Zach Holmes is taking a break from filming various prank videos when we connect by phone. It’s an enjoyable reprieve from the agony he puts his body through in order to capture hilarious footage from dangerous self-inflicting stunts. Fresh off the first season of his insane MTV show, “Too Stupid To Die,” Zach continues to push the boundaries of creating ridiculous content with friends.
In one of your first videos, you lit yourself on fire. What inspired you to enter the world of stunts and pranks?
Zach Holmes: I was in elementary school when “Jackass” came out and I wasn’t allowed to watch it, which made me want to watch it even more. I lived in a really sheltered, Christian household, so “Jackass” was this thing I always wanted to experience but couldn’t. Eventually, I ended up watching it and loving it.
I’d been filming stuff ever since I was ten years old. At first, I started filming funny skits with my friends and I would always end up doing dumb stuff. That was what was funniest to us. Then we started putting stuff on the Internet and things would go viral. One of the things I wanted to do was light myself on fire. It looked fucking awesome. I researched the easiest, safest way to light oneself on fire but it was still extremely dangerous.
What were you guys filming on?
Zach Holmes: At first, mini-DV cameras. When I was ten, I was given what looked like a fucking webcam that recorded onto memory. It was horrible and was actually considered a kids toy. But at the same time, it was amazing to me because it had this little software where I could put in special effects. Later on, I got an actual video camera, and from there it escalated to using professional equipment.
Did you do all your own editing?
Zach Holmes: Yeah, I just learned it all on the fly. When I was in middle school they had this news course where you would do video editing and stuff. In high school, it was more of an actual class, not just an after school thing. I would always do dumb stuff and not take it seriously. I already knew what I was doing and didn’t really need [the instructors] to tell me what to do. So, I didn’t really care.
It was a free period for you.
Zach Holmes: It was just a giant joke to me, really. Like, when we were doing the news, I tried to RickRoll the school, or would type in different words for kids to say [other than the news] and people would get really mad. Then I got kicked out of the class.
Which is ironic because as a media class, they’ll probably point to you now like, “Look at Zach, one of our alumni!”
Zach Holmes: You would think so. I remember selling DVDs at school of my friends and I doing crazy stuff. In high school, I asked the video class if I could run a trailer on the news. The footage was of me setting myself on fire and stuff like that and [administration] freaked the fuck out. They called my family and pretty much tried to get me in trouble. They were trying to figure out something I did wrong. Eventually, it got to the point where I dropped out of high school. I dropped out senior year, got my GED immediately after and was like, “Fuck this.”
How did “Too Stupid To Die” come about?
Zach Holmes: After high school, all the friends I’d been filming with since middle school decided they didn’t want to film anymore. Everyone was going different ways. I got a normal job working at Walmart for three-and-a-half years and I wanted to kill myself. It was so bad. I wasn’t doing anything I enjoyed, so it was really depressing. Then I went to jail for weed for the second time in my life.
Zach Holmes: In Indiana, weed isn’t legal, at all, so I had to go to jail for a month. First time was just simple possession. Second time was while I was working at Walmart. I picked up one of my friends from the gas station where he was working and he’d been smoking and smelled like weed. Whereas, I hadn’t smoked in like two weeks. I’m driving him home in the van and apparently, he set off the alarm at the gas station. He didn’t set it right because he was high. So these cops started following us because they thought we robbed the gas station.
Meanwhile, it’s just a stoned kid and his sober buddy.
Zach Holmes: I get pulled over. My window doesn’t roll down, so they’re like, “Okay, get out of the car.” I get out and they’re like, “It smells like weed. We’re going to drug test you.” I was like, “No. You’re not going to drug test me because I’m not high.” I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. Turns out, that’s not what you’re supposed to do. I should’ve just let them do the swab and I would’ve been fine. The cops go, “Okay, well we’re going to get a warrant for your blood.” They handcuffed me and made me wait until they got a warrant. A couple of hours later, they took me to the hospital against my will and drew my blood. Then they let me go on my own recognizance. I worked for a couple more months and then got a letter in the mail that said I had to go to court. And then yeah, I had to go to jail for a month because [THC] was still in my blood from before they tested me.
I’ve been sober for over a year now, but at the time, I still wanted to smoke weed, only I wasn’t going to do probation and get stuck in an endless cycle of getting caught. I was like, “Can I just go to jail?” The court was like, “Yeah, but it’s extremely frowned upon. If you ever get in trouble again, it will be a worse charge.” So I went to jail.
While in jail, I was like, “What do I want to do with my life? Maybe I should start filming videos again.” So as soon as I got out of jail, I started filming crazy videos. In the first video since being out, I shot myself in the face with this big roman candle. I posted that video online for Fourth of July and it went sort of viral. Then it was just viral video after viral video, and five months after I was out of jail, I got the show deal.
A production company saw the videos and hit you up?
Zach Holmes: Back when I was in high school, there were different websites like break.com that would pay you if your video made it onto their homepage. Other networks would comb YouTube looking for clips to license, so I was making these clips to essentially be on tv. The ultimate goal was to maybe have my own show.
My first really big video was where I put a skateboard on a spine ramp and ran and jumped on it, knowing it was going to break. It was hilarious but also the worst nut-shot I’ve ever taken. All these skate pages started sharing the video and tagging me in it, and the hope was to get it on Thrasher, which eventually happened.
After the nutshot post, one of the next big videos was the firecracker vest, where I duct taped all these firecrackers to my body. I called it the “suicide vest” or something along those lines. At the time, that was the most viral thing I’d ever done, which is when I got contacted by the production company Gunpowder and Sky to make a show.
I hit up my friends I used to film with in a very getting-the-band back-together sort of way and we filmed a pilot. Then Gunpowder and Sky went out and pitched to all the different networks. We were talking to Netflix for a while and then MTV came in and wanted [the show] more, so that was it. In between [negotiations], I filmed a really dope video with Steve-O, where I skateboard into a giant cacti. That’s probably the most viral thing I’ve ever done. It hit almost 70 million views on Facebook the first time [Steve-O] posted it.
After MTV picked up the show, I broke my leg skating. So everything got delayed a bit and I was in a cast the first couple weeks of filming.
You’ve said you have a high pain tolerance. How do you prepare mentality and physically for some of these stunts?
Zach Holmes: I already know it’s going to fucking suck, so usually I’m just psyching myself up to do [the stunt]. It’s a lot of me just yelling at myself. Then I just do it.
Something like with the giant cacti though, I wouldn’t normally want to do it, but I knew the footage would be amazing. I can’t remember who I heard say this, but “pain is temporary, videos are forever.”
Didn’t you get a staph infection from the cactus video and it took six months to recover?
Zach Holmes: It took three months to get all the needles out. The infection was gone within a few weeks. When I did the stunt, we weren’t thinking too much about what was going to happen after. The next day, things started to look really bad and Steve-O was pretty worried. But I told him how when I’d go to the hospital in Indiana, they’d freak out and usually try to put me on a psych hold because they didn’t understand why I was doing all these crazy things. I didn’t have the show yet or anything and doctors were starting to get pissed off that I kept coming in with different injuries. I had to start going to different hospitals.
Steve-O took me to an urgent care, and they were like, “We can’t get all the needles out for you, but we are going to give you a steroid shot because your sunburn looks horrible.”
What did you tell them had happened?
Zach Holmes: We told them exactly what had happened and they were like, “Oh, that makes sense.” In Indiana, they’d be like, “Okay, you’re going to jail.”
It sounds like your month in jail helped you realize your true calling was to make these videos.
Zach Holmes: If I hadn’t chosen to go to jail I don’t think any of the tv stuff would have ever happened.**
Are there plans for season two of “Too Stupid To Die”?
Zach Holmes: It was never cancelled and it was never renewed. So it’s in a weird limbo. We’re currently starting to work on other projects, so we’ll see what happens.
Do you hope to inspire a new generation of stunt and prank creators?
Zach Holmes: Legally, I don’t want anyone doing anything dangerous. But there will be people who find the stuff I do fun and will be passionate about it. Whatever it is people want to do, I just want them to do that. Whatever it fucking is. Don’t be afraid of doing whatever you want to do with your life, even if everyone tells you “It’s not possible,” or “It’s probably not going to happen.” If you keep trying at something long enough, you’ll eventually get somewhere.
Follow @zackass for insane stunts and crazier videos
**Neither Zach nor Steve are advocating for anyone to go to jail as a means to discover what they want to do in life.