5 Hilarious Television Precursors to MTV’s Jackass
The Jackass films alone have grossed around half a billion US dollars. It all started so grassroots – kids messing around with cameras, just like any one of millions of videos on YouTube. However, when the show first was broadcast in 2000, competition was pretty sparse. The genre was still being etched out. Kind of. People have probably been punching each other in the dicks since learning to walk upright. For television, though, Jackass was predated by very little content. Here we focus on the rare, innovative group of TV shows that had people behaving like jackasses before Jackass ever aired.
#5. Cap’n Video
In the early ’90s, Ontario, Canada’s Cable 10 channel broadcast this rare gem. Episodes of the show are hard to find but its history has been superbly documented in the 2011 film Beauty Day.
Performing under the alias Cap’n Video, Ralph Zavadil taped himself doing crazy shit before crazy shit meant global fame. For a stunt he called the Instant Razor in a Bottle, he poured flammable liquid onto his face and set it on fire, to show his easy alternative to shaving.
Remember Dave England and his vomit omelette? Cap’n Video did his own egg stunt, where he’d drink them raw through his nose.
Years before we saw any of Steve-O’s pool dives, Zavadil broke his neck attempting to jump into his own pool. And to his delight and ours, it’s caught on tape. The ladder he had climbed was loosely tied up with bungee cord. This meant that when Zavadil propelled himself off, it jolted back and he just hung in the same spot, before gravity threw him down – his body flipping against the rebounding ladder, clattering onto the concrete below and rolling into the swimming pool. It’s arguably the funniest thing that could have happened.
An Easter special he produced contained some contentious use of animals. There was a segment which consisted of puppies being covered in chocolate sauce (poisonous to dogs), which the good Cap’n licked off. Another segment instructed viewers how to make their own seasonal decorations. Cap’n Video hung a live rabbit from the guttering outside his house and proceeded to throw eggs at his front door, inches away from the bunny. Complaints predictably followed – most notably from the Humane Society, pressuring the channel into cancelling the show.
Zavadil is characteristically reasoned when reflecting on his more financially successful TV offspring, saying:
“Tesla – he invented a whole slew of things and he never got the credit due where it was, but you know what, he knew in the back of his mind that he was a pioneer and he was the one who did all that, and I think that’s what counts. I don’t need accolades to say, ‘Oh, I was the first Jackass.’ Whatever.”
#4. The Howard Stern Show
Although the radio show started in 1979, its history of broadcast on television largely starts with WWOR-TV (Channel 9) in 1990, and continued with CBS and the E! Network.
One of the show’s greatest strengths has always been the Wack Pack, consisting of unusual characters who treat their lives like a wound they refuse to stitch up, preferring to squeeze its mushy innards out and share it with listeners and viewers. Kenneth Keith Kallenbach was one such Wack Packer, whose claim to fame was not only his bizarre character but also his penchant for destructive, often gross behaviour, including attempting (unsuccessfully) to blow cigarette smoke out of his eyes.
Vinnie Mazzeo Jr. performed more successful stunts for Howard Stern in the ’80s and ’90s, setting ablaze his underwear, then drinking lighter fluid and spitting it onto his crotch, resulting in genitally produced fireballs – a stunt that instantly makes us think of Steve-O’s own fiery exploits.
Stern Show regular, Will the Farter, would even go on to appear in Jackass 3D, using his anal gift to play a trumpet and launch blow-darts at balloons.
#3. Allen Funt’s Candid Camera
The oldest entry on the list, starting in 1948. It subjected members of the unsuspecting public to bizarre, choreographed situations and secretly filmed their reactions. The results are reminiscent of some of the more light-hearted activities shown on Jackass.
A byproduct of the show’s age is that it’s now a pretty interesting time-stamp of what people were like back then – seeming a lot less world-weary. Often, all that was needed was a confident voice to trigger submission to the oddest requests in a congenial, formal way.
Candid Camera also boasts a noteworthy list of comedians that have written and performed in the show, including Woody Allen. His most famous bits include guiding baffled out-of-towners to a podium to give a speech on a subject they know nothing about, and dictating an inappropriately romantic business letter to a secretary.
#2. Gaki no Tsukai
From Japan, the spiritual home of weird and painful game shows, comes Gaki no Tsukai, launched in 1989 and spearheaded by the comedy duo known as Downtown. Their style of humour is incredibly physical with a focus on punishing mistakes with violence in their batsu (roughly translated as penalty) games.
In what has become an annual tradition for the show, the regular cast are placed in mundane settings, such as police stations, high schools, or hospitals for 24 hours and are subjected to a series of comically extraordinary incidents.
If they laugh at any point during their stay, they receive a beating. Sometimes it’s as harmless as a blow to the bum with a soft bat, sometimes it’s as severe as a kickboxer unleashing his strongest kick, or wrestling legend Masahiro Chono delivering a stiff slap to the face.
Another popular staple is the Chinko Machine game, where participants stand on a platform and are asked questions. If they answer incorrectly, a device shoots out of the platform and up between their legs, bashing their testicles.
The varied nature of the show’s content means its influence can be seen in a lot of TV programmes – not just Jackass. MTV’s Silent Library is a direct spin-off of one of the show’s most beloved segments.
#1. The Tom Green Show
If you don’t know Tom Green, check out his YouTube channel immediately, which is flooded with clips from his groundbreaking, belly-laugh funny TV show. Its run stretches from the early ’90s, when Green was a high school student, broadcasting on Canadian public access, to MTV in 2000, mere months before the début of Jackass.
Green had contracted testicular cancer and was forced to take a break from the show. He did, however, manage to document his treatment in The Tom Green Cancer Special. When he was once again fit for work, interest from Hollywood was at its highest, meaning there was no time left to make the show. Jackass capitalised on the gap in the market and climbed to unprecedented tomfoolery-fuelled heights.
Several production people from The Tom Green Show found work on Jackass, which makes sense when you look at some of the stylistic choices made and the extreme similarity of a lot of the segments. Before Bam Margera was waking up his parents in the middle of the night, Tom Green was doing it.
Johnny Knoxville asking strangers for help because both his arms were in plaster casts – yeah, Tom Green did it first. Before Bad Grandpa, or any of the earlier Jackass skits, Tom Green was destroying supermarkets with his own mobility scooter, in his own old man disguise.
Paint guns, hapless blind men, fake security guards, covering people in flour, swimming in public fountains, swimming with sharks, painting parents’ houses and unleashing exotic animals inside – someone give Tom Green a royalty cheque because every one of these bits happened on his show before Jackass.