Jason Ellis: "I'm Awesome"
Who is Jason Ellis? That is a difficult question to answer, for he is an incredibly complex, incredibly sensitive, and profoundly subtle man. Sorry. Did I say sensitive and subtle? I meant to say whatever the exact opposite of that is. But then again, part of Mr. Ellis's appeal is his outlandish self-regard, (and it also doesn't hurt that his accent is kind of cool).
A former professional vert skateboarder from Melbourne, Australia, Ellis became, in the early 2000s, an announcer at the X Games and participated in Tony Hawk's Boom Boom HuckJam. His conservative, business-casual attire often consisted of Rocawear, do-rags, gold chains and scarves underneath baseball hats. Would it surprise you to learn that he once had a penchant for becoming romantically entangled with adult dancers? During his time as an X Games announcer, he blazed like a comet across television screens before crashing like a tired analogy.
Then Ellis got into drugs. Then he got really, really, really into drugs. Actually, he was into drugs during this entire time. Then he quit taking drugs and got into mixed martial arts (MMA) and found a home on satellite radio. The Jason Ellis Show, on SiriusXM radio is now quite popular.
Suffice to say, Mr. Ellis has gathered his share of battle scars and stories on the road to sobriety, many of which he recounts in his unsparing new memoir, "I'm Awesome". Told with roguish charm, the book is part cautionary tale, ["...I do wish I wasn't dressed like 50 Cent at the time, though..."], and part collection of amusing anecdotes. Some of which involve noted professional skaters like Ben Schroeder, Colin McKay and Tony Hawk. Have you ever heard of The Life of Samuel Johnson, by James Boswell? "I'm Awesome" isn't like that book at all. But then again, Boswell never wrote picaresque lines like "Look, if I really knew it was a dude, I'd be the first to tell you, especially if it sold more books. But to look at her, she was a girl." Or "I had a bag of cocaine under my seat in a do-rag, because I heard about doing that in a Noreaga song."
To Mr. Ellis's credit, he does not claim that the road of excess has led to the palace of wisdom, (one chapter is simply called "Cocaine Is Really Bad for You.") Rather, he presents an accessible, at times buffoonish, and usually entertaining account of his exploits and the modest life lessons that may accidentally happen along the way. If you have an anthropological interest in the vagaries of the professional skateboarding industry or you need to be reminded that alcohol, heroin, cocaine and ecstasy are indeed bad for you, there is enough here to keep you reading.
ESPN.com recently spoke to Mr. Ellis about his literary debut.
ESPN.com: In "I'm Awesome," the titles of the chapters are hilarious. One was called "Things Really Sucked When I Was Little." That's very unpretentious.
Ellis: I don't get that too often [Laughs]. People don't say that to me very often. I'm sure you can imagine.
What other titles were under consideration for your memoir "I'm Awesome?" Did the publisher ever suggest something else?
It didn't happen like that. It was, "I'm Awesome," and they said, "Great."
I too would like to be awesome. What can I do?
That is what you got to keep telling yourself in the mirror every day. Click your heels, baby.
In your memoir you claim that the actor Vin Diesel stole your "look" when he met you on the set of xXx -- a 2002 film about a snowboarder who is hired by the NSA to infiltrate terrorist organizations. Do you still feel this to be the case?
I could be completely wrong. The downfall of believing you're awesome 24 hours a day is that you are semi-delirious. We did meet. He was checking me out more than your average person. Then, the next time I saw him, he was wearing the exact same stuff as I had on that day. I had a jacket with a furry neck on it. Fake fur, obviously. Then I had on a beret. What is it? A Kangol?
A pork pie hat? Where the brim goes all the way around?
A pork pie hat? What is that? You kind of scare me when you say that. Like a golf-looking hat. Like a beret kind of thing. Next time I saw him he had that on.
But you don't harbor actual resentment toward him?
No, I do not.
You also claim to have coined the nickname "Flying Tomato" for Shaun White.
That one is not ego -- that's a fact. I was announcing when he was a little kid, and I called him a "flying tomato."
An entire chapter in "I'm Awesome" is devoted to your deep-seated hatred of rollerbladers. Why do you hate them so?
You're pretending to be a skateboarder. Skateboarding is far more difficult. And you just want the shortcut to hanging out with us, and we know that you suck and we're the real deal. And if you drop in on me, I will clothesline you and I don't care. I'm a loyal guy. You mess with me or you mess with my friends, I will hate you until the day I die. That's how I roll. Rollerblading died. The X Games kicked it out, and quite frankly, that was cool. But it's not enough. I need you to die 5,000 times. I need you 20,000 feet under the ground. That's where I stand on rollerblading. If you're a girl and you're tightening your buns on the boardwalk, that's okay. If you're five years old, that's okay. Anything after that, you're a tool bag. Know this.
That's the dry understatement that you're known for. What was the biggest challenge you faced in writing the book?
Nothing. I got parents that I don't really care for. And they're going to be devastated when they read this. But I didn't lie. That's what happened. Matter of fact, I probably left a couple things out that would make them look even worse. That's it. When you do my kind of radio, telling stories like that, it's not that difficult anymore. It's just saying it again to another friend.
Who first approached you with the idea of writing your memoir?
I was interviewed for a magazine. The girl who did the interview was a ghostwriter for Clay Aiken. And she said, "Have you ever thought about doing a book?" I thought I needed to wait because I wasn't famous. She didn't think I needed to wait. HarperCollins called me and talked to me for seven minutes on the phone when I was coming back from work. My manager called me and said, "Whatever you said, good job, because you now have a book deal." And I was like, "Cool."
As you recount in "I'm Awesome," you've struggled with severe dyslexia. Was co-authoring your memoir a challenge?
No. Because Mike Tully [Ellis's co-author] wrote it. Because if it was me writing it? Holy cow. I don't think you'd be calling me right now. And frankly, there is no other friend that I have that is at his level of intelligence or knows all the ridiculous stories that I have lived.
Did you read the manuscript all the way through?
No. I haven't read my book yet. Starting is really hard for me because of the parent thing and [because] I have kids. It's just aggravating to me. I put it down. It makes me want to go back in time and knock someone out.
You began your career in radio by co-hosting a show with Tony Hawk. He obviously has a much more sedate image than you do. Name a time you went too far or made Tony Hawk mad.
I definitely went too far, but I never made Tony mad. Tony is not like that. Tony is a role model for little kids. But Tony Hawk is still a man. He's heard people cuss before. It's not his first walk in the park. He is a great guy. And he is a great role model for children, and I am going to help keep it that way. But he's my friend. He's a dude. We're dudes. We discuss stuff.
When I was a teenager, I often read the legendary magazine Big Brother. I remember one interview in which you extolled the virtues of being romantically involved with "strippers." And yet in "I'm Awesome" you paint a dark picture of the emotional toll such a relationship often takes. What are the pluses and minuses of being involved with someone in that line of work?
When you go out, people look at you because you're girlfriend is hot. Everything else is a living hell because they're crazy. That's one of the reasons we got along. Being a pro skater is very similar to being a stripper. It's not a real job. And you kind of get paid a bunch of money for it. And there is this whole money-for-nothing thing. You're up late. You're just in the wrong crowd. Sorry, strippers who are going to read this. It's very rare to see somebody get out alive is how I'd put it. I mean, you're alive breathing. But scarred.
Seriously. It's a dangerous game.
For a while your agent was Stephen Astephen?
The super-agent to the action sports world? Yeah.
Any anecdotes come to mind?
What are you trying to get me to say here? [Laughs] He's a good guy. He cared about me when it was pretty unnecessary. I was pretty washed up. He has real celebrities he was taking care of. Does he have time for some turkey who's smashed half the time? Come on. He did the best he could.
Is there anything you miss about being a pro skater?
Sure. I miss being a skateboarder. I miss doing big tricks. I remember when 540s were really easy and I used to fly around enjoying the time in the air.
Were you concerned that the title "I'm Awesome" could come across as self-regarding, overly confident or narcissistic?
No, I wasn't concerned -- I'm fully narcissistic. I think I am one of the greatest humans of all time. I also hate myself. I also cry in the shower [Laughs]. But it's part and parcel. I feel like that's what happens to people like me. You want to be the best. You suck. You're great. It's a constant battle. I am fighting myself every day. The hardest thing was to deal with it. I didn't know how to make sense of it. And now I realize you don't have to make sense of it. You just have to face it and then move on with your life. Some people don't like me for that. Some people do. The people that do, well, I'll hang out with them.
The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once said, "Life can only be lived forward and only understood backward." How would you respond?
Who said that?
The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.
A Danish dude said that?
A Danish dude. Yes.
Well, what makes him so smart? He's Danish. So what'd he say?
"Life can only be lived forward and only understood backward."
Okay. I get that. I am constantly evaluating myself. That's the gift and the curse. Looking too far forward is one of my problems. My main goal is just to enjoy the ride.