Jackass creator Jeff Tremaine on success: 'It was baffling to me'

Jeff Tremaine is a name you know if you like pranks. He was the creator of the skating culture magazine Big Brother back in the 90’s, which took its stunts and pranks to the extreme in each issue. “Most of my magazine career was spent sitting in front of a computer for 12 plus hours a day,” Tremaine says. But he went outside: he parlayed the magazine’s work into one of MTV’s most successful series of all time, “Jackass”.

On top of Jackass, Jeff is also the mastermind behind other hit shows including Rob & Big, Nitro Circus and Ridiculouness, as well as directing films and shows for ESPN and WWE.  This entire career was spawned from his friends thought were hilarious, but had no idea that millions others would follow suit. 

[pullquote] The more experience that I have, the more I get to say “buzz off” to any naysayers. [/pullquote]

The documentary about his beginnings in publishing, “DUMB: The Story of Big Brother Magazine,” just premiered this month.  The film discusses the magazine itself and how it launched the careers of its stars including Johnny Knoxville and Bam Margera — and also shed a light on skater culture. I spoke with Jeff recently to discuss all of this, including the surprise success of Jackass, how age deflects naysayers, and how to avoid the word “no” in any career path.

Ladders: Were you surprised about the success of Jackass, not only with the show but the careers of its stars and how it ultimately made them mainstream?

Tremaine: Absolutely.  It was shocking to us, even when back in the Big Brother days when we put out a video and people liked it.  We were really doing it for ourselves, our little tight-knit group of friends to laugh at.  When Jackass came out, and anyone wanted to watch it, it was baffling to me.  I mean, it was my friend’s bare ass running down the middle of the street.  I pinch myself every day for it that other people liked it; it was always a surprise to us.

Has there been a particular part of your career that you have a strong sense of pride about it?

Big Brother magazine itself and what this movie talks about: the opportunity was given to me to have absolute creative freedom.  To make whatever magazine I wanted to make. And once I got a taste of that freedom, I could never go back.  If it didn’t lead to Jackass, I don’t know what I would’ve done. If the magazine folded, it would’ve been impossible to go back. It was a rare opportunity at a young age to get complete freedom to do whatever we wanted to do.  That was an absolute blessing and I have tried to make the most of that in my life since then.

You have created and produced everything from sports to crazy antics and even a safety video for American Airlines. How do you measure your success as it comes to you?

That is a good question!  How do I measure success…?  I put everything I am doing into each project, and sometimes they come out better than others for sure.  I know when I feel good about what we did, and shoot, I don’t know how to give you a good answer to that.  There are two versions of success: the ones that other people like and the one that you know you like.  Basically, I like everything that I do.  And I keep at it until I do.  

How have you dealt with the naysayers in your life, both good and bad?

Well, the longer my career goes, the more experience that I have, the more I get to say “buzz off” to any naysayers. If your gut tells you its right, chances are that it is (at least to you) and to have the confidence to stand up for your work. I’ve tried to learn how to do that over time.

What is your biggest tip for success regarding longevity and prosperity in any career medium?

I’ve never let the word “no” stop me.  Don’t let one little roadblock stop you. Find a way around, there is always a way around that.  So many people are just willing to hit that roadblock and stop, and you can’t do that.  You got to find a way around the word no.