Originally created 10/25/02

'[filtered word]' crew takes aches and pains to the big screen



LOS ANGELES -- Ouch! The goofballs of MTV's insane stunt show "[filtered word]" have taken their masochistic shtick to the movies, complete with skull injuries, embarrassing nudity and pain - lots and lots of pain.

For these guys, jumping out of a tree wearing underwear attached to bungee cords is more than a way to get an eyeball-popping wedgie - it's a dismissal of anyone who ever scolded someone to "Behave!"

[filtered word]-in-chief Johnny Knoxville says the goal of his kamikaze comedy is to make people laugh, and he has no message besides, "Don't try this at home."

After inflaming critics with the crude concept, Knoxville quit the MTV show last year after less than a year on the air because he thought the joke had run its course. "[filtered word]: The Movie" is his encore - a way to celebrate his contribution to the retreating boundaries of taste.

Knoxville, whose real name is P.J. Clapp, started the "[filtered word]" phenomenon while testing safety equipment for a column in a skateboarding magazine, and says it's just an extreme form of slapstick. Asked why it caught on, he says he doesn't want to "suck all the fun out of it by pontificating."

"It's always funny to see somebody get broke," he explains. "There's nothing funnier than an untalented stuntman, in my opinion."

Comic bits in "[filtered word]: The Movie" range from lamebrain silliness (running around naked in public) to "Candid Camera"-style pranks (renting a car and demolishing it in a crash-up derby) to injuries (falling off a skateboard on concrete steps) and gross-out antics (urinating on a snow cone).

Other scenes include sidekick Steve-O running through a pit of crocodiles in his standard G-string outfit, Knoxville on roller-skates with bottle rockets on the sides, and a performer who defecates in a plumbing store's showroom toilet.

The film is rated R for "dangerous, sometimes extremely crude stunts, language and nudity," according to the Motion Picture Association of America.

The TV show - which still airs in late-night reruns - drew criticism that it encouraged dangerous behavior. After Knoxville wore a fireproof suit and allowed himself to be set ablaze and "roasted" on a grill, a few imitators were severely burned when they defied the show's disclaimers and performed their own variations on the stunt.

A 15-year-old in New Hampshire told investigators that he was inspired by "[filtered word]" to ignite lamp oil on a 12-year-old friend, who suffered second-degree burns over 30 percent of his body.

Knoxville says he feels horrible when he hears stories like that.

"I just wish parents would take a little more time to see what their kids are watching and see what their kids are doing," he says.

His 6-year-old daughter, Madison, is forbidden from watching all but the tamest "[filtered word]" pranks, Knoxville says.

"[filtered word]" co-creator and director Jeff Tremaine, who edited Knoxville's skateboard columns, said the TV show "just stopped being fun, with all the bad hype we were getting. Anything bad that would happen, we'd get the blame for it."

After quitting, Knoxville went on to act in the movies "Men in Black II" and "Deuces Wild."

Recently, "[filtered word]" has faced some legal trouble.

A woman sued MTV last week claiming her knees and spine were injured when "[filtered word]" prankster Dave England crashed into a lectern that knocked her to the floor during an unused promotional stunt in April. Wendy Linden is suing for unspecified damages. MTV declined to comment.

Steve-O - real name Stephen Glover - was charged in August with violating Louisiana obscenity laws in a stage appearance in which he stapled his scrotum to his thigh. He was also charged with second-degree battery for taking part in a stunt in which a bouncer knocked a 19-year-old unconscious.

Glover, free on $1.12 million bail, was unavailable for an interview.

So what's so appealing about self-inflicted suffering?

It may be that the macho stunts on "[filtered word]" strike a chord with some viewers at a time when cultural changes have diluted traditional ideas of masculinity, says David Savran, a theater professor at The City University of New York and author of the 1998 book "Taking It Like a Man: White Masculinity, Masochism, and Contemporary American Culture."

"The humiliation proves you're a man, proves you're tough," he says.

"What's most interesting to me, though, is that it's all in play, it's a kind of big practical joke," Savran adds. "Plus, so many people now are so hungry after celebrity that they will do almost anything to get on TV."

Some see "[filtered word]" as the latest in a long line of programs celebrating increasingly crude humor and wild-man antics.

The comic dysfunctionality of "The Simpsons" once rankled the first President Bush, and many parents were outraged by the foul-mouthed children on "South Park." Recent years have seen Tom Green's cruel pranks, the lascivious testosterone of "The Man Show" and the reality TV hit "Fear Factor," on which people do risky and sometimes disgusting things, such as chewing worms or being swarmed over by scorpions.

"In some ways, you watch '[filtered word]' and say, 'What's the world coming to?' But on the other hand, shows like this make you think about acceptable cultural expression," says Robert Thompson, founding director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University in New York.

"It serves the same cultural purpose as rock 'n' roll did in the beginning. It was a language of rebellion, the soundtrack of the anti-establishment, a way of making your parents and teachers mad."