In this business, there’s nothing like talking to a Real American Hero. Unfortunately, this isn’t one of those times.
Or maybe it is. Jackass is one of the most popular shows on MTV, spawning several DVDs, a movie, imitators of its inane and physically hazardous stunts on other shows and countless backyards, and the live Don’t Try This at Home show, hitting the Beehive State just in time for New Year’s Eve. But all is not well for Steve-O, one of the stars of the show. The state of Louisiana filed obscenity and battery charges after a nightclub act there last July in which he stapled his scrotum to his leg and security personnel slammed an audience member into the stage. “Don’t try this at home” is as much disclaimer as catchphrase.
Steve-O recalls that his fascination with taking things beyond the edge began when he was a teenage skateboarder back in the 1980s. In an effort to stand out from his peers—“I didn’t want to be a needle in a haystack,” he recalls—he stole a video camera from his father and started recording his stunts.
“Early ones were like jumping off the roofs of apartment complexes into empty swimming pools we’d skate in,” Steve-O explains. “And setting myself on fire in unconventional ways, like lighting my hair and then letting other people use it as a blowtorch for fire-breathing. And I’d do crazy acrobatic flips with my hair on fire.”
When he was getting ready to send some tapes to MTV for the show, fire was only the first of their concerns. “After our pilot was OKed they asked me to send in all the footage I had and they said they couldn’t use any of it,” he laughs. The Don’t Try This at Home tour should be called the Not Allowed On TV Tour. That all went on my DVDs and the theatrical movie. It’s too hot for TV.” Apparently the stuff we do see on MTV, like wrestling in manure and slugging baseballs at each others groins, has been toned down for the tube. The network’s headaches over Jackass were relieved this April when star Johnny Knoxville quit to make movies and the show ceased production.
Steve-O answers the next question—“Why is Jackass so popular?”—before it’s out of my mouth. “Inherently humans are compelled to turn their heads to look at an accident. People perceive it as self-mutilation, but I submit that any pain that I put myself in is better than the pain people submit themselves to in working shitty jobs. That’s trauma of the soul. Whatever problems people are having in their lives, I distract them from it.
“I am an extreme artist,” he continues. “I graduated from Ringling Brothers clown college. That kind of thing is as old as Coca-Cola, almost as old as America itself. I just believe I have to push it harder to keep it from getting stale.”
The life of a Jackass isn’t all carefree, however. Steve-O admits to being concerned about his upcoming arraignment in February on the Louisiana charges, “but there are six lawyers doing their best to keep me out of jail … I don’t feel I broke the law. I wish it didn’t happen. I hope people understand that it’s not my aim to hurt anyone.”
It was Jackass star Johnny Knoxville who bestowed the “American hero” tag on Steve-O. “I dunno what I think about that,” he muses. “It’s unique to be in the position of protecting the freedom of speech. The ability to exercise the First Amendment that we have is an exception to the rule in most countries. I see myself in a long line of similar cases, like Larry Flynt, Marilyn Manson and Jim Morrison. The case just serves to add me to the list of people upholding the constitution.”
He won’t say much about the Don’t Try This at Home show itself. “I don’t want to spoil the surprise. I party really hard, and make it worth the admission. My ass cashes the check my mouth wrote. The crew is giggling the whole time, we all drink as much as we can during the show. We’ll be in Salt Lake City for four straight days, and it’ll be a much-needed rest.”
Will he cap off the show by taking a header into the Great Salt Lake? “I doubt it.”
Defense of free speech and scrotum stapling notwithstanding,n’t try this stuff on the Main Street Plaza.