“Is it going to be as funny to watch middle-aged men get hit in the nuts?” asks Jackass Forever director Jeff Tremaine, recalling his initial fear about returning to the Jackass universe ten years after Jackass 3D.
What started out as a lo-fi TV series on MTV in 2000 quickly grew into a full-blown franchise spanning three films. The handheld DV cameras were swapped out for Phantom High-Speed cameras, and operatic stunts with real production design opened each film.
But two things largely remained the same.
First: the cast of collaborators, including Steve-O, Dave England, Ehren McGhehey, Jason “Wee Man” Acuña, Preston Lacy, with Johnny Knoxville as their ringleader and Jeff Tremaine as their director.
Second: Sometimes simplicity is best. Complex stunts can be particularly satisfying and likewise hilarious when pulled off correctly. But sometimes a well- timed softball to the nether-region with a perfect cut to a reaction shot can elicit endless laughter. We don’t get to pick our generation’s Buster Keaton. We should just be glad, in this instance, we get a whole gang of them — many now sporting grey hair or receding hairlines.
“This should be one of the more complicated scenes you’ve ever interviewed somebody about,” Tremaine jokes before we get into discussing The Cup Test, a bit where, yes, one of the original Jackass members gets hit repeatedly in the nuts. “High-concept filmmaking,” laughs Tremaine. —C.H.
As Told to Caleb Hammond
Jackass Forever was shot — kind of — on our 20th anniversary. And so I wanted to redo at least one of our really signature bits from the TV series. I came up with the idea to redo The Cup Test, which we shot way back in 2000.
Johnny Knoxville was supposed to be the talent, but during quarantine, he had to get a hernia surgery. So when we came back after quarantine, Cup Test was one of the first things up, but he wasn’t quite healed enough for it, so the idea got passed down the cast.
A lot of times when those ideas start getting passed down, Ehren is sort of the backstop. But I think this one went directly to Ehren.
There are unwritten rules to how we do things, and there’s sort of a trickle-down footage. You can’t pass too many times, because you know you’re gonna end up not leaving your mark on the movie.
The original Cup Test was basically Knoxville and I coming up with a bunch of dumb ways to hit him in the nuts with a cup on. I hit a croquet ball into his nuts. I dropped a pool ball off a three-story building.
A lot of those were more about the misses than the hits. I dropped the pool ball and missed and hit him right on the shin. I don’t know if you can picture the three-story pool ball drop to the shin, but that sucks.
For Jackass Forever, we came up with getting a heavyweight boxer to punch Ehren. Who would be the right guy? Mike Tyson. Yeah, let’s find Tyson. Tyson is not available. Then we found Francis Ngannou. When we did our internet research on him, it turns out he has the most powerful punch ever recorded, where they put a sensor on it. So he became the best choice, actually.
This is the first day we shot right out of seven months in quarantine. We told Ehren, Yeah, we got a lightweight boxer that’s gonna do it. And he punches hard, but, you know, he’s small, so you don’t have to worry too much.
All of a sudden, Francis turns the corner and he’s huge. He is physically scary. And Ehren was like, No. At this point, the cup is in and ready to go — there’s no backing down now. Ngannou actually punched him a couple of times. He couldn’t wrap his head around an intentional nut shot. He’s so trained not to do that. So he did it, and we just felt, Ah, man, I know, you got more in there than that. I gave Ngannou a little pep talk: We’re making a movie here. Let’s go all in. So the second one, he really pounded him.
Cups are designed to prevent the ultimate tragedy, but you can definitely feel something like that.
Ehren’s nuts sort of turned black and blue and they swelled up overnight. And the next day he had to do the softball pitch.
We knew the softball pitch would suck — just the weight of the ball. Pitcher Danielle O’Toole is on the Mexican Olympic team, and she throws them fast and hard.
We made Ehren watch her practice where she threw into the backstop wall. The sound alone of the softball hitting the wall was so scary.
She starts pitching on him and he can’t stand still because it’s so scary. The first pitch, he would have been hit dead on — one and done if that first pitch hit. It was a perfect pitch, right down the middle. But he panicked and turned and took it right on the thigh. It just sounded like Rocky punching those dead cows. So we made him go again. And the next pitch wasn’t dead center and it hit him in the exact same spot. He ended up taking probably 10 shots to the thigh before he got hit, due to either a slightly off pitch or a panic on his part. Always the same spot over and over.
We did start taping extra pads on him as the bit went on, but the softball would just somehow find the spot where the pad wasn’t quite there.
The actual hit wasn’t as bad as the misses for him. His thigh was all tenderized and brutal, just swelling as we moved on to shoot the pogo stick.
The Pogo Stick
Right after the softball pitch, he did the pogo stick and even that we had to do twice. We only show it once, but the first time the pogo sort of hit him in the stomach and slid down — it was a brutal miss.
But on the second take, the pogo stick actually slid off the cup and pinched the nut sack to the ground.
We thought it ruptured his nut. But it actually just got the scrotum and pinched it to the ground with everything it had. It was like a double skinned knee on both sides, the top and bottom. We actually called an ambulance and he went to the hospital just to double check that we didn’t rupture his nut.
We actually shot one Cup Test that didn’t air in the movie. It’s gonna be on Jackass 4.5 where we got the PBA Women’s Champion bowler. Ehren’s doing the splits at the end of the bowling alley, and she uses the 16-pound ball and is deadly accurate.
P. K. Subban was so psyched to be there. On the side, right as we were getting ready to do it, P.K. was like, Do you want me to hit him, first try? I didn’t believe him. I said, No! He’s like, OK, well where do you want me to hit him? And I’m like, [motions to face], because Ehren had a helmet and mask on.
The very first shot… perfect. I don’t know how he did it but just dead-eyed hit Ehren right between the eyes, rattled him, knocked him down and maybe out for a second. The velocity of the puck hitting his face, you can see it concuss all the way down his body on the Phantom camera in slo-mo.
We got the miss we wanted. The second one, it was just above the cup, kind of got him in the stomach, where he was pretty sufficiently padded. That hit him pretty hard, but he was OK.
And then the next shot was dead on nuts.
I believe he chose this aluminum cup, and there’s a perfect dent right where it hit. He chose well on that one.
As we were editing it, each one of the clips stood alone by themselves. So at one point, I had them cut each individually and was trying to make a series of runners throughout the movie: test one, and then test two later and test three even later. But it really paced up once we put it all together and added music. It worked best being a montage of all the bits together.
Ehren was just so funny in the bit — his talent truly shined. His real terror face is very satisfying to watch. The peanut gallery giving Ehren shit each time is just so fun. We’ve just been together so long. There’s long-term group dynamics at play there, that I think everybody gets, especially if you’ve followed us for a while.
The end result is that the cups work, but they don’t work great. I think we pushed it as hard as we could. I don’t think we backed off on any ideas because they were too gnarly. We pushed it all to be as gnarly as it could be.
But, we don’t take too many scientific measurements: Alright, well, the velocity that the nuts can take behind the cup is this amount. We use our best judgment to figure it out.
The Creative Process
As a redo from the TV series, The Cup Test was unique. But the way the creative process usually works is that we will meet with different cast members. It’s always me, Knox, and a rotating group of the cast, to all chime in on what would be funny. Here are some of the ideas we have. What would you guys do with these? Rarely does an idea get shot as it originally was pitched. Sometimes it does, but a lot of times it gets flipped upside-down and twisted around by the time we end up shooting it. Definitely a committee of idiots, I guess you’d call it.
We do have to run it back past Paramount’s legal team. It’s a strange word to use, “safety,” because it’s definitely not safe. But we make things as safe and shootable as possible, but also try to keep the idea as pure as possible. Paramount’s pretty cool about it. I mean, honestly, they trust that we know what we’re doing mostly. I don’t know if that’s smart or not…
Right now, I feel like I’ve felt after each of the movies, where it feels like we closed the book. But I have felt that way since the very first movie. So I learned a long time ago to never say never. But I will also say we shot each and every one of these movies, as if they were shutting the book. We definitely leave it all on the floor.
Jackass Forever, directed by Jeff Tremaine, opens in theaters on Friday.
Main image: Johnny Knoxville and Rachel Wolfson in Jackass Forever, directed by Jeff Tremaine. Photos courtesy of Paramount Pictures / MTV Entertainment Studios.