Longtime Jackass fans may remember that the earliest episodes of the original series on MTV came with a much more relaxed and humorous disclaimer explaining that the show featured “stunts performed by professionals and/or total idiots… MTV insists that you [nor] any of your dumb little buddies are trying to do some dangerous bullshit on this show” (via Hartford Courant).
This somewhat frivolous statement was changed after a 2001 incident in which a 13-year-old Connecticut fan set himself on fire while trying to recreate a stunt from the series – the teenager suffered second- and third-degree burns to his legs. The incident prompted Senator Joe Lieberman to demand that Freaks be canceled by MTV (via Entertainment Weekly). In response, the series changed the tone of its disclaimer to be more serious and less overtly comical, in the hope that a firmer warning might discourage any other fan from repeating their life-threatening stunts. This solemn disclaimer was adapted after the franchise moved from television to film, leading to Johnny Knoxville’s iconic warning at the start of every Jackass movie.
In any case, it’s certainly interesting to think about what the show’s reputation would have been today if that original disclaimer had remained in use, and would have encouraged this disclaimer to more fans to emulate the stunts they’ve seen on screen.