The talk these days is whether the Jackass franchise is Art, but if you pay attention to the behavior of the prime players lately, it sure as heck seems like it’s turned into Work. Of course, the Jackass world has always seemed like a constant grind for footage—-even if it was just a clip of a twangy, boner-ish door stopper. But somewhere that another-day-another-stunt attitude turned into professionalism, and then the professionalism turned into deeply personal obligation. “Somebody’s gotta do this!” slowly became, “We, specifically, must keep doing this.”

Watch the low-key MTV doc Jackass: The Beginning (part of MTV’s promotional campaign for Jackass 3-D) and you’ll see what I mean: Johnny Knoxville, Jeff Tremaine, and Spike Jonze seem unimpressed with what they foisted upon the world. That may be bullshit, and it may not be. But why they did it isn’t as important as why they keep doing it now. As far as I can tell—-especially for the less-famous guys—-the answer is that it’s not just a paycheck; it’s a paycheck that they understand: Take a breath and walk into the prank.

Of course, doubt is still part of the equation. “The moment before they do something, the pause is just that much longer,” Jonze told the New York Times. “They’re really thinking about it, trying to convince themselves, and that makes it that much more funny.” Knoxville, in particular, looks and sounds like an old guy:

But—Art be damned—there’s an ethic in all of this: Keep showing up and putting that metaphorical leech on your eyeball whenever duty calls. Maybe you don’t have Knoxville’s shit-luck, and maybe, unlike Steve-O, you’ve got no shot at “Dancing With the Stars”—but sooner or later, things might start to make sense. Or at least they’ll seem kinda natural.