An Interview with Steve-O – March 13, 2012
by Brooklyn Cann
Stephen Gilchrist Glover, more widely known as Steve-O, rose to fame on the MTV smash hit series “JackAss”, a stunt-oriented show unlike any the viewing public had seen before. The bat-shit crazy pranks included in the series and accompanying movies, of which there were five, were so over-the-top that Steve-O’s wild behaviour extended into his personal life and resulted in drug addiction and the worst of fame’s rewards. Now, with his life back on track, he has become a vegan, works on occasion with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and has morphed his talents onto the comedy club stage where he delivers a stand-up act that includes a humorous look at some of his true-to-life experiences, as well as some stunts and tricks.
The comedy act now in full swing, Steve-O has been added to the line-up of comedians set to appear at National Comedy Fest as part of Toronto’s annual Canadian Music Week (March 21st – 25th). With his show set for Saturday March 24th at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall, Steve-O graciously took 15 minutes out of his busy schedule this week to give me a phone call and talk about his past and present, and we even touched upon his future. Our chat was a genuine pleasure, and here’s how it played out:
Lithium: Having come from a family where you moved around a lot, from England to the US to Canada, did it cause you any discontent that might have developed into the desire to perform and be in the spotlight?
Steve-O: I don’t know, if I had to psychoanalyze myself, I would say that moving around probably had something to do with it. I think also my parents - my dad was successful, he had big and impressive jobs and a lot going on and I think maybe I lacked attention from my parents.
Lithium: I see. He was involved with Pepsi, correct?
Steve-O: Yeah, when I was six months old my family moved to Brazil because my dad became the President of Pepsi-Cola Brazil.
Steve-O: Yeah, it was kind of a big deal and my parents had a lot going on and they were having a good time. I think that it’s telling that I spoke my first words in Portuguese.
Lithium: Really? Why is that?
Steve-O: I spent more time with the live-in maid.
Lithium: Ahhh, I see. Did you enjoy it in Brazil? Do you remember much of what it was like living there?
Steve-O: I lived there when I was six-months-old and I think I was gone by the time I was two.
Lithium: So you were probably too young to remember much of it.
Steve-O: Right, but I think that maybe the lack of attention from my parents made me want to seek attention from everywhere else. I don’t know.
Lithium: Makes sense; totally makes sense. I understand that kind of thing. I also know that we have a love for a certain band in common…… You spent some time living in Toronto, toward the end of the 80s if I’m correct, when Motley Crue did their Girls, Girls, Girls tour. I was actually doing concert promo back then so I remember that show well. Great White and Whitesnake opened. I understand that your determination to track down their then manager, Doc McGhee, managed to get you backstage. Did seeing the band and their lifestyle at that time cause you want to emulate them but to put your own spin on things?
Steve-O: Well, I was just such a rabid Motley Crue fan. Yeah, I was, at that point I had my walls just covered with photos of them and posters from all the heavy metal magazines like “Hit Parader” and “Circus.” I was really so fanatical about Motley Crue that I had already long since become fascinated with their sex, drugs and rock and roll lifestyle. But I think the major effect that meeting them had on me was that it was done on my own initiative. I called every hotel in the Yellow Pages, asking for Doc McGhee’s room. Then I got through and his brother answered the phone and said, “This is his brother, Scott,” and put me on the list for backstage passes, and doing that and going backstage after that concert and having my photo taken with Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee, I think they just gave me this sense of accomplishment and I attribute that whole experience to really believing that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. And I had my dad from then on. He would constantly tell me, “If you would just apply to your school work the initiative you applied to meeting Motley Crue, you’d be fine.” It’s been my experience that when I really wanted to do something, I’ve been able to make it happen because I’ve stuck with it.
Lithium: There’s a lot to be said for perseverance. As I said, I’m a fan too, but my perseverance hasn’t paid off yet, because to this day, I am STILL trying to track down an interview with Nikki Sixx. He’s an elusive one that’s for sure.
Steve-O (Laughs) Elusive; that’s a good word for it.
Lithium: So your gig as videotaping yourself as a clown and doing stunts eventually morphed into your MTV gig with JackAss, correct?
Steve-O: There was kind of a separate thing going on. I dropped out of the University of Miami and my only plan was I was going to become a famous stuntman. I’ve been making videos since I was 15, and this was my plan that I wasn’t going to be in school anymore because I was going to become a stuntman. I spent the next three years couch-surfing.... I was homeless for three years after I left the University of Miami. I wasn’t really getting anywhere, I was certainly filming a lot of idiotic stunts, but I didn’t seem to be making any progress towards my goal. So when I found out about Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Clown College, I thought that if I could graduate from that and have the name Ringling Brothers to brag about that it might land credibility to my idiotic stunts. I thought, maybe people will look at me lighting myself on fire at keg parties and think, “Wow! That guy’s a real circus performer.” It’s funny because I don’t think a lot of people ever went to clown college to seek legitimacy but that was what I did and as it turned out, I think that it did help a lot. The skateboard magazine which was responsible for the video series that ultimately, really turned into JackAss began featuring me more and more because they decided I was funny - now here’s this clown, this clown reject. I think that helped me with my relationship with them and certainly working and being able to make a living as a circus clown while I waited for the proverbial ship to sail. It was sort of a double life thing, I made a living as a circus clown but never, ever put down the camera and I was always filming and coming up with crazy stunt ideas
Lithium: How did you come up with the stunts that were performed on the show? What influenced them?
Steve-O: For JackAss, the formula was pretty simple - you think of something that you would never want to do and you do it. I’d say that pretty much speaks for a lot of the ideas of JackAss. From early on, it was less about being funny and more about being dangerous and a bit impressive. I don’t know; I’ve just always had my eye out for ways to make an impression. Ideas come different ways.
Lithium: Was there ever any stunt that you concocted and then later re-evaluated it because of its danger level and decided you weren’t going to do it regardless of how impressive it might have looked?
Steve-O: Yeah, there’s been quite a few of those. I’m trying to think… This isn’t really funny or anything, but on JackAss 3D, we decided we’d all get in this inflatable bouncy house and then ride it down a mountain and go off a massive ski jump. But it inflated with this huge refrigerator sized generator that needed to trail behind it. So we decided, you know, that thing’s really going to hurt us. But I don’t know, I’ve always been pretty selective in what I do and try to minimize the real probability of getting paralyzed or killed.
Lithium: What is the most serious injury you've sustained?
Steve-O: I threw myself off a balcony one time, I used to throw myself off balconies quite a lot, and one time I landed on my face on the ground. I broke my cheekbone and I broke seven teeth and had 10 stitches in my chin and a concussion and a broken wrist.
Lithium: What prank are you the most proud of and why?
Steve-O: The most proud of, I don’t know, it’s just that all the stuff that I’ve done it’s like comparing apple to oranges. It’s not really a prank, but I jumped out of an airplane with no parachute one time, like into the ocean and that was really, really gnarly. It was one of those little sea-glider aircrafts, kind of like a water world airplane. I guess the most shocking, gnarly one was jumping out of an airplane with no parachute, but another one was I got an unemployed registered nurse to put an IV in my arm and I poured five shots of vodka into the bag. Injecting five ounces of vodka was another one that was really gnarly. Another time on tour in England with Ryan Dunn, Ryan strangled me unconscious six times in one day.
Lithium: Six times! Oh my! Well, we hear about celebrities insuring their faces or particular body parts, but I’ve often wondered what kind of life insurance you needed to carry in order to do JackAss.
Steve-O: Life insurance isn’t something that we worried about. When we were in the contract phase of the last movie, I asked for the first time, “What happens if somebody gets really hurt, bad?” We had a special call with lawyers and stuff on the phone and they said that the California Workman’s Comp laws applied. So, just like any time somebody gets hurt on the job their employer has to pay for their medical expenses. They said the same exact California State Workman’s Comp laws apply, so if we get injured on the job, the movie studio has to pay for it.
Lithium: Worker’s Comp isn’t always the easiest organization to work with, but at least you knew you were covered. What does your family say about your profession? Do they ever worry? How do you reassure them?
Steve-O: They’ve been pretty resigned to it. This was what I was going to do for so long that they’re used to it. They just want to see me happy. This was what I was going to do, there was no way around it, so they were resigned to the fact that this was my path. Once it was so clear that I was going to do this, it was just a question of whether I would be successful or not. I’ve had some success and they’re glad about that.
Lithium: That’s great that you have family support. Do you ever see yourself as having children one day, and what would you say to them to keep them from trying some of things you’ve done?
Steve-O: I don’t know about children, I can’t really rule it out. Everything’s changed so much for me along the way. Five years ago if you asked me if I was going to be where I am today, if you told me what my life was going to be like now, five years ago I probably would have laughed really hard. I don’t know where I’ll be at, but say five years from now, I can imagine it being something I would do.
Lithium: That’s nice that you can maybe see yourself in that position in time. Yet despite the fun and outrageousness caught on camera to get you to where you are now, the fact is that your journey has been marked with several low points, including run-ins with the law, incidents of feeling despondent and hopeless, and generally speaking, the downsides to all of the fun and fame. How do you look back on all of that now?
Steve-O: You know, at the risk of sounding cliché, I’m really grateful that everything got so bad because that’s what it took to get better. That’s what it took - for things to get a whole lot worse before they could get any better, and that’s what happened to me. If everything had been mediocre then nothing would have changed for the better.
Lithium: Tell us about your work with PETA and what influenced your decision to become a vegan?
Steve-O: When I was doing all the drugs and stuff I started hearing voices. I’d just classify these voices as some as demons, some as angels, and they would tell me different things. I remember doing something that was wrong and a voice in my ear saying, “You know, you’re going to have to answer for that!” All the visual and the audio and tactile, all this hallucinating, it was like I was in this crazy spirit world. I took to the internet to research the spirit world and I came across this YouTube clip of a guy, a Christian consciousness guy in India and he was talking about Westerners having less respect for life and for the planet and how it was more difficult for Westerners to be saved. And then he said, “How can you expect to be saved, if you eat meat?” I kind of put that together with what the voices were telling me about having to answer for the things that I do. And here I am, I just got to say all of a sudden I just got really afraid of having to answer for creating suffering for animals. How can I expect to be saved by eating meat and I thought, “Oh no, I’m not going to be saved, I’m going to have to answer.” And so I don’t know, it was really out of fear that I first stopped eating meat. I was afraid of being punished somehow and having bad karma. My experience was that I quit eating meat and ultimately I just felt rewarded by it. I was just doing something that I felt really good about and it became less about fear and more about the rewards of doing something that made me feel good. I just kept doing more and more. I don’t really support PETA entirely, just on an issue-by-issue basis. I’ve never given PETA any kind of a blanket endorsement for everything that they do. When they’re doing things that I agree with, I’ll lend support, but it’s strictly on an issue-by-issue basis.
Lithium: When it comes to shows on TV like The Dudesons and The Dumbest Stuff on Wheels, which essentially are shows that have adopted JackAss-type stunts, does it make you proud to think that you may have pioneered this type of entertainment, or do you feel ripped off?
Steve-O: I don’t know, I don’t think that I really feel one way or the other. The Dudesons, I’ve known them forever, for almost 10 years now, so those guys I just consider to be friends. I’m always rooting for those guys to do well. I’ve never heard of The Dumbest Stuff on Wheels before.
Lithium: Let’s move on to the fact that your career path has changed and you’ve turned to doing stand-up comedy. What influenced your decision to turn to stand-up besides the fact that, according to what I’ve read about you, you consider it to be the most risky thing of all?
Steve-O: Yeah, it was certainly random the way that I got into it at first. I got invited to a comedy club, somebody asked me to come to their comedy show and get on stage and do something crazy, and I couldn’t think of anything crazier than trying stand-up. Yeah, I considered it a stunt, and that was back in 2006. I had some kind of beginner’s luck - it went really well. I knew it was something that I wanted to pursue and get into. I would be hesitant to build my tour as just stand-up because it’s as much crazy stunts and tricks as it is stand-up. I don’t just stand there and talk the whole time.
Lithium: For your fans that have not seen your stand-up act, what can they expect? What is the show going to be like for National Comedy Fest as part of Toronto’s Canadian Music Week?
Steve-O: My show breaks down into two sets, one is stand-up comedy based on my experiences as a semi-famous, drug addicted male slut, which really is what it is. Its filthy comedy and its all true stories. A lot of my material comes from my actual experiences. I think that makes it more entertaining maybe, more compelling to know that the ridiculous stuff I’m talking about actually happened. Most of my tour has been in comedy clubs around the US and Canada and a lot more in the US than Canada. When I go to these comedy clubs I’m doing two shows per night and five or six shows per weekend, and with that kind of repetition I really am limited in what stunts I can do. I just can’t do certain stunts six times in a weekend. But what’s going to be great about Toronto - I’m really looking forward to it - is it’s in a bigger venue. Whenever I go to a place where I have one show in a concert venue then I’m able to pull way crazier tricks out of my bag. It’s always a bigger thing. So it’s pretty safe to say it’s going to be a lot bigger than any other show.
I have two goals with my show - I want people to leave thinking that my comedy’s a lot funnier than they expected it to be and for them to think, “Wow! That guy is seriously fucking crazy!” But also I think when people leave the show, I’d like to think that it comes across as, I wouldn’t be capable of putting on the show if there weren’t more to me”.