A World of Hurt Skating a fine line, Tony Hawk protege and 'Jackass' cocreator Bam Margera has parlayed pain into gains, first on TV and now at the box office

Oct. 14, 2002
Oct. 14, 2002

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Oct. 14, 2002

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A World of Hurt Skating a fine line, Tony Hawk protege and 'Jackass' cocreator Bam Margera has parlayed pain into gains, first on TV and now at the box office

Bam Margera sits at the T-junction of celebrity and the
underground, brooding. It's a travel-brochure sunny Saturday
afternoon in Escondido, Calif., and Margera is slumped at a
picnic table in a strip-mall parking lot, signing caps, posters
and decks for a snaking line of teenage boys. Margera hates
autograph sessions. He'd rather be skating, or driving his
Ferrari, or putting the finishing touches on CKY4, his latest
film, but Adio Shoes, one of his sponsors, has cajoled him into
this skate-shop appearance, and even 23-year-old millionaires
must pay the bills.

This is an article from the Oct. 14, 2002 issue

As the session is ending, a bushy-haired boy approaches the
table, leans over and asks Margera--who has made a famously
comedic habit of physically abusing family and friends--to smack
him. The request has become commonplace; earlier in the day, at
an appearance 85 miles to the north in Chino, another teenager
produced a written waiver absolving Margera of liability and
begged to be beaten until his nose bled. Margera is an obliging
guy, so he shrugs and slaps the enraptured kid.

Once he has scribbled the last autograph, Margera tries to pick
his way through the crowd to his posse's van, but he keeps
getting waylaid. One kid wants to film Margera with his video
camera; Margera sticks out his tongue, gags loudly and flips the
lens the bird. Another boy wants his deck broken, so Margera
climbs onto his van's roof, crouches and springs down, snapping
the board in two like a matchstick. Finally, he clambers into the
passenger seat, and the van lumbers off, bound for the freeway.
Somebody knows about an empty pool nearby, and all Margera wants
to do is skate.

Teenage America already knows Margera from his starring role on
Jackass, the can-you-frickin'-believe-this MTV program in which
he has jumped from two-story rooftops into shrubbery and awakened
his slumbering father by beating him with a toilet plunger. When
Jackass: The Movie opens on Oct. 25, the rest of the country will
get a dose of Margera as well. But Margera is more than a
cable-TV cult figure--he's a kind of skater punk Renaissance man.
He's a pro boarder on the Tony Hawk tour; he has more than a
half-dozen sponsors, from shoes to decks to eyewear; he's
written, directed and released three videos under the auspices of
CKY (Camp Kill Yourself), the crew based in his hometown of West
Chester, Pa.; he's shopping his first feature film, Haggard, for
distribution; and he's negotiating a reality show with FX
Networks. (Think Jackass meets The Osbournes.) Margera is driven,
and he's got the golden touch. "I'm impressed by his vision and
his determination to make his ideas into reality," says Hawk. "He
is a perfectionist to the point of obsession."

"Natalie Portman goes to Harvard? What's she going to Harvard
for? She's Queen f-----' Amidala. If I ever meet her, I'm gonna
tell her, 'I thought you were smart.' The smartest thing I ever
did was dropping out of school, because if I had stayed in
school, I'd be two years behind where I am now."

Margera is on a roll. He grins mischievously and pushes his
filthy brown mop out of his eyes, gleefully recounting how, one
day in 11th grade at East High School in West Chester, he got up
from his desk in Mr. Nutting's third-period science class and
simply walked out. He had already made a name for himself as a
skater, already had deals to rock Nike gear and ride Toy Machine
boards; his father, Phil, a baker, was so convinced of his son's
abilities that he'd let Bam skip school and would drive him to
FDR Skatepark, under the I-95 overpass in Philadelphia, to
perform there. "When he was 10, the pros would stop their skating
to watch him," Phil says. "We knew his skating was more
important." Watch out for my boy, Phil would tell the skaters and
onlookers at FDR, or at Cheapskates in Line Lexington, Pa., he's
going to be big-time. Bam knew it too. In elementary school he
made a checklist of goals: Be on a magazine cover, get my own
shoe, buy a Ferrari, get my own board, become friends with Tony

Like his son, Phil is a camera buff, and he toted a VHS handheld
to the parks, where he taped Bam's tricks. Bam spent hours at
home editing the footage on side-by-side VCRs, compiling reels of
his trademark moves, such as the ollie one-foot, in which he'd
ride up a halfpipe, ollie off the lip and kick one leg out,
Rockette-style, before riding back down backward. When he was
putting together a tape of tricks for Toy Machine, he threw in
clips of himself and his CKY pals slapping one another around.
"The pros loved it--they wanted more of that goofy footage,"
Margera says.

In 1997 he gave them more: He wrote, directed and produced CKY
with his West Chester buddy Brandon DiCamillo. It's an hour-plus
of sharply edited anarchy. In a CKY staple, members of the crew
sit in shopping carts and get pushed, full-speed, over curbs and
into bushes. DiCamillo scales a ladder to a second-floor window
and guzzles Glass Plus, spitting it on the panes. Bam and Brandon
dress in Santa Claus and chicken costumes and chase each other
through the streets of West Chester. The highlight of CKY comes
late in the tape, when Margera solemnly intones into a fish-eye
lens, "The s--- has hit the fan." What follows is a quick-cut
sequence, set to teeth-gnashing rock, of CKY kids slapping each
other in the face, punching each other in the gut, tackling each
other on concrete, throwing each other down stairs. It's like
watching the Three Stooges on angel dust: It's skatepunk
slapstick, and the point is that it hurts like hell.

CKY attracted the attention of Jeff Tremaine, then editor of the
skateboarding magazine Big Brother; Tremaine and Johnny Knoxville
were pitching Jackass to the networks, and Margera's stuff was in
the same vein as Knoxville's stunts. "A lot of Jackass was what
Bam created in CKY," Tremaine says. "We borrowed his world."
Fueled by the absurdist energies of CKY and the appetite of what
The Village Voice has dubbed Jackass Nation, Jackass became,
during its two-year run, one of the highest-rated shows on cable,
and Margera quickly cashed in on his mainstream success.

In '99 he joined the Hawk tour, and CKY2 and 3 followed in 2000
and '01. Margera began writing the script for Haggard and
directed several videos for CKY, the band, in which his brother,
Jess, drums. Bam affects a slacker attitude, but in reality he is
fiercely protective of his work and shrewdly attentive to
creating a finished product that matches his original concept.
"When I shoot something for MTV, I'll look at the edited clip and
say, 'What happened to this shot?'" he says. "They'll tell me,
'Oh, we must have skipped over it somehow.' If I do it myself,
I'll get it right. I mean, if they're picking the cover of the
Jackass DVD, do you think they're gonna pick the picture where
Knoxville looks good, or the one where I do? I've got to take
care of that myself."

Partially in response to the criticism of people such as
Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman, who made Jackass's
cancellation his cause celebre, the show was taken off the air
in August 2001. Margera, though, knows that to the admiring
adolescents at his signings, he remains an erstwhile Jackass.
This is, in no small measure, why he dislikes them so much. He is
proud of his skater roots, still wears the skater's
antiestablishment ethos like a suit of armor. He cackles as he
recalls driving into a Hummer dealership in August "dressed like
the s---bag that I am," being ignored by the salesman and finally
asking, "Can I buy this car?" before rolling out with a
sunset-orange H2. He rejects the notion that he's sold out,
because making movies and having enough money to exercise
creative control over his projects are what he's always wanted.
But get highbrow on him--ask him, for instance, if he's making
art--and he'll skewer you. "If you think Raab running and s------
himself at the same time is art, then why not?" he says,
referring to a scene in CKY3 in which crew member Chris Raab
gulps down 18 Ex-Laxes, dons a jockstrap and craps his legs while
jogging. "I think it's hilarious. But what do I care? I'm the one
having fun all day, and you're the a------ with the nine-to-five

Margera stands on the lip of an empty swimming pool behind an
abandoned house off Highway 78 near Oceanside. He peels off his
silver button-down shirt, grips the nose of his borrowed deck and
breathes deeply in the fading daylight. He's trying to stick an
ollie blunt to fakie--starting in the shallow end, he'll roll
through the pool's 10-foot-deep basin, climb one wall and quickly
grind its lip, then roll back through the basin and up the
opposite wall, where he'll stop the board on the ledge 18 inches
from the top, pause for a split second and drop back into the
basin backward. Margera has never shredded up a pool before. He's
riding the wrong trucks, and after a dozen unsuccessful runs he's
steaming. "I'm not bailing on this thing," he says with a grunt.

A dozen more tries, and he nails it, freezing at a 90-degree
angle to the ground, board curled around the ledge, his back to a
bloodred sunset, before swooping fakie down the wall into the
deep end. A cacophony of whoops and hollers goes up from the
people who've been watching, and Margera grins, then climbs out
of the pool and checks the footage that's been shot. When he gets
back to West Chester, he'll back the trick with the sound of
Rescue, by his favorite band, HIM, and edit it into CKY4. It'll
be out any day now.

B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY FRANKIE BARBARACOLOR PHOTO: BEN ZO/PARAMOUNT PICTURES AND MTV NETWORK BASKET CASES The signature "Jackass" gag, the shopping-cart crash, helped earn millions for Margera and make the show a smash hit.TWO COLOR PHOTOS: ROBERT BECK (2) PUBLICITY HAWK Margera has benefited from his link to Hawk (far right and below), who'll appear in "Jackass: The Movie."COLOR PHOTO: JEFF TAYLOR OFF THE DEEP END Margera attained international notoriety with this launch off an Oiso, Japan, high dive in July 2000.
Punching each other in the gut, tackling each other on concrete:
It's skatepunk slapstick, and the point is that it hurts like