Steve-O has just blown pube smoke in my face. He's stuffed a freshly-shaved
tuft of his pubic hair into the gap between his little and ring finger, got his exasperated
tour manager to light it and sucked the hole in his fist heartily. The acrid smell of singed hair gives me an immediate headache.
It's a trick that was suggested to Steve-O by a fan, but in the fan's version it's weed you smoke. Steve-O is sober, so pubes will have to do. He has given me command of his Snapchat and asked me to film him, to give the fans what they want. A couple of hours later he'll take to the stage in Liverpool to perform his stand-up-cum-pub-trick extravaganza, which he's touring across Europe.
The show is a mash-up of stories, anecdotes and light entertainment. Punctuating the tales of broken bones and arrests are balancing acts, mild nudity and an act that involves turning members of the crowd into a table. It's a very classic style of amusement, which is at odds with Steve's obsession with maintaining a strong social media presence.
"I'll certainly agonise over [my social media] to try and continue to build my following," he explains. "I agonise over that way more than I should. There's just a sense of chasing my fucking tail, you know? Trying to keep up with it all. What am I going to do to keep the image going?"
The image of Steve-O is, in theory, a fairly easy one to grasp. Steve-O – real name Stephen Glover – is easily in the top three stars of auto-injury megalith Jackass, along with puppet master Johnny Knoxville and ageing problem child Bam Margera. He was always the most extreme – the one most willing to put himself in harm's way, to debase himself, cover himself in shit, piss, vomit and the rest. But the fire of this extreme personality dies down at home.
After a long and dangerous tête-à-tête with drugs and alcohol – the topics which form the funniest and most exhilarating stories of his show – Steve-O is now stone cold sober, the realities of which he thinks would perhaps let down his fans.
"My days at home would be terribly disappointing to the people who consider me a wild maniac from Jackass," he says. "They'd be like, 'Wow, it's fucking boring!' [laughs]. Which is fine with me – I live a double life, there's no question about that. In my personal life I'm far more responsible and health-conscious... I've heard people say that they think I'm a much nicer guy than they expected me to be, which kind of fucking drives me nuts a little bit. People assume I'm a dickwad; people think I'm a right cock, you know? That brings on anxiety. Maybe I should work on seeming nicer."
This strikes me as strange, because for all of Steve-O's on-screen escapades, one thing that never comes across is him being a bad guy. He is constantly affable, the archetypal stoner buddy, always laughing in his distinctive way. The laugh that makes his skinny face contort into a blend of the dramatic masks of comedy and tragedy – sad eyes and a beaming white grin. It's easy to see the duality in him, though, because when he isn't cackling and smoking his own pubes he's contemplative and chooses his words carefully. To be fair, it's what you'd expect of a man of 42 who's been around the block. But it's easy to forget that him and the rest of the Jackass cast aren't skater kids any more, because, by and large, they still act like it. Some of them, understandably, yearn for those halcyon days, but Steve-O isn't so keen.
"Nothing like that had ever happened before and it will never happen again, the way I see it. I think it would be really wrong not to be protective of that," he says. "At the same time, too, there's the fact that we push our luck dramatically. Knoxville getting in front of bulls is the hardest thing to watch. You can see me in the movies – I'm just not OK with it, man. Personally, I feel pretty unaccountable for anything I do with sharks, but same difference. All of us have come far enough – to see Knoxville get in front of a bull and end up in a wheelchair... it'd be really upsetting. But to watch a Jackass movie where he didn't get in front of a bull would be a fucking let down!"
Aside from not wanting to see his friends get hurt, perhaps the kind of sensitivity that comes with maturity, Steve-O feels that a big reunion would rain on the personal parade he's spent so long cultivating. "I almost don't want there to be another Jackass movie because I've worked hard to build my own momentum, and for me to have a little bit of traction, and to be able to be getting away with having a career beyond Jackass... I want to keep that going," he says. "But I would never turn down anything Jackass-related."
Before the interview begins, Steve-O reveals a crinkled water bottle filled with a brownish-yellow liquid. It is, of course, filled with urine. Steve-O's urine. Urine given to him by a fan at his London show that is apparently 13 years old. So what to do with 13-year-old wild man piss? Naturally: test it for drugs.
Steve gleefully opens up the drug testing kit and carefully pours the piss into a cup, while a friend of his films it on a camera. "If this really is my piss there's definitely drugs in it," he says. The results, sadly, are negative. This bums Steve-O out for a few moments. Always the showman, he feels as if he's somehow let everyone down by not having his decade-old effluence being contaminated with traces of cocaine and weed.
"I've always been such a fucking attention whore, you know?" he says. "From childhood it was just all 'Look at me! Look at me!' I just was so unreasonably hungry for attention from birth, it seems. The idea of fame and celebrity is just that much more sparkly and magical to me, because, wow, these people get all the attention that I always wanted! So I think that the allure of fame and celebrity to me is more so than to another person, and so I'm more turned on by encountering it."
As with many who yearn for attention – and, by extension, to be loved – Steve-O is racked with anxiety about his success, how he can move forward and whether or not anyone wants what he has to give. He voices his concerns about a movie he wants to make, and if anyone will even care.
"Maybe I'm not big enough of a star to have a fucking big movie, and maybe I've just flung myself into this fucking movie and nothing is going to happen and I'm not going to get catapulted to some other level of success," he says. "Maybe there's no higher level of success, maybe I'm just where I'm at and it's just going to fizzle and fizzle, and soon I won't have the potential that I've enjoyed for however long. I'll have fantasies about [retiring], but I know I would go crazy and I would be miserable if I did. I don't want to get to a destination. I want to stay active and always be striving for something. I don't want to arrive anywhere."
But even if greater mainstream success doesn't reach him, you feel as if Steve-O's core fans will always be there, because he means more to them than they do to him. He gave a loveable face to the anxious outsider eager to please at any cost, and he's still that guy. His shows are filled with adults who yearn for days of getting wasted in parks after school and mindlessly kicking trees. People who want to light their farts on camera, but instead have to work a 9 to 5. Steve-O is still living that life, still smoking pubes, still piss testing age-old urine. His constancy has turned him from zany school pal into trusted old friend, and it's comforting to have that certainty, especially at a time like this.
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