It's a wonder Steve-O is still alive today. On the TV shows Jackass and Wildboyz, he endured unimaginable pain for the cameras, and on multiple occasions he teased man-eating predators like sharks and alligators, enticing them to take a bite of his oft-abused flesh. On top of that, he had a cocaine habit that would've caused a normal person's chest to burst like in a scene from Alien.
But the shows ended, and a complete mental breakdown led Steve-O, born Stephen Glover, to clean up his life. Now 41, eight years sober and a dedicated vegan/animal rights activist, he continues to film grimace-inducing stunts, but he's turned his focus to a safer occupation: standup comedy. For the past five years, Steve-O has been a comedy club headliner, traveling the country and spinning tales from his debaucherous past life for his loyal followers.
This Friday, Showtime will be premiering his new standup special, Guilty As Charged, which features a mix of his stunts (balancing a ladder on his chin, having a UFC fighter choke him out) and a bunch of his cringeworthy stories that one could only laugh at with some distance. That same night, he'll be kicking off a weekend of shows at Cobb's Comedy Club as part of what he calls his "Spilling the Beans" tour, where the stories focus on the peak of both his stardom and drug use, and a lot of big names will be dropped.
I talked with Steve-O over the phone last week, on the eighth anniversary of his sobriety and the day after he broke up with his girlfriend, celebrity tattoo artist Kat Von D. He was in good spirits -- his dad was visiting -- and he told some stories that would've curled my hair, if I had any.
Your dad was a big wig at Pepsi, and you moved around a lot during your childhood, to places like London and Brazil. What kind of impact did that have on you?
Do you think that made me an attention whore? [Laughs] Yeah, that's probably a contributing factor. I also think that if I were in one location for my whole life, I would still be an attention whore. There's definitely a dynamic with my parents; they were successful, they were busy, and they were having a good time. I was largely raised by live-in maids and I definitely lacked attention from my parents. There's some childhood trauma there in creation of the monster that is Steve-O.
How did you connect with the guys at the skateboarding magazine Big Brother?
I was a fan of the magazine, which had little to do with skateboarding but everything to do with being shocking and offensive. Living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when they came through, I made it my mission to track them down and perform some crazy stunt so they would put me in the magazine, which I did. That put me in contact with them and I maintained that contact by calling and sending videos, pestering my way back into the magazine time and time again. Then when [Big Brother's] videos were turned into Jackass, I was a part of the gang.
What was the stunt?
I told them I was going to set myself on fire. I was going to spray super-flammable hairspray all over my head, fill my mouth and douse my arm with rubbing alcohol, and light my head on fire. Then a skateboarder would come by and spit a mouthful of rubbing alcohol onto my head, blowing a fireball, which I would reach into with my arm as it came off my head, thereby lighting my arm on fire. Then I would do a standing backflip and, while using my arm as a torch, breathe fire while rotating through my backflip.
What happened was, I set my head on fire and the skateboarder -- I don't know if this was deliberate or not -- blew the fireball point blank into my face. That caused my head from the shoulders up to be engulfed in flames. My thinking at the moment was, "I better hurry up and do this fire-breathing backflip." But when I did the backflip I came up short, landed on my knees with everything on fire. By the time I got back up and flailed through the yard, trying to put myself out, I had second-degree burns on half of my body. I remember that once the flames were extinguished, the top layer of skin from my face had come off into my hand, rolled up like a joint.
I went to the hospital and subsequently had to peel my face off my pillow each morning because of all the stuff coming out of it. But I got into the magazine and that's all that matters. [Laughs]
That is brutal.
It was a gnarly one man. And after that, for the next few days, I didn't want to see anybody. I was living with my sister at the time -- this was May of 1997 -- and I told her that I was to have no visitors, no phone calls; I just wanted to sulk. Then a buddy of mine showed up at my house and said, "This is just another notch in your belt. Be glad it's not a knee injury or something that would prevent you from doing stunts. This isn't going to hold you back and it's going to prove to be one of the best things that ever happened to you." And it really was -- it was the first thing that put me under a national spotlight.
How do you prepare yourself for pain? You can tell with each stunt you do you're anticipating it.
Oh yeah, and people ask me regularly if I have a higher threshold for pain than the average person and the answer is distinctly not. Furthermore, if I did have a higher threshold for pain, it would make a lot of the stunts I have done pretty boring to watch. What's made a lot of the stunts compelling is the dread and the reaction to the pain, which is very visible.
Now that you are sober, how do you manage the pain that results from these stunts?
I've been pretty fortunate that there hasn't been anything in my eight years of sobriety that has caused me to take anything stronger than an Advil or a Tylenol. I've had various oral surgeries and stuff, and there's been times when it has gone bad and led to infections, and at those times I took both Advil and Tylenol. I've had such difficulties with drugs and alcohol that I'll go through a whole lot before I take a painkiller.
In the MTV show Steve-O: Demise and Rise, which documented your issues with drugs, your sister says that your low point was when you tried to start a rap career. Though plenty of media stars have gone into music and were not seen as hitting a bottom, it was bad in your case because you got really into the "gangster" side of the scene. Why was that?
That's a great question, man. The idea was for me to make a comedy gangster rap album and that was viable. It started out as a generally funny, lighthearted, and to some extent, good idea. But the comedy left as soon as I took the project seriously. Even if there was a good idea in that whole project, it was overshadowed by my use of drugs and alcohol. My addiction was far too serious; I was in a really dark place, too dark for anything to be really funny at that point. So I would say that I wasn't really immersed in gangster rap culture but in drugs and alcohol.
Nothing I had to do with that project was particularly funny. It marked what was my lowest point and it was not surprising that it was the end of the line for me.
How far did you take it? There are clips of you with tons of guns and talking about murder.
Those were all BB guns. You can get functional, high-powered BB guns that are replicas of virtually any gun that's available. I was never actually buying guns, but they were equally creepy to look at.
One major theme of Steve-O: Demise and Rise is that you were constantly filming your life, which is why there was so much footage of you doing drugs. Do you still videotape yourself all the time?
I'm more calculated about it. I tend to set up times and plan stuff out to shoot. It's not as frequent as it once was, but I'm still generating content for social media and stuff. I have a nerve-wracking stunt set up for this weekend: I had a wooden port-a-potty built for me, basically an outhouse made out of brittle planks of wood. And I'm going to be sitting on top of this port-a-potty in a patio chair when a car will come crashing through it at 40 to 50 miles per hour. It's gonna be cooking.
We're going to film it with a slow motion camera when the outhouse is going to explode into fragments of wood, and I'm going to fall down to the ground, one way or another. Logistically, I'm not in any danger of getting hit by the car, I don't think. But odds are I'm going to be hurt a little bit.