Steve-O comes to the Improv

Sure, you knew he once swallowed a goldfish live and then threw it up back into its bowl. And that he got the world's dumbest tattoo (a self portrait with two thumbs up captioned with the words: "Yeah dude, I rock!"). But did you know Jackass's Steve-O graduated from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, worked as a clown at Fort Lauderdale's Swap Shop, owns two rescue dogs, and practices Nichiren Buddhism? Neither did we.

Nor were we aware that he's doing stand-up and his act is scheduled to swing into town. New Times caught up with Steve-O to talk about pain, stunts, stand-up, and sobriety.

New Times: Favorite stunt?

Steve-O: Jumping out of one of those sea glider airplanes, with no parachute, into the ocean. The plane had to be 50 feet up in the air, going like 50 miles per hour. We were on the third day of a bender, with no sleep. After I landed, I had the wind knocked out of me so bad that the rest of the day, and maybe the next day too, I was convinced I had internal organ damage. Being that high and going that fast, water does not feel like water.

Speaking of pain, do you Jackass guys all have a high tolerance for it?

No, not at all. If we did, there'd be no reaction, and it wouldn't be that entertaining to watch. I think what makes it work is that we're all scared, and feel pain, and have good chemistry. We're not brave, really, just dumb.

How do you feel about being forever associated with a word like "jackass"?

It's fine with me. I don't care. I think it's a pretty appropriate word and pretty much sums it up.

But if you could use one word to describe you, yourself, what would it be?

I'm working on a book, a memoir, and we just finished the first draft of each chapter and it's called Professional Idiot.

Would you say that's the best phrase to describe you?


Nah, this whole pursuit of fame has really defined me. But I think everything has kind of changed for me over the past few years. Up until three years ago, my purpose in life was to do whatever it took to be remembered forever. So, as cheesy as this sounds, I kind of found a religion in a video camera. It was a way to exist after I died. And at first, I was just gathering footage, like a message in a bottle. I never thought I'd have any kind of success documenting myself. I thought it was more likely that I be discovered after I died or something.

And what are on these videos?

A lot of different creative ways of lighting myself on fire. I worked really hard for years teaching myself how to do things like back flips, fire breathing, acrobatics. I was big into finding apartment buildings, climbing onto the roofs, and doing flips off of them into shallow pools. That was kind of a specialty of mine. And I was doing this around the time I was going to UM.

What was your major at University of Miami?

Communications. The first real idea I had for a career was to be a creative advertising guy. I wanted to produce commercials. (A dog starts barking in the background.) Walter, shush.

You've got a mailman coming?

No, someone's coming to cut my hair because I've been setting my head on fire.

Is that something people can expect at your show at the Improv?

I don't want to promise anything. And I don't even know if they're going to let me play with fire. I don't want people to have any expectations like that. I mean, I'm going to be doing stand-up and a lot of people don't think of me as a stand-up comedian, so convincing them of that is somewhat of an uphill battle. But Dane Cook has been mentoring me... He's given me a lot of notes after my shows. My act's similar to, say, Joe Rogan's now.

So no stunts at all?

Well, bar tricks or whatever you want to call it. Like, my favorite thing that I do is the greatest bar trick in the world. Before I was able to make a living doing this stuff, doing this one trick, that I actually learned in clown college, enabled me to drink for free everywhere. And I teach everyone how to do it. It's my way of helping the unemployed, drunk alcoholics to their bottom.

Speaking of drunk alcoholics, how's sobriety?

It's been exactly 1,003 days. Nothing stronger than an Advil.

How does it feel performing at places where they serve alcohol?

Before I got sober, I did appearances at nightclubs and bars. Since I've got sober, I haven't done it once. The purpose of going to a nightclub is to get loaded. When people go to a comedy club, their primary purpose isn't to get loaded. At least for most people.

What in your life sparked sobriety?

Well, when I first started doing these stunts — sure, they're stupid and silly — but what made Jackass so popular is that underneath it all there's a real intelligence and creativity. And after a while, for me, it became less about that and more about being drunk. Like, "look how wasted I am, isn't it funny?"

So you did it for the sake of your creativity?

Well, no. I mean, I did drugs to the point where I crossed a line and I started hearing voices in my head — having a lot of hallucinations and stuff.

What kind of hallucinations would you have?

I hallucinated [about] having all these interventions. I was seeing people enter my apartment, sit down on my sofa, and try to intervene because they were so concerned about me. Ends up no one ever did that, no one was ever there. Well, until Johnny Knoxville really did hold an intervention.

How'd that go down?

I lived in this crazy apartment, and I got evicted. I had a three-day eviction notice, two days before my intervention. So after Knoxville and the guys came and locked me up in the psyche ward, they moved me out of my apartment and put everything in a storage unit. So I had no apartment to return to, which was great. So many people go through rehab then go right back to the environment where they did all the stuff that made them need rehab in the first place. And if you do what you always did, you get what you always got.

So you had a fresh start?

Yeah. For six months, I went from the psyche ward to a treatment center. Then I went to a very private sober-living environment, a half-way house deal. I stayed there until I had two full years of sobriety. I cleaned toilets, shared a bedroom with another dude, peed in a plastic cup twice a week at random — and it was my choice, there wasn't any court order. If I pick up a drink or a drug, I'm fucked. I'm dead. Or I'd be better off dead. So, I don't want to do that. I had to build a strong foundation. (The barber shows up. The dogs begin to bark.) Sorry, I have these rescue dogs and they are so badly behaved. And I'm not exactly the dog whisperer. But everything I criticize them for — they're inconvenient, they're loud, they destroy things — these are all qualities I've had. And people didn't give up on me.

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Elyse Wanshel
Contact: Elyse Wanshel

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