You don’t talk to your girlfriend, to your boyfriend, whoever: RIP Ryan Dunn
It’s kinda hard to pay respectful tribute to the life and works of a man who is most famous for shoving a Matchbox figurine up his jacksie, but I want to try anyway.
There’s a tendency among Jackass fans to view the West Chester/CKY side of things (Dunn, Margera, DiCamillo, Rake, Raab and Brandon) as the weakest element of the show. A side of the show devoid of Knoxville’s comedy timing, Steve-O’s 90’s circus revival schtick or Chris Pontius’s nutsack. And… there might be something to be said for that. But none of that was ever Dunn’s fault.
A perfect example of that is what is probably my favourite original Jackass skit: Office Chairs. Ryan Dunn, Bam Margera and Brandon DiCamillo ride office chairs around a skate park while dressed in suits. It’s a perfect combination of some vaguely impressive physical action, good comedy timing, and people falling flat on their face. What made Jackass great in one small package. And Dunn’s the most important part of that, goofballing at the camera with his mountain man beard and throwing out some great “ahhh…. fuck” audibles when he slips. Margera then proceeds to pretty much ruin the sketch by tagging on a 15 second clip of him being REALLY GOOD AT SKATING in case you forgot.
It still boggles the mind that people won’t accept Jackass as one of probably four perfect comedy shows on TV in the past two decades (alongside Help, King of the Hill and The Thick of It). It’s part of MTV’s God Tier trinity (alongside Beavis and Butthead and Jersey Shore), and I’m prepared to hear arguments it’s significantly above both of those at their best.
I wrote this for some freemium mag a few months before the release of Jackass 3:
The most noticeable thing about the skate culture boom of the late Nineties is what little impact it left. Its sole contribution to mainstream culture in the 2000s was borne of a corruption of a skating ideal, though. Skate videos, VHS montages of men called Chad jumping over park benches set to a really bad soundtrack, had been a `thing’ since the late Eighties. Eventually, compilers twigged that heads were less invested in the idyll of the technically perfect manual 360 ollie than they were in watching skateboarders fall flat on their face, hopefully fracturing limbs in the process.
Big Brother, a magazine dedicated to the skate lifestyle, eventually started filling up its occasional video issues with not only these new wave blooper reels, but also additional skits and stunts, such as Jason `Wee Man’ Acuña, a midget skateboarder, wearing full body paint. Or journalist Johnny Knoxville road-testing safety devices by being assaulted with pepper spray, stun guns, and a pistol while wearing a bullet proof vest. And from such, a TV classic was born.
Knoxville was the spiritual centre of the show, and part of what made it such a) a hit and b) a deserved hit, when so many of the imitators that sprung up in its wake (Dirty Sanchez, The Dudesons, the truly awful Rad Girls) either wilted on the vine or stunk MTV2 out for so long. They didn’t have a Knoxville figure to bring… if not `gravitas’ to the situation then at least a stabilising sense of comic timing. Indeed, with Knoxville’s ability to switch between hectoring straight man and goofy team player as and when the skits required, he always brought to mind Eric Morecambe, or at least an Eric Morecambe as attired by Vice stylists circa 2001. The show did air during the `golden’ era of ironic moustaches and vintage t-shirts, after all.
The rest of the crew were cast well. Steve-O, a trained clown who used to be a touring drug dealer with the Grateful Dead. Chris Pontius, who took the latent homoeroticism of any `lads having a laugh’ moment to its logical conclusion by wearing a posing pouch and swinging his nutsack in strangers’ faces. Punchbag `Danger’ Ehren McGhehey, short `n’ fat dudes combo Wee Man and Preston Lacey, the whole West Chester posse led by the perfectly smug Bam Margera.
And the show was always at its best when the stunts were kept simple. Short build-up, stunt, quick pay-off, move on. Moments like P Diddy slapping Bam in the face. Riding skateboard ramps in office chairs. Eating, regurgitating, then cooking the ingredients for an omelette. Snorting worms. It was all such a vicarious thrill for anyone who was missing the days when their friends pushed them down embankments in shopping trolleys.
The movies continued in this vein: Jackass: The Movie is a logical extension of the show; bigger budget, bigger screen. Jackass 2, on the other hand, is a pretty intelligent update of the show for men entering their mid-30s, no longer able to pull off fantastic stunts and instead having to rely on eating horseshit as Three 6 Mafia look on, or getting a “dick farm” branded onto your backside.
A current trailer for Jackass 3 is promising us Chris Pontius’s groin thrusting towards us in 3D. A decade on from Jackass’s start, it’s hard to think of a more appropriate medium for it.
It’s hard to say really. If you ignore Brittany Murphy (and, you know, you might as well), Dunn is the first important pop cultural bro from the turn of the millennium to pass on. And it’s a shame because when the rest of the Jackass team had congenital heart defects and morbid obesity and surprisingly visible reserves of self-loathing, he just seemed like a normal guy who could pull a good face when he got punched in the jaw. And, yeah, nobody could squeeze a toy car into their rectum like Dunn did. RIP.