Killing Yourself to Live

Balls to the Wall With Bam Margera & His Crew

Butterflies . . . turtles. Perhaps a pleasant walk in the woods comes to mind. But say those words to the average MTV-watching, Spin-reading, skateboard-wielding teenager or twentysomething, and he or she may envision a thin, wasted, 28-year-old guy—cigarette in one hand, can of Bud in the other—removing his leopard-print bikini bottoms, grabbing a staple-gun, stretching the skin of his scrotum so that it's flat against his upper thigh, and firing away. There's screaming and blood (and plenty of laughter in the background), but the man in the picture repeats this "move" on the other side, thus creating the beautiful image of—yup, you guessed it—a "butterfly." If that makes you squeamish, you probably wouldn't want to see a "turtle"—a scrotum stretched upward and stapled to a stomach.

The logical question is: Who the fuck would do something like this? And the logical answer is: Only a jackass. Unless you're one of the many who have purchased Steve-O's videos, Don't Try This At Home: The Steve-O Video or Don't Try This At Home: The Career Ender, you've probably only seen him on MTV's Jackass—jumping into a vat of raw sewage, getting his ass cheeks pierced together, or snorting goldfish and earthworms.

If you know who Steve-O is, then you know who Johnny Knoxville is. He's the better-looking guy who turned videotaping himself while testing products such as a bulletproof vest (he shot himself at point-blank range) for the Larry Flynt-owned Big Brother skateboarding magazine into a bidding war between MTV and Comedy Central that resulted in the creation of Jackass, which Knoxville hosted and starred in. And if you know who Johnny Knoxville is, then you probably know about Bam Margera and his crew, who were Jackass regulars.

Pranksters prepare for fall in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
photo: Greg Miller
Pranksters prepare for fall in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Since the show's two-year run ended, Knoxville has used his charm, talent, and good looks to launch a Hollywood career, recently appearing in Men in Black II, reportedly getting more movie offers than he can accept, and currently working out a deal with Fox to produce a TV show. Not to mention Jackass: The Movie, which is slated for an October 25 release. You'd think a guy like Knoxville who could find the time to let a bunch of pre-schoolers kick him in the nuts could find five minutes to talk on the phone, but his publicist explains: "You've got to understand, he's got a movie coming out, there's over 100 outlets that want to talk to him, he's only one person, he can only do so much."

It doesn't matter. Johnny Knoxville is likely to get swallowed up by the Hollywood machine and spit out as the new Nicolas Cage or something anyway. And Steve-O might not be around for a while because he was busted in July for performing his "butterfly" act in a Louisiana bar, where, according to MTV News, audience volunteers let bouncers and other volunteers kick them in the 'nads in a test of endurance. Steve-O faced assault and obscenity charges in a court appearance scheduled for this week. But even if he beats that rap (which carries a possible eight-year sentence), do you really think this guy can stay below the law's radar?

The name worth remembering of the Jackass bunch is Bam Margera. He and his Camp Kill Yourself crew may be our best hope for inspired, provocative, cutting-edge entertainment in the near future.

Bam grew up in West Chester, Pennsylvania, a rural Philly suburb where he took to skateboarding and videotaping skits and pranks at an early age. Both came naturally to him, and he was fortunate enough to have parents who understood. (Bam's dad, Phil Margera, a hefty, easygoing guy, became the target of several pranks on Jackass—riding his lawn mower into a camouflaged ditch, and being toilet-plungered in the face while sleeping, to name a couple.) "When he was about 12, we got a VHS camera, and we would always film him skating," recalls Phil Margera. "We would have the relatives come over, and he would put it on, but after about 10 minutes or so, they'd say, 'Oh, that's wonderful,' and they'd go back to doing what they were doing. So Bam thought, 'OK, I'll show five minutes of skating and do three minutes of pranks,' and that caught their attention." However, the footage Bam was showing back then probably didn't involve young men taking shits in plain view on the side of a road while morning traffic rolled by, or jumping off moving cars at high speeds into bushes, or exchanging full-strength punches to the face.

Bam's knack for capturing the absurd on tape evolved as quickly as his skating abilities did. And in what one CKYer calls the "picture-perfect-U.S.A." town of West Chester, it wasn't hard to recruit a group of bored, attention-starved misfits to assist him in his battle against the dull and mundane. "I went to rehab when I was 15—I got all the drugs out of my system really early," says Ryan Dunn, Bam's longtime friend, fellow co-star of Jackass, and a crucial member of the crew that would become Camp Kill Yourself. After his parents moved him from the sticks of Ohio to Buffalo because of his drug problems, they finally settled in West Chester. "I was the new kid," Dunn says, "and my stepsister was a good-looking girl who got along with everybody, my brother was a jock, and I just didn't fit in anywhere. I met Bam, and he was skating, and I wanted to videotape shit and act like an idiot. My life's been boring since I was a kid. I always wanted to act like somebody else. So I figured, why not videotape me acting like somebody else?"

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