Almost a decade ago, Steve-O, the multi-tattooed, sadomasochistic court jester from MTV’s transgressive stunt show/ movie franchise Jackass, went on tour to entertain audiences all over the world. People flocked from miles around to see the man do such feats as setting himself (or someone they knew) on fire, getting kicked in the nether regions by audience members or engaging in other reckless, dangerous acts that could endanger him and others around him.
Now cut to today. The man who once said that he had “the least consideration for my own well-being” (that’s from one of his infamous Don’t Try This at Home videos) is now a more serene, cautious dude. He’s three years sober. He’s a vegan, not even letting coffee or soda enter his body. He’s also doing Pilates, mostly to aid with back problems brought on by, of course, years of damaging Jackass stunts.
These days, the biggest stunt Steve-O is doing in front of crowds is performing stand-up, as evidenced by the stint he did as the headliner at Goodnights Comedy Club in Raleigh last weekend. What originally started as a hobby he did on and off back in LA has now turned into a new career for the man who long ago said he went into the daredevil business because 1) he hated work and 2) he wanted to be “remembered forever.” Far from the drunken, drug-fueled nihilist he once was, Steve-O still managed to give off his trademark goofball demeanor (complete with oh-so-recognizable laugh) as he hit the mic for the 8 p.m. show on Saturday night.
After two opening comics, Steve-O shuffled to the stage as Deniece Williams’ “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” played over the speakers. Looking like the sk8er boi man-child he is in a T-shirt, jeans, skate shoes and baseball cap cocked to the side, he did his signature cackle and asked the audience if they attended the show because they enjoyed his stint as a Dancing With the Stars contestant. The audience, a packed room of fans if there ever was one, erupted in applause. “Well, I’m really fuckin’ sorry,” he responded.
Then he pulled out an oldie but goodie: “What has two thumbs and loves blow jobs?” An audience member said, “This guy,” but Steve-O turned around, raised the back of his shirt and revealed his infamous, back-sized, tattooed portrait of himself giving a thumbs-up gesture.
After that, Steve-O went into the meat of his stand-up material, which is how much of a drug-addled, sex-crazed fuck-up he’s been. “Make some noise if you’re gonna get really loaded tonight,” he told the audience, who, of course, roared. “Well, good luck, cuz that didn’t work out well for me.” He talked about how Johnny Knoxville and the Jackass crew staged an intervention for him “after they helped me hurt myself for 10 fuckin’ years.”
Throughout most of Steve-O’s 35-minute set he stalked the stage in a constant old-man stance, regaling the audience with tales of his drunken, hedonistic youth, mostly as a celebrity famous for doing nasty shit to himself and getting women to do even more nasty shit to him. Most of Steve-O’s patter got respectful, lukewarm laughs from the crowd. Much like his Jackass stunts, his material was rough, lowbrow and quite graphic, with him often relying on mugging for the crowd and contorting his face and body whenever he impersonated ugly people he’s encountered. It often seemed like Steve was doing excerpts from a work-in-progress one-man show rather than a finely polished stand-up set.
Nevertheless, his sexual escapades, which he recalled in more NC-17-rated detail than you’ll get here, went over the best. Let’s just say he got his biggest yuksby farfrom a description of an encounter with a flatulent stripper. But he insisted to the crowd that if not for that ghastly moment, he would not have been able to go on to do the extreme scatological stunts that have made him famous. “If it wasn’t for that fart,” he said, “none of us would be here today.”
After he finished with his anecdotes, two of the club employees brought a white-top collapsible table and assorted props to the stage. It was time for some stunts. Steve-O started with a couple of balancing actsone with a cup of water on his forehead, the other with a sharp kitchen knife on his nosethat he must have picked up from his time as a student at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College.
Immediately after, he went for the ol’ stupid favorites from his Jackass days. He appeased sadistic audience members by squeezing lemon juice into his eyes, only now he does it to Cutting Crew’s “(I Just) Died in Your Arms,” dramatically splashing water into his pulp-soaked eyeballs. When it’s time for him to do his patented stunt of setting his hand on fire, spitting out a fireball and doing a front flip through that fireball, he tries to explain why he shouldn’t do it, mentioning that years of stunts have messed up his back. But right at that moment, a guy yells out “Pussy!”
And that’s when things get a bit real.
“Dude, why don’t you come up?” a shirtless, toned Steve tells the guy, a portly, middle-aged gentleman in a checkered shirt. When he and a club employee walk to the stage, Steve gets testy and tells the dude to leave the premises. The guy walks back to his seat, but Steve is serious. He wants the dude out. “Do you need help?” Steve asks before leaving the stage to eject the guy himself. An employee escorts the guy and his lady out of the club, prompting Steve to tell the audience that he wasn’t going to give him the pleasure of witnessing the stunt. He motions for the club to lower the lights and play Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.” He gets on the table, and the stunt goes off without a hitch. The crowd erupts in thunderous applause.
Steve-O ends the show by telling the audience he’s grateful to them for letting him take a shot at stand-up. Then he says he will take a picture with everybody who wants one, but he’ll be using his camera. He assures the audience that the pictures will be free of charge and can be accessed on his website, and indeed they were there the following day. (Quite the savvy way to get hits on your site, Steve.) He also informs the audience of his memoirs dropping in June, Professional Idiot.
Sure enough, a group of patrons, both young and slightly mature, forms a long line on the right side of the club. A couple of them seem to have even brought their teenage sons. (We can only assume sitting through those sex stories must’ve been awkward.)
People are already outside, taking in what they just saw. “The comedy was OK, but the tricks were awesome,” raves regional sales manager Mike Forster, while former office manager Angela Warren says, “It’s the best money I ever spent on a show.”
Meanwhile, Steve-O sits in the greenroom sipping water, all by his lonesome, getting ready for the second, late-night show. He says the crowd was good, except for that guy who called him a pussy.
“I shouldn’t get emotional about it,” he said. “At a certain point, once that guy pushed me even further, man, he had to go.”
As for the stand-up side of his show, Steve-O feels his material was decent enough to keep the audience from turning on him. “I mean, if it was bad, I’m sure that they would get really disruptive,” he said. “But I get their attention pretty early on and they give me a fair shake at it, and it’s been going really well, you know?”
And, hey, it sure beats getting drunk and kicked in the nuts night after night.