The first time I noticed the blood on the inside of my bra, I figured it was barbecue sauce. (You know the old adage “Is it blood or is it barbecue sauce?”) I figured it was from a pulled-pork sandwich I must have eaten, in the manner I usually ingest things, shoving them into my face, wet meat sliding down my shirt, sauce seeping through my shirt and staining my bra.
The second time I noticed the blood on the inside of my bra, I figured it was paint or something. (You know the old adage “Is it blood or is it paint or something?”)
The third time I noticed the blood on the inside of my bra, I knew it was blood because I saw the dark brownish-red syrup gushing from my nipple. It really freaked me out, which is ironic considering how familiar a sight this is to me. I spend all my days drawing nipples squirting blood. As a part-time stand-up comedian and part-time illustrator, that’s kind of my whole thing—drawing pepperonis on a pizza that are actually nipples squirting out blood, drawing stems on a cactus that are actually penises squirting out cum, drawing the holes of a conch shell that are actually buttholes squirting out RC Cola. What I’m saying is, that with all these horribly disgusting drawings of gushing fluids, I seemed to have really brought this bloody-nipple thing upon myself.
The doctors at urgent care stared at me worriedly. They asked if there was a history of breast cancer in my family. They asked if I knew whether or not I had the BRCA gene mutation that increases your risk of breast cancer. I said I didn’t know and that I didn’t want to stress out my mother by asking her about it, considering her father had died just a week earlier.
I was shuffled around the Northwestern Medicine complex, sent from cancer specialist to cancer specialist—they covered my boob in jelly and put it in metal clamps; they poked and prodded it with rods and wands. All the while, I dreaded telling my mom. But the doctors said I had to, because the bloody nipple did not look promising. Finally, I called her, blubbering that I was so sorry for the horrible timing, so sorry that she was already dealing with so much, but that I was scared for my health.
My mom and I wept on the phone together. She promised me that we would get through this, that I was young and strong enough to face an obstacle like this, and with modern technology and…
“Wait a minute.” She paused.
“Sarah, have you, by any chance, been watching Jackass again?”
“And, could this, by any chance, have anything to do with you watching Jackass again?”
“I’m going to fucking kill you, you piece of shit.”
And it was then that I remembered that only three days prior, I had asked my friend Alex to punch me in the boob as hard as he could.
Jackass was the amazing stunts and pranks show on MTV from the early 2000s that featured a bunch of fucked-up skater bros beating the shit out of themselves and one another, taking shits in one another’s mouths, shoving irregularly shaped objects up their butts, you know, really horrible American television. After watching Jackass for two weeks straight, I had wanted to try a stunt out for myself. They looked like they were having fun… couldn’t I have a little fun too? But at that moment, on the phone with my mother, I was so terrified of the breast cancer thing, and so blinded by my own Long Island Jew anxiety, that I had completely forgotten about getting punched in the boob three days earlier. I’ll explain.
Over the course of fourteen days in January, I binge-watched all of Jackass alone in my room, my laptop growing warm in my lap, the internal fan of the computer wheezing and purring under the oppressive heat of hours and hours of YouTube videos of men doing terrible things to their bodies. It was fun to watch Steve-O fill a diaper full of crawfish, then prance around and scream as their small crawfish pincers bit at the head of his penis. It was fun to watch Steve-O put a fishhook through his mouth and offer himself up as human shark bait in the Gulf of Mexico. It was fun to watch Chris Pontius play the character “Party Boy,” grinding up on all his friends in a metallic thong—seemingly the most invested of all the Jackass boys in exploring his homo-eroticism.
And it was fun to watch Dave England position himself upside down, his bare ass cheeks protruding through a hole in a tabletop model-train set, his cheeks painted green to mimic the rolling hills of a miniature forest as a motorized choochoo train chugged in circles around it. The scene was bucolic, an upturned green ass impersonating two lush green rolling knolls, a precious little locomotive with working lights and steam, a gentle flute playing the delicate, tinkling melody of Edvard Grieg’s “Morning Mood.” Then, suddenly, the placid scene is interrupted by a vile eruption: Dave England’s green ass begins exploding with liquid diarrhea, forming what the scene title defines as a “Poo-cano.” The Jackass boys hoot and scream because they’ve accomplished their goal of making each other laugh—not by highbrow wit or clever wordplay, but with the absolute lowest form of humor, the scatological delights of self-violation. There was no “butt” of the joke beside Dave England’s butt, and I loved it.
I turned to Jackass out of hopelessness. In the wake of Donald Trump, telling jokes about “my dad,” or “my Long Island Jew anxiety” or whatever dumb 24-year-old thing that I complain about felt pointless. Some comedians thought it best to battle the looming darkness of the Trump era with “cleverness,” but glib quips about his small hands and “Cheeto-orange” spray tan felt reductive and smarmy. These jokes didn’t prevent him from becoming president in the first place, and they certainly weren’t working to heal any wounds or make any legitimate progress now.
At that moment, I was more interested in a bunch of dudes jacked-up on painkillers in the middle of a muddy field whacking each other with a hammer. Disregarding the heavy drug use and the latent misogyny and homophobia (if you can ever really disregard them), there is something so pure about Jackass. It satisfied my desire to see people creating comedy for the absurd, totally base, totally violent joy of it. Not to mention that, as a woman under Trump’s “Pussy-Grabbing Reign,” I enjoyed watching dumb white men shaming themselves, embarrassing themselves, degrading their manhood, all for the sake of my entertainment.
It seemed only a true blessing that the week I was binging on Jackass alone in my room was the week Jackass Live! was coming to Chicago. After MTV canceled the show in 2002, the legacy of Jackass lived on in three film installments (Jackass: The Movie, Jackass Number Two and Jackass 3D), a handful of reality-show spinoffs and annual national tours where guys from the show, now well into their forties, do their favorite stunts on stage in front of crowds of suburban metalheads with adult braces and necklaces bedecked with their collection of Monster Energy can pull-tabs. This time there was to be a Jackass Live! show with a full-on meet and greet with the B-list cast of Jackass: Dave England, Wee-Man, Preston and—my ultimate crush, the hottest of the idiots, the Party Boy himself—Chris Pontius.
Getting really into Jackass so late in life, at the ripe old age of 24, is kind of embarrassing, I’ll admit. But growing up, Jackassalways seemed like it was for those who belonged to the Ow, My Balls! School of Comedy—you know, for those who could get hit in the balls with a baseball and cry out in pain: “Ow, my balls!” When I was a kid, Jackass was never pitched as something that was for me—an anxious little girl with ragweed allergies who was called a “prude-ass virgin” by boys in AND1 tank tops because I never got finger-banged at summer camp. But now I was a grown up, well, sort of, and though I didn’t have any balls to speak of, I did have boobs, and what are boobs if not just two big chest balls? So I planned an elaborate “Ow, my boobs!” stunt, a hopeful collaboration with my comedy dirtbag hero, Chris Pontius.
I pulled all the strings I could possibly pull, called in every favor I had in Chicago, every last IOU, to get free passes to the meet and greet. I was going to get the unbearably hot, unbearably muscular, unbearably dumb Chris Pontius to punch me in the boob… until it exploded blood. It was time for my squirting nipples to find their rightful place in the pantheon of the grotesque. It was time for my disgusting art-making practices to rain blood upon Party Boy, to strike fear into the hearts of the AND1 tank-top boys.
Of course I wasn’t going to force Chris Pontius to punch me with such force that my frail, waiflike chest would literally erupt into a mess of blood and gore. As a woman, my body had experienced violence, but not in the same way as the Jackass dudes. Sure, I had never gotten the shit kicked out of me by one of my dude friends after chugging fifty shots of eggnog (see Jackass Season One, Episode Eight), but I had gotten an old Korean lady to pour molten-hot wax onto my vaginal lips and had my wiry pubes ripped out in the psychotic ritual known as “bikini waxing.” Female bodies get violated enough on a daily basis. So instead of asking him to punch me in the real-live breast, I came up with a plan to build a cartoonish, Pee-wee’s Playhouse-esque boob to offer up to Party Boy as a body-horror punching bag.
I devoted hours and hours to constructing this elaborate exploding-boob device, a papier-mâché breast that, when punched, would explode via an elaborate blood-spraying mechanism. I painstakingly planned and choreographed every move, every minute detail of this stunt. After the entire mechanism was constructed, I tested it out to see if it would work. I put the prosthetic exploding boob in my bra, atop my own non-exploding boob, I readied the hoses, cranked the valves, twisted the nozzles, looked my friend Alex dead in the eyes and said, “Alex, I’m ready. Punch me in the tit.”
And wincing at the thought of punching such a fragile, fair-skinned, wide-eyed little girl in the tit, my poor friend Alex wound up and punched me as hard as he could right square in my little tit, which, props to him, is hard to really nail on the first try, considering how small it is. The boob exploded with a crisp, clear pop, spraying my bathroom in warm, wet Party City blood. It hurt like hell, but the bathroom test proved successful. Needless to say, showing up at the Jackass Live! meet and greet days later with a crew of seven of my idiot friends, all carrying cameras, tarps, hoses and an exploding boob sculpture, replete with a hot-pink hand-painted nipple, absolutely horrified the boys of Jackass. After waiting in line for two hours, behind hundreds of Monster Energy–chugging skater dudes in Metallica t-shirts and chain wallets, I finally pitched my amazing idea to Chris Pontius, the dirtbag love of my life. And Chris, seemingly out of his mind on an extreme cocktail of drugs and booze, cowered in fear and said: “I don’t know, man, I don’t wanna punch no girl in the tit, I mean one day we’ll be punching girls left and right, but not today man, not today.”
Party Boy never punched me, only my friend Alex in my bathroom on that fateful day. So, I endured the horrible breast cancer scare, the agony of making my poor mother cry, the hours spent sculpting a prosthetic boob, the hope, the excitement, the anticipation… all for Chris Pontius to reject me in a drunken, babbling rant about getting to punch women “one day.”
After all was said and punched, why did I go through all the trouble—the bleeding nipple, the hospital visits, the thousand-dollar medical bill, the stained bras—for a stunt? This is something you only ask yourself once you’re lying tit-out on a hospital bed, nipple covered in cold ultrasound goo, unblinking eyes staring directing upwards at the harsh fluorescent hospital lights above, saying over and over to yourself: Why the literal fuck did I go through all that shit? What is the greater purpose of all this?
What good can an “Ow, my boobballs!” joke actually do for a broken world?
When I’m onstage, I use a wide array of shocking and outlandish costumes and props in my act: exploding boobs with handpainted hairy nipples, bubbling cauldrons of cum and Cool Ranch Doritos, bags of my very own pubic hair and pubic dandruff. I’m no hero, but the goal in my comedy, whether it’s the squirting pepperoni pizza nipple drawings or the exploding boob sculptures, is to make people feel uncomfortable about the violent world they are so comfortable in. To help them confront the strangeness and violence of being a human in a body, and, particularly, of being female in America. Some nights, at a bar in Wrigleyville, I wave around a bag of my own pubes in front of an audience of Cubs bros with boat shoes and jobs in insurance. I am woman, hear me roar, stare in disgust and wonder at my glorious pubes in this bag!
The combination of shock and humor in gross-out comedy creates a whiplash effect—at first it terrifies and repels viewers, and then it draws them closer. Who knows: maybe a bag of pubes onstage at a comedy show in a dimly lit bar will disrupt the regular thought patterns of the dudes in the audience, such that they can say, Oh, I get it, even if they’ve never undergone a bikini wax at the hands of a stern Korean grandma muttering “I’ve never seen pubes so thick” under her breath. Or maybe not. Like in Jackass, the butt of the joke in my comedy is always mine.