The BME vs. Steve-O Interview
"Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things."
- Edgar Degas
While in the UK filming the upcoming BME movie/documentary/mockumentary (scheduled for spring 2004 release), The Lizardman, Martini (one of iWasCured’s frontmen, who’s probably done more flesh hook performances than any other Canadian), Mars (our West Chester secret weapon), and myself had the pleasure of bumping into Steve-O in Cambridge. Most of you know Steve-O from his lead role in MTV’s Jackass as well as his own “Don’t Try This At Home” series of videos, now backed by a live tour.
Armed with nothing but a human lizard and carrying high-grade British weed to pry open the doors, we persuaded Steve-O to allow us an interview before the show.
Marty and Erik (The Lizardman) ham it up for Steve-O’s amusement.
The FREAK was a little bit too much for some of them!
It’s really fun being around people who aren’t used to seeing genital piercings daily.
Steve-O turned out to be one of the most genuine, personable, and funny people I’ve had the opportunity to interview in a long time. I don’t know if I can effectively convey his message with a cold transcript, but I’ll try — Steve-O’s stories are told viscerally, like his act, and the words themselves are only a small part of his repetoire.
In any case, because he’s one of the few celebrities that’s gone to the effort to put up pictures and explanations for all of his tattoos on his website, we began by talking about those.
The Lizardman: Tell me about your tattoos, or, as you put it, your “dumb tattoos”. What’s the main motivation behind them?
Steve-O: I would say a lot of people get tattoos for what the tattoo means to them, but I tend to get tattoos for what the tattoo’s going to mean to everybody else. All my tattoos are supposed to make people giggle.
The Lizardman: You’ve reversed the perspective… instead of “it’s for me”, it’s “for the world”.
Steve-O: Yeah… For example, I’ve got an “I have a small wiener” tattoo.
From viewing his DVDs, and later seeing it live, I did not observe Steve-O’s genitals to be freakishly small — the tattoo really is there not to advertise his shortcomings, but to brighten other’s days (“Feel bad about yourself? Are people laughing at you? Don’t worry about it — you can laugh at me if you’d like”). Over the next hour it would become very clear that Steve-O would martyr himself in an instant if it meant a legacy of humor.
The Lizardman: You seem to have spelled it wrong — Weiner is in fact a small town in Arkansas of about six hundred people. Was that on purpose?
Steve-O: It was completely unintentional — I had it for three days before I realized it! I mean, three days after I got the tattoo I was just like, YES!
The Lizardman: Unexpected bonus, right?
Steve-O: Yeah, totally… And then I have my anagram “I love to bone”, and my Holy Satan fish. This one’s not that funny… it’s just the owner of a bar in Albuquerque. He sold it so I put a sword through his head. Then there’s my smiley face off-road tattoo.
For those that didn’t see it in Jackass: The Movie, Steve-O was tattooed in the back of Henry Rollin’s Hummer as they tore across an off-road track at high speed. Needless to say, it’s a far from “accurate” tattoo — more of a strange blurry stippled mess that vaguely resembles a cluster of stars in the shape of a face — unlike his exceptionally well done full-back self-portrait tattoo.
The Lizardman: Now, when you went into it with the off-road tattooing you obviously knew that the results were not going to be…
Steve-O: Yeah, I expected we’d do the whole arm… The guy showed up ready to do my entire arm!
The Lizardman: You’ve mentioned stuff before about going for records… the world’s largest self portrait tattoo?
Steve-O: I say it all the time. “I have the Guinness Book of World Records largest self portrait, I just haven’t called them yet.” I haven’t talked to them, but I’m sure it’s the biggest.
The Lizardman: That expression in the photo, did you specifically do a photoshoot or did you just pick a photograph you liked?
Steve-O: We had a deliberate photo session to shoot it — just to make a dumb face. It was a toss up… a tough decision between a bunch of them.
At this point Steve-O began to become quite animated, hamming it up and making silly faces to illustrate the photoshoot. It was quite clear that he was happiest answering questions where the answer involved a performance or at least a good joke. It’s not that Steve-O is “always on”, but more that he doesn’t have a stage persona — he’s just Steve-O, onstage or off. The conversation moves back to his primary drive: making people laugh…
The Lizardman: I really like that just by walking down on the street I turn everybody’s day surreal. They may be driving to work and all of a sudden, “What the fuck was that?” It breaks them out of that mindset where they go to work, eat, sleep, die.
Steve-O: Yeah, some people just hate in their day or they’re having a shitty ass day, and they watch half an hour of me doing dumb shit and after that first half hour they didn’t have their shitty day, and life’s not a problem any more… But as much as I like doing the live tour, it’s historical significance I’m after. You know?
The Lizardman: Right.
Steve-O: I want to make people giggle forever.
One of my favorite Steve-O quotes is a scene in one of his DVDs where he’s asked something along the lines of “do you think you’ll ever invite Jesus into your heart?” and he replies “yeah, I might do that one day, but for now I’m pretty much dedicating my life to Satan.” You can tell when he’s said something that amuses him — his face contorts and lights up as he giggles at his own joke, and that spreads to everyone around him.
The Lizardman: Why the Holy Satan Fish? What’s your take on organized religion?
Steve-O: The first person that proved the world is round got stones thrown at him. Religion is just hype — people get religious and they’re not being good because they’re feeling good and acting good: it’s just out of fear or threat. They’re being good to literally to get a place in heaven…
Shannon: But what if that is “the deal”?
Steve-O: What if it is the deal? It’s pretty arrogant for us to feel we deserve our own judge and jury you know.
The Lizardman: I still find a lot of resonance in myself with different Satanic philosophies but I’ve gone away from it because I feel that you’re still playing “their game”.
Steve-O: Yeah, you know, I’m not into worshipping Satan, I’m just into disrespecting Jesus!
The Lizardman: (laughs) I’m not a vegetarian because I love animals, it’s just that I really hate plants.
And, like clockwork, the entire room burst into mutual demonic laughter as Satan scores another victory with the youth of the day.
While Steve-O doesn’t have piercings, he does have a five inch outline of a heart branded on his chest. We asked him about it and found out that like his tattoos, the brand had been done for the benefit of others. Unfortunately the censors killed his message.
Steve-O: Yeah, I should have fucked the lady that gave me the branding… We got permission from MTV to film me getting branded, so I got branded. When the footage came to the censors they said, “Oh we didn’t say anything about any singeing smoking flesh!” and it wasn’t allowed on TV. So I don’t own the footage of getting branded and it’s not allowed on TV so it happened for absolutely nothing… but yeah, I got a heart branding over my heart. A metaphor to show that love hurts.
The Lizardman: Since you said love hurts, give us your take on pain.
Steve-O: I really don’t have a very high threshold for pain. But I do seem to have an overwhelming need for attention that outweighs that! You know?
The Lizardman: I think that if you did have a high threshold for pain your reactions wouldn’t be something that people would want to see.
At this point the band that was opening for Steve-O came on and the noise in the bar we were using became overwhelming and we moved up to the green room where Steve-O told us about performing with the Genitorturers.
Steve-O: I hammered a nail through my scrotum once with the Genitorturers.
The Lizardman: Oh yeah! GEN…
Steve-O: Yeah, the girl that hammers the nail through the scrotum. I don’t think she contributes to the band musically: she’s the actual designated “genital torturer” of the Genitorturers. She helped me hammer a nail through my scrotum into my leg.
The Lizardman: Have you heard of Hell On Earth? It’s a band they worked with on their film. In their act they put three live rats into a blender, spin them around, drink it, and then pour the rest on the crowd.
Steve-O: Wow. Is that legal?
The Lizardman: That’s why they don’t go outside of Florida. The last time I was down there, for their Halloween show, the guy fucked a calf corpse on stage. He had painted his ex-girlfriend’s name on the side of it, and when he was done said, “That’s the last time I’ll fuck that cow!”
Steve-O: Having sex with a calf corpse on stage…
Steve-O’s Lawyer: And he nutted on stage?
The Lizardman: Oh yeah. He took a sawhorse and mounted what was left of the calf on it.
Steve-O: Did he get a boner? You know, full boner?
Preston Lacy: Full boner?
The Lizardman: Oh yeah, he jerked off — they all jerk off on stage all the time.
Steve-O’s Lawyer: Full boner?
Steve-O’s lawyer, who he travels with (for obvious reasons) was impressed due to his attempts earlier that night — on a $100 bet — to masturbate to orgasm in under 60 seconds. He had enough trouble doing it with the entourage around, let alone buried in a calf corpse!
The Lizardman: Their keyboardist wraps his dreads in anal beads but he makes sure they’re used — he’ll take a new one out of a package throw it out into the crowd and he won’t put it in his hair until he pulls it out of somebody’s ass.
Steve-O: Nice. Yeah, you know I’m always reaching into people’s asses.
The Lizardman: I pull half my show out of my ass.
Steve-O’s Lawyer: Have you got any wiener piercing stuff?
Steve-O: Let’s see some cock and balls.
The Lizardman whips out his bits for a quick show’n'tell, tapping his large apadravya on the lense of the camera not far from Steve-O’s face.
Steve-O: Yeah nice! You know… I’ll fuck with my scrotum and shit but that shit I’m just not down for.
Marty whips it out as well, showing off his giant scrotal ring.
Preston Lacy: Hey! I know you!
Steve-O: OK, stick it in my mouth dude.
The Lizardman: Given that you did the nail, which is generally known as CBT (“Cock and Ball Torture”), is that something you get into in your personal life, sexually, or is it strictly a stage thing for you at that point?
Steve-O: Well, I try to steer clear of activities that are other people are doing. People get their wieners pierced but I’m trying to make up my own stuff. I’m okay with piercing my nut sack with staples and stuff, but I’m simply not okay with piercing my shaft (laughs).
The Lizardman: So it’s strictly a performance aspect for you?
Steve-O: Yeah… It’s really not sexual in nature for me.
The Lizardman: Because there are a lot of people to whom it is a huge sexual thing. There are some that are just performance and there are people that blur the line: “This is how I do it at home, and this is how I do it on the stage.”
Steve-O: Oh… okay…
The Lizardman: Yeah, that’s my thing, I’ve nailed my dick to a board for a show and that’s great, but at home I just want the piercing.
Steve-O: Yeah, yeah, yeah… it’s understandable. (Very uncomfortable laughing).
I wish I could convey Steve-O’s expression at this point. It’s clear we’re moving into territory where he’s starting to think, “the Human Lizard is weird enough, but who pounds nails through their junk for fun?
” Best to move away from that line of questioning!
The Lizardman: How much do you look at people in performance art at its height? Back in the 70′s and 80′s people were doing things like being crucified to a VW bug and being shot. Do you at all bring in that idea, or were they any influence to your show?
Steve-O: I’d say the biggest influence for me has always just been falling off of skateboards. But I did go to Ringling Brothers’ Barnum and Bailey’s Clown College. I can’t say I’ve really drawn from other influences much — I’ve picked up different things from different people. It’s really more of an attitude than a specific act.
The Lizardman: How was your experience with Clown College? It’s been basically shut down now.
Steve-O: Yeah, I was the last class.
The Lizardman: Your experience with them was very positive… or?
Steve-O: Well, they didn’t offer me a contract after I graduated you know.
The Lizardman: So it could have been better (laughs).
Steve-O: They kind of knew better than to hire me once I got through Clown College. My only goal with it was to take all of this irresponsible behavior that I was videotaping and by getting the Ringling Brothers on my resume bringing legitimacy to all this idiotic shit. And it really worked you know. Even though I didn’t get a contract with them, having the bragging rights is beneficial… “Oh, so that’s why this idiot lights himself on fire and jumps off buildings.”
The Lizardman: How do you feel about imitators getting hurt?
Steve-O: I’ve done what I’ve done for years and I’ve kinda figured it out… I feel like I’ve earned the right to call myself a professional. I mean, I’m a professional and I simply don’t think that Tony Hawk is responsible every time a kid falls off a skateboard. Anyway, if kids are getting badly hurt then they’re not copying me ’cause I’m a pussy.
The Lizardman: How about the other side of it where people think there’s a trick?
Steve-O: They can suck my dick.
The Lizardman: Do you get a lot of that? From my experience I get a lot of people coming up and saying, “that couldn’t have been real” — how much more do you want? You got to stand two feet from it and it happened.
Steve-O: Yeah, fuck them.
Shannon: The biggest “couldn’t be real” is probably the five shots IV drip.
Steve-O: We kept it mixed with saline but, yeah, we absolutely put five in… I wasn’t trying to die though.
Shannon: We ran the math on that and we figured there’s a good chance you weren’t going to make it…
Steve-O: I had an unemployed registered nurse (laughs) that I talked into giving me the drip and we figured that it since enters my bloodstream directly it’s going to be instant. If I were to get woozy she’d stop the drip — you would know if anything went wrong right away.
The Lizardman: So if someone dies doing this, they’re not really imitating you because you went through the research and you found what would help you out. There was thought that went behind it.
Steve-O: I do put a lot of thought into what I do, but my career kind of relies on me maintaining this impression that I’m really idiotic and reckless. People find out that I’m not really idiotic and reckless and everybody’s going to go bankrupt it’s a nightmare.
We pause to light up a joint, and after a long drag, we continue.
Steve-O: I didn’t know what I was doing the other day when Ryan Dunn fuckin’ strangled me unconscious six times.
Steve-O: Then I put a beer bong in my butt hole…
The Lizardman: Oh yes! Enema alcohol will fuck you up!
Steve-O: We poured beer into the beer bong into my butt — I was kicking my legs. I was able to pound six ounces of beer at least into my ass and then I pulled out the beer bong and hiked up my ass up over my head and farted beer into my mouth. It was called the butt chug. Yeah, the butt chug.
One of the things that also struck me about Steve-O’s website was that he actually took part in the forums personally. I asked him why he went to the effort… While it was clear that he genuinely cared for his fans, not many celebrities go the extra mile and actually keep a channel of personal contact open… The answer should have been obvious!
Steve-O: Because I’m a ham. I love reading shit about myself. (laughs)
Before really understanding what Steve-O was about, we’d considered the question that now seems irrelevant: why not do more “hardcore” acts? After all, suspension and body modification groups have been doing intense physical shows for a long time, and I think coming from that realm one can easily make the mistake of judging both types of shows by the same standards. Apples and oranges…
The Lizardman: Have you ever considered doing a flesh hook suspension?
Steve-O: Flesh hooks … Nah. I’m not really into picking up other people’s shit you know.
The Lizardman: There’s always another variation of it though.
Steve-O: Well, one time I had gaffer tape (kind of like duct tape but it’s a little less sticky) and I wrapped it around my cock and balls and I wanted to run a line out…
The Lizardman: You wanted to do a pull?
Steve-O: Well, not like a pull, I was really ambitious. I wanted to lay down on the ground and get hoisted up. I know the counter-balancing is doable, but it was for this live TV show in England. I wound up not going for the hoist but I changed the stunt to “unwrapping the wiener mummy”. You can show cock and balls on English television — prime time network television — as long as the cock’s not hard.
The Lizardman: Mr. Lifto, after he tore, he used to duct tape his dick back together because it was split in two. He used to say that unwrapping the tape was the worst part he ever had to go through… So if you were completely mummified…
Steve-O: Yeah, the duct tape’s the worst. But it turned out pretty funny.
The Lizardman: We talked about this a little before, but a lot of people will take something that is real, like stapling for instance… I know a million magicians who do “stapling” — when I staple it’s for real, and obviously you staple for real. What do you think about people who are doing that in terms of faking it?
Steve-O: Faking it? Yeah, fuck them.
The Lizardman: It gets to the point where everybody walks up, and if they see one person fake it, they think you do too. Even if you’re bleeding your guts out.
Steve-O: I love a good bleeding staple hole, and I mean, you kind of get the sense right away that we’re not faking it in our show.
The Lizardman: That’s what I love about a good skewer hole. I pull it out and I’m like — there — look — you think that’s fucking fake? You try it.
Steve-O: Yeah, I’m pretty much stapling my ballsack to my leg every night… I’m looking for new space, going for different sides… Looking for new real-estate…
It’s easy to write Steve-O off as a drunk kid that’s fallen into being a hired-gun class clown when you see him pulling stunts like jumping off bridges in London after a night of drinking with friends… But he does have a serious side as well, and occasionally one sees that he might have a larger purpose.
The Lizardman: The corpse performance — are you still thinking about that, or what’s going on?
Steve-O: My first cousin is a licensed mortician and a funeral director, so he contacted me and I was just thinking, shit, my cousin plays with dead bodies for a living, and I videotape shit for a living… so I wanted to put it together — I was just curious how you’d go about getting a release form for a dead person.
Shannon: Oh, you don’t need to. I used to run a business specializing in wet part trade and it’s “no questions asked.” But on a moral level you can’t do it.
Steve-O: Yeah, that’s why I changed it. My first idea was to have the next of kin and interview them — you know, propose it to the family members that I wanted to do this public service announcement where I’d take a dead corpse and sort of mush the jaw and the lips around and the corpse would say things like, “Hey kids, I’m here to tell you to practice safe sex or you’ll wind up dead like me.”
By the nature of having a positive message I’m using inappropriate fucking around with this dead body to do something good. I’d say that that justifies it, and I don’t think I could be criticized for playing around with a dead body. But then I thought about it more and had a lot of feedback from people on the site and I kind of revised the idea, where I’m putting it out in the media that those are my intentions, and I’m just going to let it rest until someone who’s terminally ill approaches me to properly secure the rights so that we know it’s really their wishes.
Hopefully when they die, I’ll go through the preparation for death with them, and I’ll be counting on this person to come to terms with dying and die in peace… I need you to die in peace motherfucker so I’m not shitting my pants! Then when we do this puppet act, I’m just carrying out the wishes of the dead person… I’m not doing anything wrong.
It’s going to upset everyone, but then when it upsets them I’m going to say, well look, if it upsets you to think about a dead body then how the fuck are you going go about becoming a dead body, you stupid fuck? With this ridiculous safe sex message from the corpse, really, I’m just trying to force people to contemplate the idea that we’re all going to die, because who wants to die thinking the last thought, “I should have… I should have… I should have…”
The Lizardman: But of course dying and thinking, wow I’m dying and I’m going to be Steve-O’s puppet in a couple of hours… That’s kind of a neat thought too!
Shannon: Your stunts are planned, but they’re also risky — you don’t want to die, but…
Steve-O: Without the element of risk, it’s not really worth doing. But you can minimize the risks and stack the odds in your favor. I don’t want to die — ultimately I want to live forever.
Shannon: But you’re doing risky stunts; if you do eventually get killed doing a stunt — say you jump out of a hotel window, miss the pool, and that’s the end of you… What message do you want that death to have?
Steve-O: I don’t know man … everyday for me now is just bonus. I’m so lucky to have survived life so far. You could shoot me dead right now and still not be able to stop me from making people giggle for like generations to come you know. We’re all going to die, but I’m going to continue to make people giggle!
I can’t tell you conclusively if Steve-O is just a likeable guy that does funny acts who’s found himself on stage through a strange set of right-place-right-time coincidences, or if he’s an avante guarde performance artist fighting to spread his message through low-brow physical humor. His own answers are evasive on the subject — as far as his public message is concerned, his show is “all about getting drunk.”
I can’t tell you how most of his fans interpret it, but I’m not sure that it really matters to the thousands of screaming fans at his sold out shows… They’re walking away laughing with their sorrows far away.
But I can tell you what was clear — he genuinely cares for his fans, he’s monstrously funny in person, and he puts on one of the more unique sideshows you can see. My take on who is is: a sacrificial lamb on the altar of humor. I don’t know if the world will remember him, but they will keep giggling, and he and the subculture surrounding him have made a permanent and unique mark. Steve-O offers himself up for tortures in order to bring laughter to his fans.
Preston’s disturbingly funny “two man tighty-whitey” act.
Ryan Dunn is passed from balcony to stage by the crowd.
Recommendation to hecklers: avoid Steve-O shows.
After smashing a lightbulb on his head and using it to slash up his tongue.
Stapling the bras and panties thrown at him by the crowd to himself.
One of Steve-O’s other signature acts, stapling his scrotum to his leg.