Jackass Forever: Steve-O continues to film unhinged stunts from a newly grounded place

The comedian and ‘Jackass’ star on pushing the boundaries, sobriety and the joy of having paralyzing drugs injected directly into your spinal cavity

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Steve-O

In seventh grade, when Steve-O was 12 years old, he heard a joke: “What is the definition of macho? A man who jogs home from his own vasectomy.” Rather than outgrowing or forgetting the punchline, Steve-O, born Stephen Glover, socked it away, finally revisiting it this past year for a video bit that he will replay as part of his “Bucket List Tour,” which stops at the Davidson Theatre on Sunday, Jan. 16.

“I’ve had that idea in my head since I was 12: ‘Man, I’ll get a vasectomy and do much more than jog,’” said Steve-O, who first emerged on the scene more than two decades ago as arguably the wildest cast member on the reality comedy series “Jackass,” which aired for three seasons on MTV following its October 2000 premiere and spawned a half-dozen full-length features, including the forthcoming “Jackass Forever,” slated to land in theaters in February. “And so, I was sitting on this idea that turned into the Vasectomy Olympics.”

Filmed in the immediate aftermath of Steve-O’s vasectomy operation, the Olympics joins other high-stakes videos being screened on this tour, including the X-rated Skyjacking (don’t ask) and another bit in which the comedian and daredevil has a numbing agent injected directly into his spinal cavity designed to induce paralysis from the waist down, after which he immediately shifts into a running sprint that lasts until his entire body gives out, violently tumbling into a helpless heap.

“And the drugs in my spinal cavity take effect, and I collapse, and my buddies are around me trying to figure out just how paralyzed I am, which is super dark and creepy, and absolutely, deliciously crazy,” said Steve-O, 47, who noted that the drug ended up incapacitating him from the chest down. “So my whole body was numb, and it was the scariest thing, and nobody could understand why I was just laying there sobbing. I was truly, uncontrollably crying, and through the tears I managed to say, ‘The bar for my stunts is so high, and we’ve raised it.’ And I’m sobbing these tears of joy, like, ‘We’re killing it. We’re killing it.’”

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Steve-O said the stunt, like many of the videos filmed and screened during “The Bucket List Tour,” for which he provides a running commentary, could never have been cleared for “Jackass,” and were done absent insurance or other legal clearances. “It’s just flagrantly illegal shit,” said Steve-O, who alternately described this current round of shows as “The Bottom of the Barrel Tour,” since it’s composed of bits that have long existed in his mind but were “too messed up to actually go through with.” “The idea was to do the craziest shit ever, before it became too creepy to watch me do it due to my age.”

While Steve-O described his current arsenal of stunts as his most unhinged, debauched recordings to-date, the material was filmed at a point in time when he’s perhaps at his most grounded, sober since 2008 and newly engaged to be married.

“It’s kind of dark, but [when I started on this path 20 years ago], I was in the grips of hard drugs and alcohol, and I just considered myself someone who wasn’t going to be around for very long,” he said. “So my entire motivation, and the only thing that was important to me, was the idea of outliving my years by having made a mark with video. In my mind, it was like, ‘I’m not gonna live long; I’m gonna live forever.’ I was trying to be this super notable, crazy, reckless guy who everyone was going to remember after he died super young.”

This perspective started to shift in 2008 when Steve-O entered into rehab and dedicated himself to 12-step recovery, a process he said involved “developing humility and smashing the ego" and left him wondering if it would even be possible to continue a career in entertainment, which felt counterintuitive to these aims.

These early sober years often left Steve-O grasping, his uncertainty compounded by the stress of having his finances obliterated by both the 2008 market collapse and an inability to score new work, owing largely to his pre-sobriety reputation as unreliable and destructive. “The world was in shambles, and I had no way of relying on my earnings potential in the short term, let alone the long term, when this career in entertainment is precarious for anybody,” he said. “And I’m confronted with the terrifying possibility that I might actually be looking at many more decades of being alive, which I had never even contemplated the possibility of.”

Amid all of this, Steve-O received a call from his agent, who opened a pitch by saying, “I’ve got something where you’re either going to want to punch me in the face, or you’re going to think it’s great.” Months later, as a result of that call, Steve-O appeared as a contestant on the 2009 season of “Dancing with the Stars,” which allowed him to take a cautious first step back into the world of on-camera entertainment, with rehearsals taking place in Los Angeles just down the street from the sober living halfway house he called home at the time.

“And it was a terrible experience, mostly because I was nervous appearing on live TV doing something I was so bad at,” Steve-O said, and laughed. “But I figured out how to work in that capacity and to really lean on my network of people in recovery, and I started to figure it all out.”

Around the same time, Steve-O immersed himself more heavily in standup comedy, which he had first attempted in 2006 after being invited to perform one of his trademark stunts onstage. “And when I walked in, I was like, ‘Dude, there’s no stunt that would be crazier than just trying to do standup,’” he said.

From the outside, the move to more traditional standup could have come across like Steve-O’s attempt to make a break from “Jackass." In actuality, he said, his material largely served as a celebration of his time on the show, with jokes based on his experiences filming. 

Gradually, through this onstage repetition, Steve-O improved his standup craft, which coincided with him beginning to reclaim his voice. “Becoming comfortable in my skin was something that had to happen in time,” he said. “And I think that came through working the 12 steps and building up my self-worth, which I don’t know that I had ever had before that.”

Throughout our 45-minute conversation, Steve-O repeatedly returned to the idea of discomfort, describing his unease at appearing on “Dancing with the Stars,” filming “Jackass 3” as a newly sober person and the reality of describing his plans for “Skyjacking” to his fiancee, who had already expressed an intense discomfort with his ease at disrobing for the camera. So, as the interview wound down, I asked the comedian if he was drawn to discomfort, and if that final bar to clear involved resolving his discomfort with being comfortable, which might allow him to slide more easily into whatever life stage might follow this one.

“I think the human condition comes with a lot of discomfort,” Steve-O replied. “I subscribe to the philosophy of spirituality where identifying as the ego makes everything fear-based. There’s this perpetual state of being restless, irritable and discontented. We’re uncomfortable in our own skin and comparably terrified of life, which I think is amplified for alcoholics. And maybe it’s a little lame to blame it on alcoholism, but I think the more I can be leaning into my recovery and community, and focusing my attention on others, that spirituality can remind me not to be so self absorbed all the time.”