Irving Zisman is definitely not the grandpa you want lighting your bar mitzvah candles. But this cantankerous, accident-prone disaster – a Tasmanian devil in blu-blockers – isn’t quite what he appears to be.
Zisman, the possibly-Jewish character portrayed by actor/daredevil/poor role model Johnny Knoxville (born Phillip Clapp, probably not Jewish) and co-created by Spike Jonze (born Adam Spiegel, and definitely Jewish), is the star of the forthcoming half-scripted, half-reality feature film “Bad Grandpa.”
The film, whose full title is “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa,” is a twist on the legendary (and wildly popular) MTV series that collects dumbass gross-outs, ill-conceived stunts and documentary moments of shocked passers-by. This new one represents a bold new step — for the first time in the franchise’s history there will actually be a little bit of a story.
The octogenarian Zisman (Knoxville under three hours of makeup) is left in charge of his grandson (the camera-ready Jackson Nicoll) when his mother is arrested. The mismatched pair go cross-country, leaving a trail of gasps and clutched pearls as their inappropriate behavior destroys shopping malls, funeral parlors and child beauty pageants.
No doubt bonds are forged and heartstrings are pulled, but since this is a “Jackass” film, rest assured there will be much gonad-slapping, flatulence and sprayed human waste. (The “Poo Cocktail Supreme” stunt from “Jackass 3D,” which you can find on YouTube yourself because I’m not linking to it, very nearly caused me to vomit in the theater when I saw it. Surely this was the desired intent, but it also led me to the realization that, yes, I should have gone to law school instead of pursuing a career in film criticism, just like my mother told me.)
Irving Zisman first appeared in a “candid camera” style bit during the third and final “Jackass” season on MTV in 2002. The gag was to dress up in old man makeup, sit down at a counter and fall over. When concerned people asked if he needed an ambulance, he’d retort “I just want some soup!” Hilarious? Comedy is subjective. (That’s a polite way of saying I’m not too impressed.)
Another memorable Zisman moment was in 2006′s “Jackass Number Two,” when the series jumped to feature films. At an outdoor lunch counter, Zisman gives his grandson booze and cigarettes and barks at those who dare question him. This bit was called “Bad Grandpa” and, one can surmise, was the origin of the new movie.
Those who study “Jackass” like Talmud have spent many a long night asking whether or not Irving Zisman is meant to be Jewish. (Certainly SCTV’s Martin Short’s character with similar geriatric makeup, songwriter Irving Cohen, was Jewish. He was also funny.) Knoxville’s Zisman doesn’t trade in any shtetl schtick, nor does he speak with any Yiddish accent. In none of the clips I’ve seen do I recall hearing any “Oy”s.
But he does have his trousers hitched up like the cliché Miami Beach retiree. Zisman was the name of a longtime Knesset member and Israeli ambassador. So, one doesn’t have to stretch too far to ask “is ‘Bad Grandpa’ good for the Jews?”
As with many things, it depends on your point of view. If public embarrassment and shattered social codes are your thing, you can make your case once “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” comes out on October 25. If the sight of flung excrement leads you to say “you call this humor?” you’ll find company arguing that Irving Zisman is not a member of the tribe.