Rachel Wolfson grew up watching “Jackass” and putting her own spin on their pranks with her friends. Years later, as a standup comedian, YouTuber, and podcaster known for her particular brand of “cannabis comedy,” Johnny Knoxville recruited her off of Instagram to join his crew in “Jackass Forever.” She eagerly accepted, but never forgot her guiding mantra: As long as I’m not the one crying, I’m fine.
One licked taser and a bunch of lip-biting scorpions later, Wolfson accomplished that goal. She’s a Jackass, and all too happy for the designation. She’s also the crew’s first official female member, and joins other young rookies Sean “Poopies” McInerny, Jasper Dolphin, Zach Holmes, and Eric Manaka in the fourth installment of the “Jackass” film franchise.
Before we began, I told her I was conducting the interview from my apartment’s bathroom (the radiator was being repaired and it was the quietest place). She didn’t even blink. “It’s actually the perfect place to conduct a ‘Jackass’ interview,” she said. “This is good for the brand.”
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
IndieWire: My first question is probably one that people have been asking you for months: How did this happen?
Rachel Wolfson: One day in 2019, I noticed that [Johnny] Knoxville was liking a bunch of my stuff on Instagram, all my jokes, and he was extremely supportive of the content I was pushing out. My boyfriend at the time didn’t even like all that stuff on Instagram. So I was like, “Why is Knoxville more supportive than you?”
Not too long after that, I get a direct message from Johnny Knoxville, and I’m like, “Is this really happening? Is this a prank?” And the message was something like, “Hey, you want to hop on a phone call with me? I want to talk to you about something.” I couldn’t believe it. So I get on the phone with him and, sure enough, it’s the real Johnny Knoxville, the voice I had heard for many years, growing up in my living room.
He didn’t reveal it was a movie initially, he said it was an anniversary special and it had something to do with “Jackass.” As soon as I heard “Jackass,” I was like, “Whatever this is, I want to be a part of it.” He asked me to come in for a meeting with him and [director] Jeff Tremaine, and I still don’t believe it. At first, I was thinking, “I’m going to get pranked here for sure,” but it was literally like a five-minute meeting, and that’s when they told me that they were going to be shooting a movie. Basically they were like, “Do you want to come play with us?” I still didn’t know what that meant, but I knew that I wanted to be a part of it.
What is your first memory of a “Jackass” prank as a viewer?
Nothing sticks out more in my head than the shopping cart [the first film’s opening stunt]. After that, my friends and I would just take shopping carts and try and push ourselves around. After seeing Party Boy, we would Party Boy our teachers. Dave England shitting in the Home Depot, I will never look at a toilet at Home Depot the same way.
“Jackass” was very much a part of my adolescence. Everything was a “Jackass” bit.
What did the guys do to make you feel like one of them?
I think that was the main concern for a lot of the OGs [in] bringing a new cast on. There is such a strong camaraderie, it is a family, and who really likes including new people? When we all showed up for the test shoot, rather quickly [executive producer] Spike [Jonze] and Knoxville and Jeff and probably some of the OGs realized, “Oh, there’s something to this.”
My role in the movie evolved over time, for many reasons: COVID, I’m a woman, and I think initially they didn’t necessarily know what to do with me but they were like, “Let’s just see what happens.”
When we did the quiet game, which is the bit where I licked the taser, that was my first real opportunity to do some stunt stuff. I always kept in mind, “I don’t ever want to cry on the set of ‘Jackass.’ As long as I’m not the one crying, I’m fine.” When I did the bit the first time — because we shot it maybe like two or three times, because that’s how Jeff likes to do things, in like a torturous way — I just went up and did it. And the reaction that the guys gave me, it was like, “Oh wow, I am earning their trust.” They were cheering me on; they were clapping. They were so excited.
Was there ever a prank that you wanted to do that they wouldn’t let you do?
There was never a full conversation where it’s like, “Oh, I want to do this,” and, “No, you can’t,” but there are definitely things in the movie where I was like, “Ooh, I feel like in retrospect, I would’ve done them. I would’ve volunteered.” Things that maybe I wasn’t there to shoot that day, but I would’ve down to do that bit, for sure.
What surprised you about the way these films are actually made?
You know what’s crazy? They really took COVID safety seriously. It’s so funny that you’re on the set of “Jackass,” where nothing is safe, and they really took it seriously! It was like the gold standard of COVID safety, which if you think about, is laughable.
The guys seem to have always understood a universal truth: Penises are very funny.
Dude! I’m in my thirties and I still think penises are hilarious. I always have. I’m the kind of person who laughs at an “enter through the rear” sign. That’s just like what sums up “Jackass” humor, there’s just something about the male anatomy that is hilarious. It’s such a funny-looking body part. Anytime they had their dicks out, I was dying. I just know that no matter what age I get, I’m still going to laugh at a penis.
There is one scene that happens early in the film that hinges on a penis, and it’s extraordinary funny and so well-made.
What’s hilarious is the cinematography and the special effects are so beautiful. I wouldn’t be surprised if they won some kind of award. Without giving too much away, I guess that’s another thing that surprised me. Spike is so serious about this, just the work and the art and the cinematography and the special effects. There’s so much that went into that, that I think people would be surprised to know about the whole process of how that went down, because to see it was incredible. I had never really seen anything like that.
Recently, there seems to have been something of a reappraisal of “Jackass,” in terms of the guys’ progressive treatment of bodies. They have such affection for each other, and such a high comfort level being naked with each other. Is that something you talked about?
You’re so correct with everything. There was no formal conversation. But, full disclosure, like the first day on set — and I think this is hilarious — we had sexual harassment training. I think productions really take sexual harassment seriously, including “Jackass.” So we had the sexual harassment seminar, and then five minutes later, I’m shooting something and all of their dicks are out. It’s the funniest thing.
“Jackass” is really body positive. There’s nothing sexual about it. It’s purely art and comedy. And I think that there’s something comforting to that, to know that what’s happening is so non-threatening, it’s just comical.
You’re joined in the film by a batch of other newbies of a younger generation and even some older folks, too. Why do you think “Jackass” still has such cross-generational appeal for both the people who participate and its audience?
“Jackass” is a reflection of our society and our culture, and also there’s something about seeing people get hurt that’s hilarious. Anytime you see someone fall, I feel like your first reaction is to laugh and then immediately go help them up. There’s something to be said about pain and humor. There’s a line, and I think that it sometimes intersects, and I think that that’s why it speaks to so many generations, because we all experience pain.
We all go through pain. We all mess up, fuck up, fall down, get back up, trip, whatever. I think it’s our bodies’ inclination to just immediately laugh it off. That humor transcends to everyone.
What’s next for you?
I’m open to anything. I’m a standup comedian, so I want to do standup. I want to keep doing that and just see where this takes me. I want to stay in comedy. I want to make people laugh. And that’s ultimately why, when I got the opportunity to join “Jackass,” I just knew I couldn’t refuse, because they’ve made people laugh the hardest they’ve ever laughed in their whole lives. I just wanted to be a part of this. So as long as I’m making people laugh and I can stay in kind of that realm, then I’ll be happy. Now get out of the bathroom!
A Paramount Pictures release, “Jackass Forever” will be released in theaters on Friday, February 4.