Oftentimes I feel like if certain things in my life would’ve swung just a little differently I might be doing something like Jackass. A lot of dudes probably feel that way about Jackass (surely a key facet of its appeal), especially ones who were into punk rock in the late 90s and always dreamed of writing a subversive zine.
[Listen to the interview here]
That’s how Jackass began, as a subversive skate magazine, called Big Brother, which lived so far on the fringes of culture that everyone involved tended to assume every issue might be their last. That’s how Chris Pontius first got involved with the Jackass crew, as a teenage skater from San Luis Obispo, California who was interviewed for one of the first issues and appeared fully nude in the accompanying photo spread. Pontius later began working for the mag, the interviewee becoming interviewer, until the day he got fired for not showing up to a tour.
He ended up working at Jamba Juice and as a temp for Charles Schwab in the interim, and it’s funny to think about how his life could’ve turned out, had things swung just a bit differently. Luckily he and the Big Brother boys — Jeff Tremaine, Spike Jonze, and Johnny Knoxville, among them — eventually reconciled, allowing Pontius to become known to the wider world as Jackass‘s go-to guy for dick-related stunts (and later as Steve-O’s costar in Wildboyz, their more wildlife-centric Jackass spinoff).
Thank God for us he did, because Jackass, America’s greatest cultural contribution of the 21st century, wouldn’t be nearly what it is without Chris Pontius, its most outwardly-lovable personality. While other members of the gang might come off crazy (Knoxville), needy (Steve-O), or obnoxious (Bam Margera), Pontius has always maintained a mischievous little brother quality, the Baby Spice of Jackass, even while rubbing his crotch on a Japanese fortune teller or chugging a glass full of horse semen. His natural cuteness is inseparable from his larger persona, probably the reason Jeff Tremaine kept one of his framed nudes (from a Jackass segment where they submitted Pontius nude pics to Playgirl) behind his desk, or why early in his career he got hired on as Charles Schwab assistant despite being vastly underqualified, after the staff told him they thought he looked like Patrick Swayze.
Not that Chris Pontius is skating by on looks alone. Whereas Johnny Knoxville is a hybrid of carnival barker and Buster Keaton, Pontius is more like a Borscht Belt comedian who’s really stoned all the time, with a penchant for the corny one-liner and an ability to boil down complex situations into a single sardonic quip. He’s Party Boy! Who doesn’t love Party Boy?
So I know you got involved with Jackass because you were working at Big Brother magazine. How did you get involved with the magazine? What was happening in your life at that point?
At the time, I was just a skateboarder. I got interviewed just for being a skater. My interview was pretty out of hand, and when it came out, it made a big impression on Jeff Tremaine and the other guys. My friend, Thomas Campbell, who actually was the writer that did the interview was like, “Your interview really blew them away. I think you should meet them.” And I was like, “Yeah… I should work for them, huh?”
So I called up Jeff Tremaine and introduced myself and said I should work for them. And he was like, “I think you should.” After that, I just started writing stories. then we started traveling together. It was kind of a magazine version of Jackass almost. Skateboarding was the vehicle, but it highlighted all the other dumb stuff that skaters did when they weren’t skating. How do I put it? Skateboarding was… it was when the whole early ’90s kind of gangster phase was going on, and everyone just was fitting into that mold. Big Brother just attracted all the freaks and misfits from the skateboarding world. That’s why all of us gravitated toward the magazine. It censored nothing, and so it was just awesome. It always seemed like it was going to end the next issue, but it just kept going for years.
So for that first interview, were you still in high school at that point? You were in San Luis Obispo?
Yeah. I was 18 when I did it. There was a picture of me naked from when I was 17. So yeah. There was an underaged nude photo of myself in the magazine from the very beginning.
Has that gotten big on the black market?
Oh God, I still have the issues. They’re hard to come by, but… actually, Thomas Campbell, who’s now a decently known artist and photographer, I don’t know if he’s made prints. I hope he still has negatives of the photos because it was a picture of me and this girl that me and my friends were good friends with, Shayna, naked, and she’s wearing like a dunce cap, and I’m swinging my wiener around. We were both under 18. She was my friend’s girlfriend.
Is it true that you got fired from Big Brother at one point before Jackass began?
Yeah, I got fired maybe twice, but one time I didn’t get on a plane to go on a tour. I don’t know what happened. Something happened and I decided not to go on the tour. It was in Florida, and everyone else got to Florida and I wasn’t there. So I got fired for ditching out on the tour. At that time, my only real job that I’d ever had was Big Brother, so I was like, “Whoa, God, what am I going to do with my life?” And because I’ve got no real education or job skills, I first– I lived in San Francisco at the time, and I was like, “Oh, I’ll work at Jamba Juice. I’ll drink smoothies all day and get healthy.” So then I got a job at Jamba Juice, and it ended up not being for me, so I quit on the third day. Then I signed up with a temp agency, and my first job was at Charles Schwab. At the end of the day, there were all these other temps there, and the manager came up to me and was like, “You know, we want to keep someone on permanently today, and we’d like to ask you to stay on with us.” So I got hired at Charles Schwab out of nowhere. I worked there for a while, and then I left there eventually. Then I worked for a woman’s foundation. I was the only male employee they’d ever had, which is the biggest philanthropy organization for women’s charities in the world, and that was great. But eventually, it was time to go back. I resolved things with Big Brother, and so I went back wrote an article about my life after Big Brother. There’s actually a story called “Life After Big Brother.”
So that means there are some other Charles Schwab temps out there that can say that they got beat out for a position at an investment firm by Chris Pontius?
Oh yeah. I remember I was sitting by this guy, his name is Calico, and he knew how to do the work. At the time, I barely knew how to use computers or any of the current programs, and we were sitting there doing our work, and he turned to me, and he’s like, “I heard they’re going to keep one temp at the end of the day. God, I hope it’s me.” And they kept me. It was funny, because the manager of the payroll department who hired me on, she was like, “You know, you kind remind me of Patrick Swayze.” And then this other guy from the department said the same thing. I was like, “Oh my God, I think they just kept me on permanently because I reminded them of Patrick Swayze.” It’s weird how life works that way.
I was going to ask how it became your niche, but it sounds like basically from your first interview with Big Brother, you were “the naked guy.” Have you ever regretted being the dick-stunt guy?
No, not even in times when it was painful, because when I was in high school, me and my friends would always make home movies and stuff, and we realized early on that whatever you do, if you do it naked, it automatically makes it 10 times funnier. Nudity is just funny, and it’s way underused for comedy. And I’ll tell you what… sometimes, you might not feel like getting naked, but it’s weird, once you take your clothes off it strips away all inhibitions. You’re exposing everything. It’s like almost like stripping into a superhero costume. It really is that. I haven’t really thought of it like that way too much, but it is. It’s like Superman putting on his outfit.
What are the worst dick-related injuries you’ve had?
Oh man. Okay. For Jackass 3D, they made the mistake of scheduling three dick stunts in a row. The first one, they made like a balsa wood penis to wear over my penis, and they put this woodpecker on it, and they had the woodpecker try to peck through. And it hurt really bad when the pecker would hit my pecker. The beak went into my pee hole! Oh, God, it hurt so bad. And then the next day, they had me put it in a mousetrap, which evolved into a rat trap, and then… What was the other dick one?
The snake? No, that was the second movie.
That one, oh, that was amazing because we had to find like… I mean, we knew a little something about snakes, and we’re good friends with some snake experts, but we had to find a really mean snake that we knew would go for it, and it’s got to be big, but not too big. But it’s amazing. Penises are actually really tough.
Then they wanted to have it attacked by this cat one time, I guess this really mean cat, but they put catnip all over it, and then the cat just ended up snuggling up with it. It backfired, thank God. But this movie, my penis went through a lot. Right from the opener on. There’s some hilarious, but really scary dick stuff. With penis-based stunts, we get a lot of inspiration from cartoons and stuff.
It’s very Looney Tunes.
Yeah. And it’s a lot of like, “What would happen if you did this?” Anyway. Penises are really underused in comedy. …Until now.
Do you have a most painful injury/stunt that you ended up regretting most that weren’t dick-related?
God, what sticks out? I mean, there’s been ones where I’d hurt my knee and thought I was going to have to get surgery, and broke my ankle. But… It’s weird. A lot of those were not even on the most exciting things. Oh, God. Sorry. Wait, no the most painful thing I ever did by far was this thing called The Glove Of Ants. This was for Wildboyz, the show that we did after Jackass, and it’s a rite of passage for this tribe in the Amazon. You put these ants, called bullet ants, they weave them into this glove, and when boys come of age, you put this glove on that has hundreds of ants that have the most painful sting of any insect. You wear this glove for the duration of the shaman singing this song, which is about eight minutes or so. You get stung hundreds of times, and that was by far the worst, most painful, dreadful thing I’ve ever done in my life combined. It’s just like venom for 24 hours, and there’s nothing you can do about it. So yeah, that was the worst thing. I would never do that again.
When we’re filming Jackass stunts, there’s always some local yokel yahoo that pipes up, that’s maybe on set for some reason and goes, “Oh man, you guys are going to get fucked up!” We were always like, shut up. I mean, you don’t need to be more nervous than you already are, and someone has to pipe up and say that, who’s never done it before? But when someone from Brazil told me that I was going to get fucked up, I was like, “Yeah, yeah. I’m sure. It’s probably pretty bad, but not that bad,” but it was horrible.
So what does horse cum taste like?
Horse cum, God. It’s not the taste that gets you. It’s the consistency. It’s just like… for one thing it’s the amount. I mean immediately we just had a whole glass of horse cum. It was obvious that someone had to drink it, but it’s… the consistency. It’s just… so ropy.
Yeah. That fits. [I was trying to come up with a joke about cowboys using ropes here, but I couldn’t make it work in time. -Ed]. So there was going to be a conversation about who had to drink it, did you just grab it?
Oh, there was a conversation about it. Steve-O has a weak stomach, so we knew he’d throw up right when it touched his lips. And then Johnny Knoxville was there too, but it was a Wildboyz trip, so I knew it had to be me. But before I drank it, I brokered a deal with Jeff Tremaine. Because I showed up late for work the day before in a weird state. So this was going to get me out of trouble for what I had done before, and it was going to get me out of trouble for something bad I was going to do in the future. So we made a deal, before I drank it. So yeah, yeah, it tasted exactly the way you’d think it would taste, I guess.
What do you think is the stunt that embarrassed your parents the most?
Well, I don’t know about embarrassed my parents. I mean, the new movie is going to take it to a whole new level. I don’t know what they’re going to think of it. But in the last movie I was sitting next to my mom in the theater at the premiere, and there’s a slow-motion part of me getting a ping pong ball pitched to me, and I swing, but with my penis, and I hit it. And it was slow motion, so there’s so much screen time of the penis hitting the ball. It’s really funny, but I was a little like, “Oh man, sorry mom.”
I guess it’s different in slow motion, huh?
She’s like, “Oh Chris.” But my parents are cool. I mean, I was running around naked, doing silly stuff my whole life since I was born. Nothing would surprise them.
So I feel like there’s a sort of paradox with Jackass, where it only works because you guys are really good friends, but also a lot of it consists of you guys torturing each other. Do you have any thoughts on that? On how friendship works in the Jackass universe?
Well, it’s like… it’s kind of like in the band when we’re traveling around somewhere. We’re filming, so there’s a good chance something bad’s going to happen to you. I guess there’s no holds barred, really. We’re like this family, but also… When we’re filming, and there’s cameras going, whatever you do to each other, it’s worth it for the film. But sometimes stuff goes too far, tears get shed. There’s at least a few cries every movie. Not because something hurt, but because someone’s emotions are hurt.
What’s the longest someone’s ever been bent out of shape about one of the pranks, you think?
Well Ehren, sometimes… Danger Ehren just repeatedly… He pisses me off, because he has a habit of talking over people. And so, he just won’t shut up, so you have to try and make him shut up. I mean, Ehren’s amazing in the new movie. He almost steals the show, but I wish I would’ve cut his tongue off at the beginning of it because he doesn’t need his voice other than to scream. And he’s all, oh God, he just finds one way or another to piss us off. I mean, we love him, and he’s amazing in the movie, but… not one actual sentence that comes out of his mouth is worth hearing.
What’s the weirdest encounter that you’ve had with a celebrity, or… the person who was a fan that you were maybe at least expecting?
I didn’t realize it, but we were at this event, and this guy came up to me and was really into Wildboyz and Jackass, particularly Wildboyz, because it was animal-based. I talked to this guy for like an hour about animals, and all the crazy things we’d done, and swimming with sharks and crocodiles and alligators and all that. And then the next day, my friend’s like, “Oh, last night when you were talking to Leo…” And I was like, “That was Leonardo DiCaprio”? I had no idea it was him. He was a super cool guy, and then when we left, I did remember he was with some really modelish woman. And I was like, “Whoa, that guy’s got a gnarly model girlfriend?” I didn’t even know it was Leonardo DiCaprio.
‘Jackass Forever’ opens nationwide February 4th. Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can access his archive of reviews here.