Professional arseclown Steve-O tells Jenny Valentish about his new top-secret project and why he’s sheepish about vegans
First, some backstory, because if ever there was a life that needed footnotes, it's Stephen Glover's.
As the good-natured, lunatic star of Jackass and Wildboyz, Steve-O was willing to take on any stupid stunt if it would heighten his approval rating. The kid who'd had to move from country to country thanks to his father's executive role at Pepsi Cola (and could speak three languages fluently as a result) became adept at making people laugh. He was desperate to be a stuntman, filming his own stunts from his early teens, but wound up being a circus clown – at which point his combined skillset made him the perfect candidate for a new prank-based TV show launched by actor/journalist Johnny Knoxville. But when the Jackass ride rolled to a halt some five years later, it left him busted up, filthy rich and entirely wasted.
According to Johnny Knoxville, interviewed for the MTV documentary Steve-O: Demise and Rise, his friend would flounder whenever he was away from the security of his Jackass or Wildboyz families and binge on anything from PCP, to coke, to nitrous bulbs. Unable to imagine an existence that wasn’t on camera and fearful that his career had peaked at the completion of the second Jackass movie, Steve-O filmed this deathwish bingeing, as well as the ensuing psychotic episodes: scenes of aggressively harassing his neighbour, conversing with the voices in his head, vandalising his own apartment, and building a time machine of junk to go back and save his mother from the last, painful five years of her life. The approval seeking had turned to an extreme cry for help as he tried endlessly to get arrested and emailed a suicide bid to his friends. At this final point, Johnny Knoxville gathered some heavies to stage an intervention and take him to a psychiatric ward.
That was in 2008. Stephen Glover is now six years sober and something of a poster boy for the cause. His 2011 memoir, Professional Idiot, acknowledges the lows of his life, and now that he’s about to turn 40, he's focused on looking forwards. Time Out spoke to him just before his fifth trip to Australia, for his Guilty as Charged tour. Those buying tickets should rest assured he’s not sober in disposition, though. Last time we talked, around his last tour, his first anecdote was about a woman who once took her teeth out and … well ... never mind what. It didn't relate to the question anyway.
Steve-O, you’ll be immortalised as someone who was a forerunner of a brand-new genre – Jackass has been mimicked all over the world for almost 15 years now. In the back of your mind are you always thinking, how could I experience that again?
First off, let me say I gladly accept your wonderful compliment. I agree that Jackass really was culturally significant on a global level, and for being a part of that, I am so grateful. Now the second part of your question – am I constantly racking my brain to figure out how to be at the forefront of something else that’s new and exciting? The answer is yes.
I’ve got a YouTube channel with a subscription base of over two-and-a-half million people and I just launched a second channel, which will be more low-key and personal… but as grateful as I am, a big part of me thinks, did I really just graduate to YouTube? I could be doing so much more.
The next level of that genre is what Sacha Baron Cohen has done with the Borat and Bruno movies, and what Johnny Knoxville did with the Bad Grandpa movie: to take that art form of stunts and pranks and hidden camera content, and wrap it all up into a narrative with a beginning, middle and an end. What’s on my mind is how to take my career to that next level. What are the next stunts and pranks that I want to do, and how can I pull tem off in public without being recognised as Steve O, and also pull it all into a narrative that’s completely unique?
Thankfully, I believe that I am already there. I’ve just had a series of meetings and picked out my writer, director and producer, and that’s going to be how I will spend the lion’s share of my time over the course of the next year to make it happen.
I’m glad I asked that question.
Yeah, I’m glad you asked that question too. I think it’s safe to say that I’m not gonna go around blabbing my mouth off in such great detail about my plans, so you might have yourself a little exclusive. I’m just so excited that I couldn’t not blurt it out.
How much straight acting have you done?
I just got an acting role in the first movie in which I will be credited as “Steve Glover”. Ha!
How grown up!
To me it’s hilarious. In this movie you will see me doing some serious acting with Samuel L Jackson and the incredible Hailee Steinfeld. It’s called Barely Lethal.
You’re unfailingly positive on film, with a try-anything-once attitude (six weeks of Dancing With the Stars in 2009 proved that). But has there ever been a point in your life when you’ve completely lost your sense of humour?
Oh, absolutely, you’re quite on target there. Overall what’s made Jackass and a lot of the work that I’ve done on my own successful was that there’s a positive spirit about it. It’s really been important to us, and to me for the most part – with some obvious exceptions in my personal life. There’s been a major emphasis on never being mean spirited, and that’s why it’s as successful as it has been, because whenever there’s humour, we’re the butt of the joke, and whenever there’s a prank, we might have to shock, even scare people, but we never have to make people feel bad.
But at the same time, I just can’t say that I’ve always been positive and a good guy, because there have been episodes where I was just downright terrible. Fortunately I recognised that, and I have really been pretty diligent about working to keep that in my past.
You wrote a very honest memoir, Professional Idiot, in 2011 after two years of sobriety. How did you feel in the months coming up to publication – was it cold sweat time?
I don’t remember having anxiety about it coming out, because by that point I’d already processed everything. I’m sort of re-living it now that I’m thinking out loud here. My attitude was that anybody who would want to take what I’d written and use it to hurt me, or have ill-will towards me, wasn’t actually the type of person who was gonna sit down and read the book, you know? The people who invest the time into sitting down to read the whole thing are gonna be the people that are rooting for me. So I felt safe feeling that.
I didn’t write the book with the goal of making myself seem like a really good guy, either – it would have been a colossal disaster if I had. In a backwards way, by being as candid as I was, it proved to be endearing to people. I really made myself vulnerable and I didn’t try to create the impression that I’ve always been a good guy.
I’ve seen the odd stunt in which we can see the fear behind your eyes. What do you say to yourself in the minutes before something is about to possibly kill you?
The thought process is… if it were a dialogue it would go something like this: “Wow, this is going be fucking terrible, but it’ll be over soon. And because of the video footage of it I will, in some way, be the man forever.”
Oh, I thought it might have been some sort of positive mantra.
It's probably on the delusional side.
When you’re going to a different country, do you research it beforehand and think about what kind of stunts you might do when you’re there?
Absolutely. With Wildboyz we had researchers to determine what activities and indigenous cultures we could encounter while; now I’m doing that on my own. I’m also traveling with my new hobby of surfing. In a little more than two years I’ve surfed in seven different countries and I’ve got a great photo from each one. I can’t wait to get Australia in my surf passport. I’m getting a hum in my ears, and I’m about to goddamn 40. If I don’t find a more rigorous exercise regime then I am bound to turn into a potbelly-ass son of a bitch.
Lastly, off on a vegan tangent: Will you be doing any more animal rights campaigning in the manner of the anti-animal-farming video What Came Before?
I’ve put away the soapbox recently. I suppose I’ll get it back out before too long, because the plight of animals – particularly farm animals – is so upsetting. But to be frank, the main reason I’ve been a bit quieter is that I recently added fish back into my diet. I steer clear of farmed fish, but I just got sold on the idea that avoiding a lot of heavily processed soy and wheat, and to replace it with fish, would be good for my body. This is again not something I’ve been running around telling everybody, because I have a bit of a complex about it. Knowing that, to the vegan community, I’m a traitor. In no way do I feel any different about factory farming or animal rights in general – I’m just a pescatarian guy who loves animals.