracted. In 1629, a number of false suns—called parhelia, or “sun dogs”—were seen near Rome. Descartes put his beloved metaphysics treatise on the back burner and devoted his time to explaining the phenomenon. It was a lucky distraction: It led to his work The World, or Treatise on Light.

6. HE LAID THE GROUNDWORK FOR ANALYTIC GEOMETRY ...

In 1637, Descartes published his groundbreaking Discourse on the Method, where he took the revolutionary step of describing lines through mathematical equations. According to Hatfield, “[Descartes] considered his algebraic techniques to provide a powerful alternative to actual compass-and-ruler constructions when the latter became too intricate.” You might have encountered his system in high school algebra: They’re called Cartesian coordinates.

7. ... AND THE REST OF WESTERN PHILOSOPHY.

Everybody knows Descartes for his phrase Cogito, ergo sum (which originally appeared in French as "Je pense, donc je suis"), or "I think, therefore I am." The concept appeared in many of his texts. To understand what it means, some context is helpful: At the time, many philosophers claimed that truth was acquired through sense impressions. Descartes disagreed. He argued that our senses are unreliable. An ill person can hallucinate. An amputee can feel phantom limb pain. People are regularly deceived by their own eyes, dreams, and imaginations. Descartes, however, realized that his argument opened a door for "radical doubt": That is, what was stopping people from doubting the existence of, well, everything? The cogito argument is his remedy: Even if you doubt the existence of everything, you cannot doubt the existence of your own mind—because doubting indicates thinking, and thinking indicates existing. Descartes argued that self-evident truths like this—and not the senses—must be the foundation of philosophical investigations.

8. HE'S THE REASON YOUR MATH TEACHER MAKES YOU CHECK YOUR WORK.

Descartes was obsessed with certainty. In his book Rules for the Direction of the Mind, “he sought to generalize the methods of mathematics so as to provide a route to clear knowledge of everything that human beings can know,” Hatfield writes. His advice included this classic chestnut: To solve a big problem, break it up into small, easy-to-understand parts—and check each step often.

9. HE LIKED TO HIDE.

Descartes had a motto, which he took from Ovid: “Who lives well hidden, lives well.” When he moved to the Netherlands, he regularly changed apartments and deliberately kept his address a secret. Some say it's because he simply desired privacy for his philosophical work, or that he was avoiding his disapproving family. In his book titled Descartes, philosopher A. C. Grayling makes another suggestion: "Descartes was a spy."

10. HE WASN'T AFRAID OF CRITICS. IN FACT, HE RE-PUBLISHED THEM.

When Descartes was revising his Meditations on First Philosophy [PDF], he planned to send the manuscript to “the 20 or 30 most learned theologians” for criticism—a sort of proto-peer review. He collected seven objections and published them in the work. (Descartes, of course, had the last word: He responded to each criticism.)

11. HE COULD THROW SHADE WITH THE BEST OF THEM.

In the 1640s, Descartes’s pupil and friend Henricus Regius published a broadsheet that distorted Descartes’s theory of the mind. (Which, put briefly, posits that the material body and immaterial mind are separate and distinct.) The two men had a falling out, and Descartes wrote a rebuttal with a barbed title that refused to even acknowledge Regius’s manifesto by name: It was simply called “Comments on a Certain Broadsheet.”

12. HE NEVER BELIEVED MONKEYS COULD TALK.

There’s a “fun fact” parading around that suggests Descartes believed monkeys and apes could talk. He believed no such thing. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Descartes denied that animals were even conscious, let alone capable of speech. The factoid comes from a misreading of a letter Descartes had written in 1646, in which he attributed the belief to “savages.”

13. HE TOTALLY HAD THE HOTS FOR CROSS-EYED WOMEN.

In a letter to Queen Christina of Sweden, Descartes explained that he had a cross-eyed playmate as a child. “I loved a girl of my own age ... who was slightly cross-eyed; by which means, the impression made in my brain when I looked at her wandering eyes was joined so much to that which also occurred when the passion of love moved me, that for a long time afterward, in seeing cross-eyed women, I felt more inclined to love them than others.”

14. WHEN HE MET BLAISE PASCAL, THEY GOT INTO AN ARGUMENT ... ABOUT VACUUMS.

In 1647, a 51-year-old Descartes visited the 24-year-old prodigy and physicist Blaise Pascal. Their meeting quickly devolved into a heated argument over the concept of a vacuum—that is, the idea that air pressure could ever be reduced to zero. (Descartes said it was impossible; Pascal disagreed.) Later, Descartes wrote a letter that, depending on your translation, said that Pascal had “too much vacuum in his head.”

15. HIS WORK WAS BANNED BY THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.

Back in the late 1630s, the theologian Gisbert Voetius had convinced the academic senate of the University of Utrecht to condemn the philosopher’s work. (Descartes was Catholic, but his suggestion that the universe began as a “chaotic soup of particles in motion,” in Hatfield's words, was contrary to orthodox theology.) In the 1660s, his works were placed on the church’s Index of Prohibited Books.

16. HE REGULARLY SLEPT UNTIL NOON (AND TRYING TO BREAK THE HABIT MIGHT HAVE KILLED HIM).

Descartes was not a morning person. He often snoozed 12 hours a night, from midnight until lunchtime. In fact, he worked in bed. (Sleep, he wisely wrote, was a time of “nourishment for the brain.”) But according to the Journal of Historical Neuroscience, he may have had a sleep disorder that helped end his life. A year before his death, Descartes had moved to Stockholm to take a job tutoring Queen Christina, a devoted early-riser who forced Descartes to change his sleep schedule. Some believe the resulting sleep deprivation weakened his immune system and eventually killed him.

17. HIS SKELETON HAS TRAVELED FAR AND WIDE.

Descartes died in Stockholm in 1650 and was buried outside the city. Sixteen years later, his corpse was exhumed and taken to Paris. During the French Revolution, his bones were moved to an Egyptian sarcophagus at the Museum of French Monuments. Decades later, when plans were made to rebury Descartes in an abbey, officials discovered that most of his bones—including his skull—were missing. Shortly after, a Swedish scientist discovered a newspaper advertisement attempting to sell the polymath’s noggin [PDF]. Today, his head is in a collection at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris.

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