Johnny Knoxville Brings the Pain
What would inspire a man to voluntarily be gored by a bull, pelted with paintball bullets, and hit in the crotch with a sledgehammer? As it turns out, the origins of Johnny Knoxville's career shouldn't be credited to slapstick comedy, cartoons or monster truck rallies — but instead, something far more literate.
"I don't want to sound pretentious," grins the star, born Philip John Clapp, who would eventually take his stage name from the hometown where he grew up the son of a car salesman. "But when I was 14 or 15, my cousin gave me a copy of 'On the Road' while we were sitting at a bar. It really did make me want to leave Tennessee and just see what else was out there."
"It really shook me up," he says of Jack Kerouac's classic novel about the joys of an unplanned existence. "I didn't know things were happening like that; it made me want to get out and do things. It kinda led me to Los Angeles and seeing what that was about."
You could say that the day Knoxville picked up that book, he gave birth to "Jackass" — a franchise that has spent the last decade similarly celebrating the intersection between the unpredictability of life and the transcendent moments of foolishness that make it worth living. Then again, according to him the high jinks began much earlier.
"The very first stunt?" Knoxville thinks back, scratching his head. "Well, I threw myself out of the crib at 9 months over and over. But that really wasn't a conscious thing."
These days, he's an internationally recognized actor in films like "Walking Tall" and "The Dukes of Hazzard," with an army of admirers. But Knoxville insists that if he can "make it," anybody can.
"A nervous nelly," is how he responds when asked to describe himself in high school. "I had a crazy sweat problem; I was really excitable and nervous. Finally, I went to the dermatologist and he gave me this stuff [containing] dry salt, a prescription antiperspirant. I'd have to apply it under my arms and leave it on for 30 minutes, wrapping my arms in Saran Wrap while I did. It felt like someone lit a fire under my arms! It was very painful, but it stopped me from sweating."
"Didn't stop my nerves," he laughs. "But I didn't sweat."
All these years later, amid rumors of another "Jackass" film on the horizon, Knoxville is still throwing himself into his work — quite literally. "I love what I do, and I'm very fortunate," he insists. "I am happy and I am satisfied — but I am not through."