The Thrill Isn’t Quite Gone

Anyone who has ever shot at his brothers with bottle rockets, and been shot at … anyone who has deliberately aimed for the head or whose head has been deliberately aimed at … anyone who has tried to jump over stuff human beings were not meant to jump over … anyone who has tried to go unreasonably fast on a device that is unreasonably small … anyone who has ever teased a dangerous animal at close range … anyone who has purposely used his body as a projectile, anyone who appreciates the subtle comedic artistry of The Three Stooges can understand the entertainment value in a program like Jackass.

The same goes for anyone who has tried to eat someone else’s vomit or a handful of bugs, bathed in honey near an anthill, juggled flaming bowling balls or (insert ill-advised, abundantly idiotic stunt here).

For the record, I’m only guilty of some of the above – for example, I would never, even if my life depended on it, eat someone else’s vomit.

But I am definitely guilty of having watched the appropriately-named Jackass a few times (the TV show and one-and-a-half of the movies), fascinated (and often amused) by the lengths these thrill-seeking sado-masochists would go to fuck each other up.

So when I’d heard that Ryan Dunn, one of the Jackass stars, died in a fiery car accident (after driving about 100 mph, most likely after drinking), my reaction was twofold: sadness (for his passenger, who also perished, and those they left behind) combined with a sense of complete and utter … uh … what’s the best word for totally not surprised?

Truth is, when I heard the news, there was a little voice in the back of my head (the same head that has been deliberately aimed at … and hit … more than once) whispering, “well, at least Ryan died doing something he loved.” That is, he died living dangerously.

What has been surprising, though, have been the news reports describing Ryan’s “shocking death.” Shocking? Really? This is a man who shoved a toy car up his rear end for laughs (and a paycheck, I might add). Tragic? Of course. But shocking?

The news of Ryan’s death reminded me a little of when Steve Irwin (the Crocodile hunter) died several years back after being stung by a stingray. Now that was a little shocking because almost no one gets stung to death by stingrays. That’s just bizarre, like getting swallowed whole by a grouper. Just doesn’t happen, not much. You expected that an alligator or snake or spider or shark would get Steve’s number eventually. But a string ray? Well, it was a more appropriate death for Steve than choking on a pork chop, and if death by stingray was gonna happen to anyone …

Before Steve’s death (also tragic – I was a fan), I started doing this bit for friends called ‘Fucking With Nature.’ It was my take on Steve’s TV show, and many of the shows on the Animal Planet channel. In my half-assed Australian accent, I’d pretend to poke sharks or bears or other pointy animals with a stick, to see how far nature could be pushed before it pushed back, and it always pushed back in my little scenario.

That was a goof, a skit that never really materialized (although people who remember our production of Bedwetters from a few years at SNCA will recall the ‘poking stick’ motif, and the bear sodomy that ensued).

But there was nothing funny about Steve Irwin dying, and there is nothing funny about Ryan Dunn dying. So I will try to focus on the good times, the happy memories, the fact that Steve lived as long as he did, fucking around with scary and deadly animals; the fact that Ryan was on the giving and receiving end of so much idiotic tomfoolery, bringing so much joy to so many deep thinkers like myself.

And their memories will help conjure the thrilling good times in my own life, when I, too, pushed the envelope of common sense – pushed it completely out of the picture as my older brother and I fired bottle rockets at our little brother who was stationed on the roof of our house with a brown paper bag of fireworks; as my friends and I skipped like stones over water, willing and stupid subjects of extreme centrifugal forces; as my buddy Tim and I crammed onto a Big Wheel to conquer (and ultimately succumb to) a 45-degree asphalt hill. The list goes on. Good times, man. Good times.

Those memories are especially important nowadays, when I’m up to my neck in middle age, when my most daring stunt is ordering the five instead of the three on the Thai restaurant spice-o-meter.

Those memories of past thrills will gush like haphazard liquid (vomit comes to mind) when I think of Steve and Ryan, and in that way will I honor these men, and those stunts will grow like caught fish, becoming more dangerous and more thrilling with the passage of time, bumps becoming bruises becoming stitches becoming severed limbs becoming a personal apocalypse.

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