THE NOTORIOUS BAM
At twenty-four, former skate brat Bam Margera is living large with a hit show on MTV surrounded by friends and family. So who's the jackass now?
DOWN A LONG, CURVY LANE PAST A QUILT OF farmland, in a corner of historic Pennsylvania where Civil War battles were once fought and tourists now visit glass-blowing shops (the kind of shops that are spelled "shoppes"), Bam Margera is orchestrating his own Uncivil War. The idea was that he and his crew, a bunch of guys he's known since junior high and who should be at least vaguely familiar to any viewer of Jackass, would bomb one another with potato launchers in his back yard and MTV would capture it all for the second season of his half-hour series, Viva La Bam. But the potatoes don't seem to want to actually come out of the guns.
"It's so frustrating when you click and nothing happens," says Rake Yohn, one of Margera's buddies, fiddling with his trigger.
"Familiar feeling, Rake?" snorts a cameraman.
On the other side of the back yard — which, at fourteen weedy acres, could pass for an antebellum meadow — Margera, a shaggy-haired, five-foot-nine, 150-pound imp, crouches behind a white Buick, waiting for his boys to figure the guns out. And if there's one thing that Margera cannot do, it's wait. This is his house and his show, starring his friends and his parents: his scream-happy hairdresser mom, April, and tubby, long-suffering dad, Phil, whom he is allowed, and even perhaps encouraged, to beat up whenever he likes. (Phil claims that he beats Bam up, too, but few people report ever having witnessed this.) So Bam picks up a potato. "Fire in Brian's mom's hole!" he yells.
"Mmm, Cheryl would love that," clucks April.
The potato comes rocketing over and lands on its intended target — well, almost. "Oof!" goes one of the guys, struggling to keep standing. "You hit my dick hair."
YOU PROBABLY CONSIDER Johnny Knoxville the star of Jackass, but to Bam Margera, he's just the guy on the West Coast who got all the attention. Throughout the two-year tenure of the show, Margera, 24, never left his home-town, West Chester, Pennsylvania, staying with his folks (he's never lived anywhere else) and tearing it up with his own substratum of Jackasses: friends from high school who call themselves the CKY crew, after Margera's brother's band, Camp Kill Yourself. He even sold the candy-red Ferrari, the one that he used to do doughnuts with in his front yard and purchased for $180,000 in cash, because he always had so many friends around ("dickheads," he calls them) that a two-seater was just impractical. So he bought a Hummer.
Margera — his first name is Brandon, but he got the nickname because he was always "bamming" into things as a kid — is able to indulge in such vehicular extravagances not necessarily because of Jackass or Viva La Bam but because of his career as a skater. Featured on Tony Hawk's ESPN Tour and as a character on Hawk's video games, he's been pro since age fifteen and is known for dropping in from sick heights. "People always ask if you get hurt on Jackass, but it's one hit, one potato, whatever," says Margera, who speaks with a roiled intensity and rarely blinks when he talks. "With skateboarding, you have to fall jumping down ten stairs for an hour before you hit your flip trick. It's way more painful."
Margera got on a board at six and spent most of his childhood in a graffitied park under an 1-95 overpass, his dad recording every trick on video — "Phil bought a skateboard once, but I broke it," says Margera, "so he wouldn't die." A prodigy, he was adopted by older skaters, and when they graduated high school, Margera pretty much lost interest in school himself. He walked out the first day of eleventh grade, in solidarity, he says, with the only friend he had left, who had just been expelled for taking a dump in a locker. It didn't hurt that Margera was already pulling in a few grand a month in endorsements. ("Now it's a lot more than that," he says proudly. Like, $200,000 to wear shoes.)
Margera used some of this cash to buy professional movie equipment, and he and a friend — a rogue by the name of "Shit Goose" — hit the streets in Margera's Buick, with a Misfits skull on the hood, to film tricks for his reel. What got Margera where he is today was pairing the skating with anarchic skits of his crew beating one another up or taking a crap out of the window of a moving van. (Though fellow troupe member Steve-O taught him to throw up on command, Margera's signature flourish is peeing â€” he pees everywhere, all the time, like when he's pumping gas: "As long as you don't look at your dick, no one notices.") The tapes became a sort of cult phenomenon in the skating community, although what they have to do with the genesis of Jackass is unclear. The official story is that Jeff Tremaine, editor of the skateboarding magazine Big Brother, was already trying to sell a show to MTV featuring Johnny Knoxville, who had been taping his own stunts, at which point they came across the CKY footage and decided to incorporate some of it as well, but the timeline of who saw what when is sketchy.
"The whole first season of Jackass is my CKY videos, and everyone in California took the credit," says Margera. "There was no directing — it was me running around with my sketchy friends when I was seventeen, like, 'Dude, jump in that shopping cart.' Now Knoxville is sitting pretty on royalties of a shopping-cart T-shirt, and my friends are digging in the dumpster for a peach pit."
Viva La Bam, then, is Margera's chance to make his friends whole: Of the forty-odd people working on Viva, twenty-five are his buddies. His family members are the stars of the show, like Don Vito, the archetypal sleazy uncle, a former auto painter whom Margera razzes for once selling quaaludes out of his Hyundai: "Me and my great-aunt Mom-mom saw him doing it, and she was like, 'I wish I'd gotten an abortion.'"
Three hundred fifty pounds, with one lazy eye, Vito plops down on a stool in Margera's garage with a plate of MTV-catered lunch in one hand and three color photos he recently shot up a girl's miniskirt in Vegas; she has no underwear on. "Her pussy was pierced and she wanted to show it off," he says, and later offers this metaphor: "It looked like a slice of pizza."
The rest of the family trickles in for lunch, too. "In Vegas, Phil was mad for a whole day because April got a lap dance," says Bam, who plays family provocateur on any number of semi-inane topics.
"Then some girl in New Orleans showed her boobs, and I told her to do it again, and Bam got all jealous," says Phil.
"I wasn't jealous — you just sounded like a scumbag," says Bam.
"I only told her to do it again because Vito wanted to see it," says Phil.
"Why is it up to you to make sure Vito sees it?" asks Bam. "Plus, if you're going to be a scumbag, you can't be mad at April for getting a lap dance."
"God," says April, shaking her head. "I didn't even want the lap dance!"
It's around this point that Margera spontaneously gets down on the floor and does 100 rapid push-ups. He stands up, panting.
"You're going to be as heavy as me and Vito," says Phil. "It's in your DNA."
"Shut up, Phil!" says Bam, raising his fist. "Shut up!"
THE NEXT TIME I SEE MARGERA, it's not authorized by MTV, a fact that would break a less independent star, but Bam isn't one to bow to authority, certainly not one with vision he considers questionable, "They're always asking, 'What's the point of that? What's the point of that?'" says Margera. "Like, they wanted to know what the point was of filming Vito's toenail" — the toenail in question came off Vito's stubby first toe, and it was yellowing, pus-encrusted and so foul-smelling that one friend whose nostrils Bam shoved it under vomited bile. "The point?" snorts Margera. 'Vito's toenail is disgusting, and he is filthy, and people need to know that." Anyway, there's not much for MTV to gird against, because all that happens is Bam and his fiancé, Jenn, have some sushi and go out to a bar. They met at the skate park when he was nine and she was fifteen ("I was writing my name in cursive when he was sucking on the tiggle" is how she puts it) after his high school girlfriend "got fingered on the beach in Maryland by some other dude." He called Jenn to cry about it, and they've been together ever since. They're like an old married couple: He tells her to stay away from the bread pudding because she'll get a FUPA (Fat Upper Pussy Area); she calls him a genius and says she's his slave: "I put his socks on. Literally."
After dinner, they meander down West Chester's main street, which is surprisingly tony for a tourist trap, lined with upscale ethnic restaurants and boutiques in which all the clothes are white, as well as a skate shop where Bam has signed every board. They come across their tattoo artist, a friend's mom, the town crackhead and the place where he once had to beat a kid up for saying that Knoxville was funnier than him.
At the bar, we order shots and toast the MTV publicist. Bam and Jenn are talking about the celebrities they've met, Hollywood parties where Justin Timberlake told Margera he'd seen all of his CKY videos and Cameron Diaz asked Jenn where she got her shoes ("Um, Payless?" she answered). They've seen Jack Osbourne, too, and he always tells Jenn that he wanks to her all the time. "It's like, 'No, Jack, you can't rape it up,'" says Margera. He shakes his head. "And here I am still living in West Chester," he says. "Dude, this life is so weird."