Skinema Review / Chris Nieratko Interview
[ by John Tamari and Greg Evgrafiev ]
What's the deal with all these autobiographies that keep coming out? This true-story approach is making a large impression in the world of the printed word- especially when it isn't all true (that's right James Frye, Oprah ousted you and now the press gets to mock you.) The popularity of the memoir is peculiar, but in the U.S. context, where reality television brings in people like a church during Christmas, it kind of makes sense. Sure, most of them are terribly written, and upon their completion, leave a reader feeling constipated, but they take up time and offer to wrap you up in something. It's that so many of these overly-produced stories take themselves too seriously, causing them to be nothing more than bland stories that abuse Guttenberg's genius. Skinema is the exact opposite, ranging from sobering, absurd, and pretty damn funny.
What separates these real life accounts from most reality-prose is that Chris Nieratko never takes himself too seriously. He urges his mother to stop reading and offers condolences to past lovers in the book's dedication. He even writes the book off as bathroom literature. More than that, these are stories told from the storyteller perspective of a dirty old man, or Thanksgiving's drunken uncle. As with the stories told by those storytellers, the accounts in Skinema are honest and foul-funny. The author writes parts of his life story in short snippets, where each story is sparked by the title or subject of one those movies you find behind a red velvet curtain, or on the Internet. The flesh flicks "no one watches," not even the book's writer… at least not the one's he's supposed to review.
It's appropriate that the stories spun are told as faux-reviews of pornographic films, the films being a status quo taboo, and Nieratko saying everything a person is never "supposed" to say out loud. His unapologetic honesty brings out his real life experiences. The title being "reviewed" acts like the first step in a word association game, only it's a moment in his life being associated.
Though most of the book contains humor (light-hearted, whimsical and mostly somewhat off-colored), there is a fair share of vulnerability. "Candy Striper Stories 5" reminds the writer of an experience with abortion at the age of 18. It delivers the most somber part of the book complete with the denial, gore, and waiting room-crisis that goes along with the ordeal. Entries also include dealing with the over-doses, attempted suicides, and seemingly illogical rationale of ex-girlfriend Kate, stemming from titles like "Assault That Ass" and "Creating Kate," where he is forced to re-evaluate his relationship, ideas of love, or just suffer through the human experience.
But one of the main attractions, maybe even the main attraction, is the humor. With a trouble-maker's philosophy, Nieratko goes into bathrooms, addresses the weirdo that talks on the phone while at a urinal to do nothing more than make him uncomfortable and allow himself to zip up with a grin. He discusses periods in his life before his marriage where he paints himself as still a child at heart, but can do nothing but shrug his shoulders and laugh about it. And even though the views are a little cruel to other people, he's always trying to understand the situation he's in, making it kind of hard not to laugh along with him, unless the book is taken too seriously.
Life can be a bitch, and sometimes it works to be one in return. For former "Jackass" writer, current Vice columnist and all-in-jest bastard Chris Nieratko, making mischief which caused him to get kicked out of school did nothing but send him on a path that worked out perfectly. If nothing else, Chris shows how it pays to pursue your interests and flip-off all the naysayers by doing something positive for the community that shunned you. After writing for "Jackass," Nieratko joined with friend Steve Lenardo, an 8th grade Jersey City teacher involved in C.A.S.P.E.R. (Community After School Program for Education and Recreation), and decided to give back to the skating community that supported them by opening a local skate shop in his time off from writing. Oh yeah, he also writes about porn… kind of.
What was it like being involved with "Jackass?"
Chris Nieratko: [laughs] Right off the bat, that's where you're going...
Well it's obligatory, right?
Yeah, of course. It was swell. They're a swell bunch of fellows. It really wasn't for me, to be honest. I'm a writer by trade, a skateboarder, and just an overall charming man [grins]. So, you know, throwing up on television and getting kicked in the balls and that sort of stuff is not how I want to be remembered when I die. So I just chilled, stayed behind the scenes, and would just write for the show […]
So you came up with the ideas for the stuff [on "Jackass"]?
Yeah all those genius ideas that you saw on television, I concocted. Tells you what kind of smarts I got.
So what about the reaction to your writing? You tend to write in an asshole kind of way...
Yeah, well that's the thing. All those guys had some affiliation with Big Brother Skateboard Magazine, so "Jackass" was spawned from that magazine. So, yeah, I'm known for an asshole style I suppose, but I'd rather be known for a literary asshole style than just being a plain old asshole in society.
So, what type of things do you do for Vice? Do you do any more than the porn reviews?
Generally not. I'm rather lazy in that sense. That's all they ask me to do, so I don't do anything more.
I noticed in the back of the [Vice] issue you gave me there's a Johnny Ryan cartoon, and you have comics in the shop...
Are you a fan of comic books?
I am a huge fan of comic books. I one day aspired to be the world's greatest comic book writer... until I found out what they get paid.
Yeah, it's shit.
Unless you're on contract.
Even then... you know?
Or unless you're Grant Morrison.
Yeah, exactly. You know, the perks are like free Batman comics and stuff like that, and I can't feed my wife or kids with Batman comics. It's funny cause I got thrown out of one high school, I left another high school early, was in college by 17 and my first writing gig was as an editorial assistant to the comic book section of Disney Adventures. So, I was really determined to do that. And then they asked me to interview Tony Hawk, because I was the staff skateboarder, and I realized "Wow, interviewing people's really easy"... you just type up what they say, and you type up what you say […] and now you've got a pay-for piece.
How'd you go from Disney to porn, though?
They're kind of one and the same, aren't they?
Is it true that Disney actually has a darker side to it? I heard that they own a porn studio?
That I don't know. I would love to know more about it. If that exists let me know cause I would love to... The dirtiest thing I remember is like... wasn't there a pecker on the cover of Aladdin when it was first put out on VHS? That's as close to Disney and porn as I remember. How did I get into porn? Big Brother Skateboarding Magazine was owned by Larry Flynt, so I was sleeping in the same house with the whores. That's basically how it happened and it kind of snowballed from there. It wasn't intentional.
So, how'd you make the move from Sayreville to New Brunswick? And why New Jersey? Why did you decide to stay in New Jersey?
New Jersey's like that line in The Godfather-every time you try to get out, it just pulls you back in. I've lived everywhere. I've been any place that anybody would want to go as a vagabond, but I love New Jersey. My family's here, my friends are here, my skateboard roots are here. Rutgers is here, and their fantastic women's basketball program, which I watch faithfully... and not even in a sexual way. I'm a Jersey guy. Myself and my partner Steve Lenardo have really based our first shop, [NJ Skateshop], in Sayreville, and this one, NJ 2, just around everything Jersey. All the t-shirts we try to make are Jersey inspired. Traveling the world, Jersey gets the worst rep. Sayreville, the hometown we're from-people in Bangladesh know it because of Bon Jovi, it's very strange. It's the smallest town in the world. So it's really weird. It gets a weird rep. And, we were always very proud of being from New Jersey, so we just wanted to try and change that stigma a little bit in skateboarding and now, just kind of on a broader scale. So everything from soup to nuts for us is Jersey.
So you make a lot of the designs for your t-shirts in the shop?
Yeah, we come up with everything ourselves, me and my partner Steve. We're always open to ideas, so anybody reading this: upon acceptance, we'll pay for good t-shirt ideas. Like I said, we try to keep it Jersey-themed. We're doing a Tilly shirt right now and we've got all kinds of stuff coming.
Do you guys have pros coming in the shops? Any Jersey pros like Tim O' Connor or Brian Wenning?
Yeah, just since we've been open, we've got a bunch of guys that just randomly stop in. The one thing is, New Brunswick doesn't have a skateboard facility, so when we have autograph signings and demonstrations [and] until New Brunswick has a facility, we're going to have to have it in Sayreville because we have a state-of-the-art cement skatepark over there. So, next Saturday on the 14th, we've got the Zoo York team coming, doing the signing and the demo. We have guys from the Deluxe teams coming, like Anti-Hero, Krooked, Real, Spitfire... so we make it a point to give back to the kids in the skateboard community and always have, at least-from about April to October- one to two demos a month with pros coming through. Just because as kids growing up in New Jersey, there was a shop, right up Livingston Avenue -it's called ABF Skateshop- Mary, the owner, would always host demos for the kids, and we've got great memories as a result of it, and that's why New Brunswick is a big part of skateboarding for us. So, we wanted to do the same thing and try and give back to the skateboard community, and create memories for young kids that they could hold onto the way we hold onto ones that we had when we were younger.
You talk about making memories. In your writing, you use a lot of examples from your life, your childhood, your early teenage years, to talk about porn... Where do you get all of these stories?
They're all true. Even the lies.
Even the lies?
Even the lies. It's gotten to the point where I can't even tell the lies from the truth, that's how truthful they are. Anything I've written, really, is based on something that's happened to me. The only thing is that they might be slightly exaggerated. I'm like an old fisherman, you know what I mean? The fish is only going to be 18 inches, but by the 9th time I tell the story, it's 5 feet long. But, they're all fairly true. I've had guns put to my head because I refused to pay a prostitute that I didn't remember ordering, you know? Shit happens.
You don't at all talk about the actual pornography that you're reviewing...
Yeah, well, I mean, the truth in life, at least for me, is that I like to believe that I'm infinitely more interesting than any subject matter that I could have to write about. And there's no "you" involved when I say that. Yeah. My stories seem to be a lot more entertaining to people than trying to describe the actions that occur in a pornography film.... with a plot (chuckles), which is even more absurd.
So there's no actual skatepark in New Brunswick-how do you feel about the city building one?
I would really love to see one in New Brunswick. It's one of the 3 major metropolitan areas of New Jersey, with Newark and Trenton. I think it's been a city on the rise for a while. I love New Brunswick. I think it's accessible by car and by train very easily. And I think that there are really fantastic, old buildings here and I can understand why people don't want those skated, but I think that it'd be great to have a conversation with some of the leaders in Rutgers and in the community to see what we can do. I'm not name-dropping but I know people in the Tony Hawk foundation and they give grants towards skateparks and I've already spoken to them regarding that, and it's something they very much would get behind. And I think Rutgers' architectural school could get involved and really come up with some creative designs for stuff like that and really have fun with it because it's not something that you're normally requested to design, so I think that those students can really sink their teeth into something cool like that.
And Rutgers doesn't have a skateboard club... I'm not putting you on the spot or anything, but if that ever came up...would you work out something?
We would get behind anything that has to do with skateboarding in a positive way. You know, that's the whole thing. I've been skateboarding over 20 years and the earlier part of that was when skateboarding wasn't very accepted. We used to get rocks thrown at us, and get into fistfights. Kids nowadays, I don't want them to have to go through stuff like that, but I also want to change any mindset that might exist where skateboarding is looked at as just hoodlums and riffraff. I don't know what I'd be doing if I didn't have skateboarding in my life. You know, drugs and all that, it's just all behind me, and it's just thanks to this store and skateboarding in general. And I just want people to see skateboarding is something positive for kids to do.
Where do you think the stigma towards skateboarders comes from?
Because they're hellions! Or they were hellions. [In] skateboarding… the kids participating are no different than fans of basketball or baseball. They're just athletic kids that want something that's more about themselves; that they can learn who they are instead of participating on a team level. Doesn't make it any worse or better, it's just something different. If you look at California, their schools-their high schools have surf teams and skate teams and almost every community has a skate park. Kids out here are still getting arrested, and put in jail, and getting ticketed for just an activity that they love. It's their form of athleticism. It'd be really funny to have a squad of policemen run through a park and tackle some fellas playing basketball and put 'em in cuffs. You know, you couldn't imagine it, but that's how it is for skateboarders. You could just be cruising down the street and just get knocked off your board and get thrown in cuffs and you haven't done anything wrong.
What do you think about all the signs that say "No Skateboarding Allowed?"
I think they're there for a reason. I think there's compromises and you can't say, "No skateboarding" without providing a place for kids to skateboard. But I understand where people are coming from when they say, "No skateboarding." I don't like it, but I understand where they're coming from. But I think to do that, and do it fairly, it would be really respectable to have them take the high road and provide a facility rather than just saying "No," and that's it.
Aside from the skate shop, you also have a book coming out, right, a collection of all your writings?
I do. It's Skinema, from Vice Books, and MTV Books, they're putting it out. And it should be out in about in about two weeks, I think.
Is there going to be more in it than collections of your reviews?
Well, it's all collections of my reviews for the past eight years. But the majority of them haven't been seen in this country. I do a lot of work in London. There's a pretty big fan base out there. So, the majority of the stuff in the book hasn't been seen over here.
What type of stuff do you do for London?
Same stuff, just more of it. Whereas Vice I do one review a month, in London I'll do four or five a month. I think there's like … 300 reviews in the book and I don't think that's a third of what I've done in the past nine or ten years. I've written so many that I can't remember half.
Is that based on censorship or is it because people in London are more easygoing about it?
I don't know if you've ever been over there or hung out with anybody that's English, they've just got a great sense of humor. They kinda get it. A lot of times, people in the States can't get over themselves, so they take things at face value and they get really pissy, where over there they get the joke, they understand that you're just trying to take the piss out of something and make fun of it.
With the idea of censorship and people being viewed with stigmas like skateboarders, or anyone in general, what do you think of censorship and pornography? What are your views of it? I mean, you're making fun of it when you write and you're telling stories, but what do you actually think of pornography?
What do I think of pornography? I think it's fantastic. I really do. Honest to goodness. The reason is not because of pretty women or, you know, any kind of crazy acts. I got married last July. I've been with my wife for five years. But for four years I was traveling all over the place. Her and I saw very little of each other. And, if it wasn't for pornography, I probably would've gone mad on the road. I brought pornography with me everywhere. There were just as many Hollywood Blockbuster films in my DVD cases on the road as there were smut. So, we'd be going to the bar and everybody else was looking to get laid... I would take a couple moments to myself before we left the house, sort myself out, clean all the bullets out of the gun, take my gun to town, and then...
Normalize the vector.
...focus on the most important thing at hand, which was drinking. I think it's a great tool for couples and married people. I'm not a big fan of the guy that sneaks off in the middle of the night to watch porn, because it's kind of cheating in a weird way. But I think it can really help couples out. And then there's just a lot of ugly people in the world that need to have some kind of sexual action too so... I think it's great. Porn is for the couples and for the ugly. How's that?
Poetic. Do you plan on writing anything else?
A work of fiction maybe?
No, I don't believe in fiction. I just like life too much. I like realism, so I don't really care for... bullshit. I very much am interested in writing a parenting guide. I want to write the most completely... are you allowed to curse in the Targum?
You can say whatever you want.
I don't want to get quoted with curses...
I think it's too late.
You're probably right. I just want to make the most absurd and wrong parenting guide ever written. I want to give the absolute worst advice.
Like a Life's Little Destruction Book?
I don't know what that is.
It's this little book that says weird shit like give the toll lady a 50 dollar bill. Just things that make you be a dick.
Do you know Maddox, by any chance? He's another absurd asshole writer that does that type of shit. He just pisses everyone off in every way at once.
Yeah. And the thing is if you look at it as comedy, then you won't get upset, but a lot of people won't look at it as comedy and they will get very much upset.
So do you look at yourself as more of a comedian than a writer or...?
I just look at myself as a comedic writer. If I was a comedian, I'd have to do stand-up and I'd get very nervous in front of large groups of people and it wouldn't work. Yeah, with this book... see, I'm trying to knock my wife up right now. The problem is I keep forgetting to leave it in. That's the whole problem. My whole life I've been trained to pull out. Get out! Get out of there! That and coupled with porn, they never leave it in in porn. So I'm just kind of... confused. But yeah, the parenting guide. I'm just taking parenting guides and just doing the exact opposite of what they tell you. This one example I came up with is that you can promise your kid any toy they want. But you only take them to Toys R' Us between the hours of four and five in the morning or 11 and 12 at night, and well, of course it's going to be closed. So, you just keep taking them every day, and you just keep saying to them, "I don't know why it's closed but we'll try again tomorrow, same time, and see if it's open," until they just forget it.
So where will we be able to buy Skinema when it comes out?
You will be able to buy it right here at NJ 2, 29 Easton Avenue. Our prices are insane!
Everything must go.
You go to my website, ChrisNieratko.com, it's on there. You go to... anywhere, it should be anywhere. And if it's not then you should protest that store and boycott it. Firebomb it. No, don't firebomb it. I think Barnes and Noble… It should be everywhere, I think. I didn't really read the contract too well, so I'm not sure. They're probably not going to guarantee any.
When will the parenting guide be done... or started?
Well, like I said, I'm taking notes now. I'm trying to get my wife pregnant. So, give it another year or two. I figure I'll have to knock her up and then go through the pregnancy and then have some time of actual parenting before I release it because some people might call bullshit on a parenting guide by a person without kids, although that would just really be funny too. I'm not really good with schedules so I have no idea when anything's coming up. I know that we're open 12 to 8 Monday thru Saturday over here.
Need new trucks, grip-tape, the latest free issue of Vice, new clothes, or just want to hear some great stories about sex, danger, cutting down trees by staring at them, comics (ask him about Transmetropolitian, Sandman and Uncanny X-Men circa 94-'00) or the original Mike Vallely board hanging on the wall? Go to NJ2 and talk to Chris, he's there, and if you ask nicely he might get into a fight with you or sign a copy of his book Skinema, available May 7 at NJ 2, 29 Easton Ave (where there are free samples of the book) or where ever any good books and smut are sold.
c/o The Daily Targum
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