Why So Serious, Steve-O?By John Wenzel | February 4th, 2011 | No Comments »
Welcome to another “Why So Serious?” — a column where we ask stand-up comedians a handful of questions, and don’t expect anything resembling straight answers.
For this installment we talked to “Jackass” co-star and infamous MTV clown Steve-O, who would seem to symbolize all things sarcastic and mindless. This is, after all, a man best known for casually huffing paint on camera and stapling his scrotum to his leg.
But the 36-year-old (born Stephen Glover) has spent the past three years both living down his SoCal party-boy reputation and profiting from it, having gotten sober and spun his ordeals into a TV documentary, stand-up material and, soon, a book.
Far from glorifying his exploits, the efforts offer a sad, funny, often terrifyingly frank window into addiction that at times portrays his party years as “absolutely miserable and pathetic,” as Entertainment Weekly’s Ken Tucker once wrote.
We chatted with Steve-O in advance of his headlining shows at the Denver Improv today and Saturday.
How have your stand- up shows been going?
It’s crazy, and it’s been going really well. I’ve been doing it on and off since 2006, but it’s difficult because a lot of people don’t think about me as a stand-up comic. A lot of people would be disappointed if I didn’t do some wild and crazy shit on stage — like lighting my head on fire, which I do. But if anyone’s doubting whether or not it’s worth coming, it’s easy to get a consensus from the response on the Internet.
Is that a good thing?
Yeah, at least from what everybody’s been saying. I never leave a show until I’ve taken a picture with every last person that wants one.
Do you ever cringe watching old footage of yourself, whether it’s doing insane stunts or drugs (as in his MTV documentary “Steve-O: Demise and Rise”)?
I watched a rough cut of that (documentary) early on, and it made me want to get high, if you could believe it. Some of the footage in there was pretty shocking, but truthfully it did no justice to what a mess I really was. It didn’t even scratch the surface. Luckily, I just finished a book, “Professional Idiot,” a memoir.
How did that come about?
I was real new in sobriety, maybe two or three months, and there was this guy from Spin magazine (David Peisner) who wanted to write an article about me. I was like, “No, no, I don’t want to do it.” And I remember being really grateful I said that, because had I taken him up on it, he would have been interviewing me when I was on my way to my second psych ward.
But he didn’t give up?
I had one year of sobriety and was on “Dancing with the Stars” when he came out again to interview me. He way over-researched everything, and I remember being really scared and embarrassed of all this stuff. I had posted so much embarrassing shit on the Internet and I just wanted to bury it. But we wound up going through all of it. The article wasn’t flattering, but it was truthful, and I called him and said, “Hey, dude, let’s do a book.”
And what was that experience like?
It’s unbelievable how much work it is. We did like 75 hours of interviews plus writing and editing. I’m psyched we did all the work and made it great, but it just occurs to me that so many books have to suck, man.
OK, I should probably ask you some standard “Why So Serious?” questions. When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried?
Just the other day shooting these spoofs for the Critics’ Choice Awards with the “Jackass” guys. It was one of those “hurry up and wait” moments on the set and everyone was Googling videos of sports celebrations, where athletes started celebrating to soon. Just a whole bunch of them, like the biker guy who celebrated before he gets to the finish line and he gets speed wobbles and wipes out and skids on his face, right up to just a few feet before the finish line. We were all howling pretty hard.
Do you have a joke you used to love to tell but now can’t stand?
When I first started I would begin my set by listing the drugs that I had done that day. There’s an old thing from the Laugh Factory that comes in four parts and it’s a thing I wouldn’t even want to promote… but I would say, “I don’t know if it’s the amphetamines, the Xanax, the grass or the booze, but I feel great!”
You mentioned the crowds expecting you to do wild and crazy shit on stage even at your stand-up shows. Do you think that makes comedy bookers nervous?
Oh yeah, ’cause the first thing I ask is for a fire breather, and they’re like, “What the fuck do you want a fire breather for?” And I say, “I want to spray an obscene amount of hairspray in my hair and get a guy with a mouth full of alcohol to spit it on my head, then light it on fire.” Now I’m resorting to putting all this leave-in conditioner in my hair because I’m getting all these little bald spots and shit. But I really do think that it’s great, man.
How would you describe your audience?
People who rejoice in the downward spiral of our society.
Tickets for Steve-O’s shows on Friday, Feb. 4 (8 p.m. and 10:15 p.m.) and Saturday, Feb. 5 (7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.) at The Denver Improv are $22-$25 and available via improvdenver.com.
John Wenzel is an executive editor of Reverb and an award-winning A&E reporter for The Denver Post. He is the author of “Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and the Dangerously Funny” (Speck Press/Fulcrum) and maintains a Twitter feed of completely random song titles and band names.