If you want to know the meaning of life, just ask Steve-O. “People act like it’s some kind of riddle of the Sphinx, when the answer is so goddamn obvious,” says the 49-year-old sage of self-abuse; the guru of gnarly stunts. A lifetime of unwise decisions – swimming with sharks, setting himself on fire, repeatedly stapling his nuts to his leg – has gifted the Jackass star a rare kind of wisdom.
“The meaning of life is: ‘Pick one!’” he tells NME emphatically. “Life has the meaning that you give it: whatever it is you choose to make your life meaningful, fuckin’ go after it with enthusiasm. If you break the word ‘enthusiasm’ down to the root language you have ‘en-theos’, which means ‘with God’. When you’re pursuing something you’re deeply passionate about, you are, by definition, doing God’s work. For me, shoving shit up my ass is God’s work.”
“For me, shoving shit up my ass is God’s work”
His wheezing laugh is so loud it wakes his dogs Wendy and Lucy, who have been snoozing on the couch beside him. We’re in the living room of Steve-O’s picturesque home in the Hollywood Hills, the house that “shoving shit up my ass” bought. Along with the dogs, he also shares this secluded slice of heaven with his fiancée Lux, three cats and a mean-looking trio of goats named Drake, Sam and Phil. “We wanted to give them all evil names,” Steve-O explains with a mischievous grin. “So those are short for Dracula, Samhain and Mephistopheles. Me-phil-stopheles.”
Downstairs, there’s an edit suite piled high with personalised skateboards, assorted merch and a video archive documenting Steve-O’s long history of on-camera idiocy. It’s there that he and his crew cut together videos for his thriving YouTube channel (6.3 million subscribers) and plot his outrageous live shows, which have become infamous for causing audience members to pass out with shock. Soon he’ll be on his way to Britain to perform and record what might just be his wildest creation yet: The Bucket List Tour.
“It’s like attending a screening of footage that was too extreme for Jackass, which I personally host and walk you through, with all of the behind-the-scenes, juicy, fucked-up shit,” he explains with evident pride. “It’s hilarious.”
CREDIT: Mike Blabac
There’s a certain poetry to Steve-O returning to London to film this XXX-rated culmination of his life’s work. Although he seems as American as having sex with an apple pie, Steve-O was born Stephen Glover in Wimbledon in 1974. He didn’t stay in south London for long, though: when Steve-O was six months old, his father – a high-flying, always-working corporate executive – became president of Pepsi-Cola in Brazil and moved the family to Rio De Janeiro. Throughout this time, his mother suffered severely from alcoholism. Steve-O’s first words were in Portuguese, spoken to the maids who raised him. It doesn’t seem like a stretch to draw a line between this lack of parental oversight and the exhibitionist lifestyle Steve-O went on to pursue. “I don’t think you have to be Sigmund Freud to make that connection,” he says with a wry smile. “Maybe I was longing for a bit more attention from my parents. Maybe I developed a case of hardcore attention-whoring.”
At the age of nine, Steve-O moved back to London, where he spent his formative teenage years at The American School in St John’s Wood. He has a UK passport to go with his American and Canadian ones, but doesn’t feel all that British aside from a latent addiction to pickled onion-flavoured Monster Munch (“that shit is fucking crack”). After school he went to university in Miami, where he got incredibly drunk, jumped off some buildings, flunked out and spent three years homeless. Feeling like too much of a failure to ask his family for help, he supported himself by selling his body for medical experiments. “I had it in my head that I wanted to be a crazy-famous stuntman, and this just fit right in,” he remembers. “I was like, ‘I’m having drugs for pigs and cows tested on me, because I’m gnarly!’”
After moving in with his sister, Steve-O decided to pursue his stuntman goal seriously in 1997 by enrolling in the Ringling Bros. And Barnum & Bailey Clown College. There he learned valuable transferable skills, like stilt-walking and how to balance a ladder on your chin. His breakthrough, though, came when he convinced skater magazine Big Brother to include his stunts in their compilation videos. “Even hardcore skateboarders will lose their minds trying to watch an hour of nothing but skateboarding,” he points out. “From the very beginning, skateboard videos had to have different shit to break up the monotony. I made it my job to do the craziest shit in skate videos.”
CREDIT: Mike Blabac
Big Brother editor Jeff Tremaine would go on to become one of the creators of Jackass, along with director Spike Jonze and host Johnny Knoxville. “They were like, ‘These videos are so popular: we should subtract the skateboarding, and just the crazy shit should be a TV show,’” recalls Steve-O. “That worked out great for me!”
Steve-O only appears briefly in the first episode of Jackass, but the second episode – first broadcast in October 2000 – made him an overnight celebrity. That was all thanks to The Goldfish Trick, in which Steve-O swallowed a live goldfish and then vomited it into a bowl. When he dreamed up the stunt a year earlier he’d planned to drink gallons of water beforehand, but there was no time to prepare on the day the Jackass crew asked him to film it. The camera ended up staying on him for almost two gruelling minutes as he choked, spluttered and eventually, miraculously, retched up the still-swimming fish. “The fact it became this drawn-out, two-minute battle is what made it so epic,” Steve-O remembers. “As soon as we wrapped, Johnny Knoxville said: ‘Well Steve-O, if you weren’t famous already, I’d say you’re gonna be famous now!’” Knoxville was right: “Literally the next day after the goldfish bit aired, everywhere I went I was recognised.”
Jackass quickly became a cultural phenomenon, pulling in millions of viewers. “We were the highest-rated half-hour program in the history of MTV, and the least they’d ever spent,” recalls Steve-O. “It had the most shoestring budget, so Jackass represented the biggest profit margins TV had ever seen.” MTV had a huge hit on their hands, but they were soon starting to worry about what they’d unleashed.
“People are so fucking puss-ified!”
“No sooner was the show out than little kids started showing up in hospitals,” remembers Steve-O. “If we’re honest, the don’t-try-this-at-home warning at the beginning wasn’t a warning: it was a fucking dare.” MTV tried to tame the beast, which pleased nobody. “They started introducing more fuckin’ rules, and refusing to show more shit,” he adds. “They were watering it down, and Knoxville wasn’t having it: so Knoxville quit.”
These days, the original seasons of Jackass are available on the streaming service Paramount+, but they now come with an additional pre-credits warning: “This program is airing in its original form with outdated social norms”. When NME informs Steve-O of this, he says it’s the first he’s heard of it.
“Wow! God, people are so fucking puss-ified!” He doesn’t believe the show deserves to be seen as outdated. “I think Jackass ages pretty well,” he says. “The spirit of it is really wholesome. For all the terrible shit that we do to ourselves and each other, we’re such willing participants. We’re just attention whores battling for screen time, and we want the terrible shit to be happening to us so badly that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying seeing it happen. None of the pranks are malicious or mean-spirited.”
(L-R) Bam Margera, Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O and Ryan Dunn in 2002. CREDIT: Getty
Jackass ran for just three seasons on MTV from 2000 to 2001, but the following year it was resurrected as Jackass: The Movie. Shot with a budget of $5million, it went on to gross over $60million in the US alone. Its success spawned the 2006 sequel Jackass Number Two, which featured Steve-O pushing a fish hook through his cheek and diving into shark-infested waters to act as human bait. He considers the film to be the group’s finest work. “We were in our prime,” he says fondly. “We were out of control, but everything worked.”
Another sequel, Jackass 3D, followed in 2010, and the gang reunited once more for last year’s Jackass Forever. The film was another box office smash – raking in $80million against its $10million budget – but for Steve-O, the production was also something of a wake-up call. “This last Jackass movie… it was kind of a bummer, man,” he says. He singles out a scene in which Johnny Knoxville was left with brain damage after being flipped in the air by a bull. “It’s not fun to watch Knoxville get hit in the head any more,” he adds. “I wrote this text to the whole cast that day, thanking Knoxville for the sacrifices he’s made for this team, and also begging that he stops with the brain trauma. It was one of my more serious and sincere messages.”
He even found some of his own stunts to be underwhelming, such as the scene in which he and Machine Gun Kelly pedalled stationary bikes until a giant foam hand knocked them into a swimming pool. “I love Machine Gun Kelly; I just wish the actual stunt we had him participate in had been at a higher level,” he says. The pair first met a decade ago when Steve-O featured on a remix of MGK’s ‘Wild Boy’ (which features the repeated refrain: “Yeah bitch, call me Steve-O”). They soon realised they were kindred spirits. “We did something that was deemed ‘not hip-hop friendly,’” Steve-O remembers with a laugh. “We both shaved our pubic hair, and I mixed it together and rolled a joint of pure pubic hair. Then we both smoked it: I don’t think that ever saw the light of day! The powers-that-be at Bad Boy Records were like: ‘Yo dude, we don’t smoke dude’s pubes over here.’”
“Machine Gun Kelly and I shaved our pubic hair – and then we smoked a joint of it”
One member of the original crew who didn’t return for Jackass Forever was Bam Margera, who has had a long history of addiction and legal troubles. At the time of our interview, Margera is currently in a detox facility (he has now reportedly left), and Steve-O says he hopes he’s finally getting the help he needs. “I would love to hear something encouraging, that he’s decided to stop blaming all of his problems on other people,” he says.
Steve-O himself has been sober for 15 years. “I owe everything to my sobriety, and I really made an effort to encourage Bam to choose sobriety,” he says. “It’s a shame that you can’t make people want to get better. He’s not going to get better because I want him to get better, and I can’t make him want to get better. If he ever does choose recovery then, man, I’m here for him.”
Although his Jackass days may now be behind him, that doesn’t mean Steve-O has stopped pushing himself to pull off ever more grotesque, playful and astonishing stunts. He’s been performing live on stage since the early days of Jackass, when he built his Don’t Try This At Home tour around performances that wouldn’t be allowed to be shown on MTV. That same ethos applies to The Bucket List Tour.
“I wanted this to be a showcase for what can’t be shown on Jackass, so I had to go about filming new footage that I could tell stories about,” he explains. These include such death-defying, life-affirming feats as Skyjacking, in which he jerks off while jumping out of a plane. He’s very proud of it. “Dude, it’s my favourite thing in the whole world. That’s my Mona Lisa,” he says, smiling. “You can’t show Skyjacking on Jackass because that’s me blowing a load on camera: that’s actually triple-X rated.”
That’s not all: there’s also something called The Vasectomy Olympics, which, he says, is “the primary culprit for making dudes pass out in the audience”. Then there’s the bit where he’s given a (stolen) epidural injection and sets off at a full sprint with his hands cuffed behind his back until he becomes paralysed from the waist down. “There’s some life-threatening, illegal-as-fuck, high-level shit that could never be shown on Jackass,” he grins.
Needless to say, every last minute of it is performed with the utmost enthusiasm. Steve-O, after all, is doing God’s work.
Steve-O’s ‘The Bucket List Tour’ comes to the UK from June 30
Photography: Mike Blabac