This article was originally published in The Tribune on Jan. 25, 2007.
Chris Pontius doesn't seem like the type to dish out life advice. After all, the 32-year-old San Luis Obispo native makes his living taking punishment in front of hundreds of thousands of TV fans for MTV's "Jackass" and "Wildboyz."
In the course of his career, he's gone from writing for irreverent skater mag Big Brother to performing the wild, dangerous stunts most of us wince at: firing rockets from his buttocks, kissing cobras and playing patty cake with angry African ants. He's been bitten, stung, punched and generally humiliated.
"The most important thing is to have the courage to be yourself, which most people don't really have, " Pontius told The Tribune recently. "When you're growing up ... there's a lot of pressure to adjust your personality, to fit in. I think all the stuff that's come to me has been a reward for not doing that."
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We asked the man known as "Party Boy" and "Pontius the Barbarian" to talk about his past, his work -- "Jackass Number Two" came out on video last month--and life as an instant celebrity in the way he knows best: his own words.
Chris Pontius on growing up in San Luis Obispo: I loved San Luis. You know, when you grow up in a town and everybody says they hate their town and they say there's nothing to do? I've been all over the place and every kid I meet says the same exact thing about their town ... I never thought that. I loved it.
I was pretty wild but I didn't really fit in. ... I think a lot of people thought I was going to be a loser.
On how he joined MTV's gross-out hit 'Jackass': Skateboarding was the vehicle for it but we didn't want to have to rely on it. We just wanted to do funny stuff. ...
We didn't even know what anyone would think of it because there was really nothing like it at the time, especially the demented stuff when I was almost naked, tied up in the car with my mouth gagged. There was just nothing like that and I was like, "God, do you think people are going to like this?"
On why 'Jackass' works: In general we try to keep the show in the spirit of, "We're the butt of the jokes." I wouldn't want to do something that was outwardly in bad taste or meanness. I want it to be a positive show. ...
It's stuff that everyone did when they were kids, and I think everyone can relate to it. And that's why it's done so well -- because a lot of people can see themselves in it.
I think the best rule of thumb is, if you think of an idea and it's something that you do not want to do, then it's a good idea. On creating the MTV reality show 'Wildboyz': Me and Jeff Tremaine, who is the director of "Jackass, " we both are like obsessed with animals and we had this dream of traveling. ... We wanted to travel around the world and get to play with animals. I wanted to be like Tarzan. ...
So for the next two and a half years, we traveled everywhere, places that you would have to be such a millionaire to get to. We were taking little bush planes to this jungle and that, doing the most amazing stuff and somehow we survived. It was dangerous. ... It was stressful. I was resigned to whatever happened would happen with my fate.
On killer whales: One time I went to Mexico with this friend of mine and he bought a blow-up killer whale. I brought it with us when we went to Alaska. We were on some boat and we saw these killer whales so we blew it up and they dragged me by a rope with me holding onto the killer whale. We didn't do anything illegal but basically the pod of killer whales is swimming all around me. ... Nobody does that. Nobody swims with killer whales -- in the wild anyway -- so we didn't know what was going to happen.
On snakes: We were in Indonesia and they said this guy had a king cobra and asked if I could do anything with it. ... He was not devenomized or nothin' like that. We didn't fake anything. I was kind of messing with it. I touched it on the head a few times. It was looking at me and then all of the sudden it turned around and just sped right toward our cameraman, Mark Rackley, who was lying on the ground filming. It totally tried to kill him. ... We got the situation under control. The snake was back and it was looking at him again ... I got up behind it and I bent down and I gave it a kiss on the head. Right as I kissed it --and I kind of pressed down, just a real kiss, I didn't want to just tap it --I jumped out of the way. ... Later on there was this guy (who) milked the snake to get venom for antivenom and it was full of poison. It was so dangerous. That kind of stuff made me feel so alive.
On the 'Glove of Ants':
That was the worst pain I've had in my life. It was like this rite of passage for young men in this one tribe in the Amazon. There's this ant ... that has the most painful sting of any insect in the world. They put these ants in this glove and you have to put it on, wear it while this chief guy sings a song. They sting you and if you go through that you're a man. ... I did it and it was bad, it hurt. About five minutes after the ritual was over, the pain really sunk in. It was 18 hours nonstop of the worst pain ever. I think chopping my arm off would have hurt way less. They gave me a shot of something for the pain but it didn't help at all. My hand swelled up like Mickey Mouse's.
On frequent flying: There's been so many bad plane rides. A few times I've taken sleeping pills on the plane and then I figured I'd have a glass of wine or something while the sleeping pills kicked in. They don't go together at all. What happens is your mind goes to sleep but your body doesn't, so you just wander around like a zombie. ...
Once I woke up about an hour away from landing and one of the guys who worked on the crew was sitting next to me. He was like, "Oh man. You did something really bad. You peed in the aisle." I'm like, "Really?"
This lady was sitting in the emergency exit in one of the front rows and there were all these newspapers laid down. I guess I walked up to the bathroom, I opened the door but then I turned around and peed into the aisle. The lady was so mad.
On horse breeding: We were just going to this place where they bred horses basically. It was in Argentina. We went there and, you know, we saw how they do it. And at the end of it, they ended up with a cup of semen. It was pretty obvious to everyone that it had to be drunk.
No one really had to say anything. It couldn't be (his "Wildboyz" co-star) Steve-O because I knew he'd just puke before it even got to his lips. I guess I was just the man for the job. ...
Oh man, it was gross. It tastes exactly like what you would think it would taste like. That's what it would taste like. It tastes like you would think.
On taking risks: A lot of the stuff in "Wildboyz" had never been done. While stuff like that would be going on, I was like, "I might as well smile because my fate's not in my hands." I loved it because I loved being around the animals but I did a lot of crazy crap. ...
I'm not even into risking my life. I'm not! I'm not into it.
On being famous: At first, it's crazy. All of a sudden everybody likes you. You go to a bar and everyone wants to buy you drinks. You let someone buy a drink for you then you owe them something. At the end of the night, you find yourself surrounded by six dudes as the bar's about to close. Stuff like that you've got to watch out for.
I was thinking I could write a book about it. ... It would be called, "So You're About To Blow Up." I could write some foreword about, "This is the book I wish I had when I was about to become famous. It's got everything from how to get rid of overly aggressive male fans to how to get rid of attached female fans."
On crazy fans: (People come up to me) all the time, every day. They say, "I've got a friend who's crazier than (expletive). He should be on your show." Like every day, people say that. Or they say they want to be on. It's kind of like walking up to a band and asking if you can join. ... We're not going to find a new member, for sure. It's definitely pretty set.
On his purpose: Life's kind of about giving to the world whatever you have to offer whether you're good at helping people wo are hurt or making people laugh or whatever. ... Making people laugh is what I'm good at. So I'm just going with it.