Jackass Forever came out earlier this year, just when it felt like we were seeing the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. Even if it wasn’t necessarily the best of the series, for a lot of us it probably felt like a godsend that it even existed. Enough time has passed that we can acknowledge that Jackass is one of, if not the greatest American cultural products of late 20th and early 21st century.
If Johnny Knoxville is the brains behind Jackass, and Chris Pontius is the penis, Steve-O is the pathos. Arguably the wildest of the Jackass crew, Steve-O was always so up for anything, so eager to please, that it looked like he might legitimately kill himself. Often it made you wonder, “Is this guy okay? Am I hurting this man by enjoying his antics?”
These days, miracle of miracles, it seems like Stephen Glover, aka Steve-O, actually is okay. He looks healthy, he has a fianceé, and a reasonably thriving career as a stand-up performer. How he got from college dropout locally famous for throwing himself off bridges to 48-year-old homeowner with a monogamous relationship and stylish eyeglass frames is largely the story of his new book, A Hard Kick In The Nuts: What I’ve Learned From A Lifetime of Poor Decisions.
In this, his second book, Steve-O takes us on his journey from substance abuse to recovery to veganism and animal rights activism to stand-up comedy to sex addiction and second recovery all the way to today. It’s full of the kind of sage life advice, aphorisms, and introspection one often gleans in recovery, but also some of the stories that got him there. Like the time he woke up in an 18-year-old bartender’s childhood bed, surrounded by her stuffed animals and then had to go meet her parents. Or the time he ruined his relationship with Kat Von D partly by telling such stories, onstage, with her in the audience.
With Steve-O, the wildness is implied. But if we come for the hijinks, we stay for the pathos. Like this sweet little passage about Ryan Dunn:
Ryan’s death, like many deaths, I suppose, was a shock but not entirely a surprise. Before I got sober, the dynamic of our friendship was much like the dynamic of many of my friendships back then: I annoyed the shit out of him, and he barely tolerated me. I kind of respected the fact that he never even bothered to try to hide how much I got on his nerves. But after I sobered up, our relationship deepened, even though Dunn’s drinking never slowed down.
Anyway, I got to pick Steve-O’s brain this week, about the physical toll of being America’s ne’er-do-well little brother, what it actually means when celebrities “write” a memoir, his life on the road, and his future plans for a massive wild animal park styled on Graceland.
So when you’re doing these book events, I don’t know if there are readings involved, but you talk in the book about needing to be the center of attention and needing validation from the crowd. I imagine it’s a lot different when you’re reading and people are sitting there quietly versus a comedy show where you’re getting instant feedback on everything.
I’m not particularly interested in sitting there and reading my book to anybody, I think that would be painful for all involved. Not that it’s a bad book, but I just think that reading passages from books is a little bit lame. What I have been doing is Q&As. I’ve actually been enjoying that a lot. There was a book signing at Barnes & Noble in New York City, which started out as a Q&A discussion and then the book signing, and they have since completely nixed the Q&A part because I’ve proven to be by far the slowest author ever. I just sit there and talk to people and take f*cking forever. They were losing their minds over me. The store was supposed to have been closed at 9:00 PM and I was still going at 10:30. They hated me.
You have a co-writer listed on the book. I always wonder how that works. What’s that writing process like?
Worth mentioning that it’s the same writer who I did my first book with. And the first book we did together was his first book, period. Both of our first books. I remember I picked David Peisner because he had written an article about me for Spin Magazine, and I had a fairly really good experience with him over the few days that we worked on that. And I told him that I’d like to work on a book with him and that it was important to me that I make that decision before his article comes out, which is a silly, dumb thing. But it worked out really well. And what the process looked like was a fairly insane amount of time recorded. Tape recorded interviews, conversations. I believe for the first book we tape recorded 70 hours of conversations. And then the second book was less, I think more like 40 hours. Those tapes got transcribed by a stenographer, and once it was all transcribed, David Peisner effectively pored through it and created drafts of chapters. Then as soon as he finishes a draft of a chapter, he sends it to me and I revise it, send it back to him, and he incorporates my changes, sends it back to me, and I revise it again.
As we approached the delivery date for the original manuscript, I asked David — because since we wrote the first book, he’s done nothing but write books, he’s become quite the prolific co-writer/ghost writer — and so I asked him when we finished this one, in the 12 years since the first book, has there been anybody who’s been more psycho as far as meticulous attention to detail and just tweaking over every little thing? And he said, no, not even close. I’m super proud of that. I really did f*cking agonize over every detail. And I remember describing as the deadline loomed that I felt that I was really at a breaking point, which is rich, considering my job is to revise the fucking work he did. But I took it seriously and it was a lot. And then every stage of the book process just presents a shit ton of work, dude. I don’t remember the first book being like this, but f*ck this one was just a lot of work, man.
So I have to ask this because I just got back from physical therapy myself, and I wasn’t even in Jackass. So how often do you have to do physical therapy, pain management stuff for various injuries, and then how hard is that to do when you’re traveling on the road for a tour?
I’ve been largely super lucky with that. I’m in really pretty good shape overall. With that said, this right shoulder, it just seems to be falling apart on me. And that’s got nothing to do with any specific injury or incident, I think it’s just normal 48-year-old shit. What I do have in my neck, I’ve got degenerative disc disease, which is just, again, it’s mostly just 40-year-old shit, but it’s from throwing my body around a lot. That’s not really reached a point of being painful or debilitating, it’s just looming as an issue. And other than that, f*ck dude, I can tell that I’m doing myself a major disservice by not having a super disciplined stretching regimen. That, I think, is going to replace my lifetime regret, from not diligently flossing, to I think not stretching is going to overtake it.
So when you’re sober and you’re dealing with a disc disease, what is the line in terms of pain management and what you allow yourself to do for painkillers and stuff?
Like I said, the degenerative disc disease in my neck has not presented as a painful or debilitating situation yet. With that said, in my 14 years of sobriety, I’ve been through some f*cking horrific shit. I basically shattered my ankle. I had a plate and 11 screws put into my ankle. And I’ve had all kinds of surgeries since I got sober. And my rule is that when I’m in the hospital going into surgery, of course I’m going to have anesthesia. So whatever a doctor puts through an IV into my arm that I have no control over, that’s okay. But once I leave the hospital, I don’t fill out a prescription for painkillers. I’ve not filled out a single prescription for painkillers since I got sober. Everything’s been Tylenol and Advil and in the most horrific situations, Tylenol and Advil at the same time. It’s amazing how effective both of those f*cking things are.
A lot of teeth gritting, I imagine.
Yeah, I remember my ankle being really gnarly. I remember there was some gum graft surgery, some bone graft surgery. There was third degree burns. I definitely had a lot of crazy pain. And I think part of me just really gets a kick out of my belligerent refusal to take painkillers. When it’s really bad I’m just like “Man, I’m gnarly.”
So in the book, you met your fianceé when you were supposed to do a stunt for a Pepsi commercial that you weren’t thrilled about because you were anti-soda.
Yeah. It’s crazy too because during my lows with my diet, at times when I’ve been able to just sit down and just f*cking murder a entire bag of fun-sized Butterfingers, but even through those times, I’m just like, nope, not soda.
Man’s got to have a code, right?
Right. So between the soda thing and the meat thing — I’m less strict about dairy, but philosophically I’m very angry at dairy too, anything to do with factory farming really upsets me — so promoting Papa John’s pizza and Pepsi Cola… I love that I say in my book that at that time, that’s what it cost to buy my, I forget how we worded it, but my morality, my ethical standards could be bought for around $30,000.
I feel like that is probably true of a lot of people. So you ended up getting paid without them using the stunt, which seems like a perfect scenario. Are there any other endorsements or things like that that have worked out that way where you’ve gotten paid for not using something?
Correct. I can’t think of anything off the top of my head that was such a lucrative false alarm, no.
Are there other endorsements or things like that where you felt like you were…
Selling my soul?
Yeah. Things that you regretted or felt weird about.
For sure. Again, I can’t really think of anything but what’s more at the forefront of my mind is the things that I’ve actually turned down, where I’ve actually exercised some integrity. I don’t necessarily need to throw anybody under the bus, but there was some garbage snack that was all about dairy that actually was a six figure offer, and I turned it down. I was pretty stoked about that.
In the book you write about your relationship with Kat Von D and how that ended partly because she wasn’t super cool with you talking about being a sex addict on stage.
Yeah, she was a private person and I’m categorically not. So that whole dynamic really, I think that was the general basis for things not really being promising for a long term.
Right. So what is it about your current fiancee that makes her cool with you writing about it in a book and being open with that stuff?
I think that the world is full of, maybe not full, but I think that there are a lot of people who have serious issues with acting out sexually in a destructive manner, who don’t acknowledge that they have that issue and they just continue to do it. They cheat, whatever. I would prefer, and I believe I can say this about my fiance, that she would also prefer for me to acknowledge that I had an issue and really, really care about addressing that issue and conducting myself with integrity, accountability, and doing the right thing. I’d rather call myself out for having done the wrong thing and be really careful to do the right thing moving forward than not call myself out and be a f*cking scumbag.
Sure. But do you think that’s part of it, where it’s one thing to talk about it for you, but if there’s a way to make it so she doesn’t have to hear it every time… Do you do some separation there or say, “Hey, don’t read these chapters” or whatever?
That’s precisely what it is. I think that my girl, her name’s Lux (Wright). Lux never read my first book. She knew that it had all kinds of debaucherous shit in there that she didn’t really want to know about. And this book, she’s been fairly careful to avoid certain parts. And with that said, she knows about all the chapters that she hasn’t read. But yeah, I respect that she doesn’t want to read shit that is potentially upsetting to her. And it’s tough when you’re setting about writing a book like this. I think what was important in both in the book and in my life in general is that addressing these subjects is done in a way that doesn’t glorify it.
Is that partly something that you deal with in when you’re doing shares in recovery? Like some people when they’re doing shares, they ride that line between trying to acknowledge what was bad and not just reliving their glory days?
Sure. Yeah. In the whole recovery space, or I should say in the recovery community, we definitely try to avoid war stories that are going to glorify our active addiction. I think I’m pretty good about that. We call it sharing in a general way what we used to be like, what happened and what we’re like now. So you want to qualify as an addict, but you don’t want to overly revel in the “what it was like” part.
I was curious about what your dad’s like. You mentioned him obliquely in the book. I know he was a corporate guy. What is he like?
Dad… I describe my dad as just almost a human calculator. I don’t want to say he’s devoid of emotion, but he’s a pure logic machine and not particularly emotive. I think that’s probably the best way to put it. And with respect to the nature of my art and how much of it goes against his sensibilities, Dad’s really, really good at compartmentalizing. He can. And he is really enthusiastic about the business. Here’s a thing I think that is pretty rad, and I don’t even think it’s in the book, but there’s this saying, which I believe was attributed to Andrew Carnegie. I might be wrong about that. But the saying is, the first third of your life is for making mistakes. The second third of your life is for making money. And the final third of your life is for giving that money away.
And if we were to, for the sake of round numbers, call a lifespan 100 years, I got sober when I was 33 and really, really did a great job of checking the mistakes box. And when I got sober in 2008 with the financial crisis, my life was in such shambles. I had every reason to believe that my earnings potential had either completely evaporated or was about to fall off a f*cking cliff. And my savings were more than half gone from the financial crisis. So I, in early sobriety, I switched into a mindset because I didn’t even think I was going to be f*cking alive. I was pretty sure that I’d be dead. Now all of a sudden I might be alive for many more decades? It was scary. So I got proactive since I got sober about trying to be more savvy in business. And I think that’s brought my dad and I super closer together. Since I got sober I’ve more and more exhibited my dad’s traits and our relationship is just so awesome as a result. Dad’s on my payroll now. It’s crazy.
Well, I could pepper you for a lot longer, but I don’t want to make you late for your next thing, and I appreciate all the time you gave me.
Hey man, it’s all good. I appreciate you as well. And just to finish the thought about the trimesters of life. Absolutely I want to just be as f*cking aggressive as possible at business so that I can realize my vision, Lux and I, our vision of employing hundreds of people to take care of thousands of animals and to figure out a way to do that that affords me my own little Graceland-style f*cking spot. I want to have my own little museum because I’m a super attention whore ego maniac. I’m so jealous, I was just recently in Memphis and visited Graceland, and I was like, oh my God. This f*cking guy Elvis has been dead longer than he was alive, still people are flocking to this f*cking place, I’m just so jealous of that.
That’s your goal?
Well, I just thought it was on our own path we arrived at wanting to get a big property and open up an animal sanctuary. And it makes sense that for that to be a successful, sustainable thing, that it should have its own revenue streams. So incorporating some Graceland-like model, if that’s going to help the place be self-sufficient, then f*ck yeah. It almost seems to just be synergistic with what a ego maniac attention whore I am and our lofty goals of what we want to do. So yeah, man, that’s super where my head’s at and I’m in that second trimester of life and I’m going for it.