Jackass 3D arrives in theaters today with a flurry of groin kicks, braying laughter, and secretions of all viscosities. About the only difference is that it features a totally sober Steve-O. Not only is he sober, but he’s stopped smoking, has become a vegan, and has given up caffeine. “I’m, like, such a departure from the guy I used to be,” he says. Vulture spoke with the transformed 36-year-old (a few hours after he took a baseball to the nuts on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno) about his crazed, drug-addled past and what the future is for a guy famous for snorting wasabi and jumping into ceiling fans.
Jackass 3D marks the first time you’ve attempted these stunts while completely sober. Did being clean make them seem more daunting somehow?
That didn’t make doing all this stuff any easier. But it was really important to me to prove to myself and, really, the world at large, that sobriety hasn’t made me into a lame, boring pussy.
Did the stunts hurt more without drugs and alcohol to numb the pain?
I don’t know if it hurts more — that stuff always hurt, you know? But there were some tough days, man. We’re not really the types to take steps backwards. If anything was reminiscent of something we’ve already done, then we had to take it to a nuclear level.
Was the shoot still fun?
Oh, man, the shooting was — well, it was a whole lot more fun than Dancing With the Stars. I hated Dancing With the Stars, man. Like, it was so stressful.
You lasted a while. Did you want to get voted off at a certain point?
I felt divided about it, really. I felt like I couldn’t handle it anymore. But I also didn’t want to be voted off. So I was just getting all kinds of pissy. By the end, I’d just really had enough of that shit.
Was there any good that came of your appearance on the show?
I guess, man. I don’t know. At this point, I’ve really failed at a lot of things. It’s nice to be able to say that, in a way. I’ve failed at music. I’ve failed at dance. And acting — there have been times when I went out and read lines to audition for acting parts. I believe that if anybody wrangled together those audition tapes, it would be pretty hysterically funny.
What was one of the parts you were up for?
One was a part in a John Travolta movie [2005's Be Cool] that I think André 3000 wound up playing. It was, like, some dude who was drinking from a bottle of Cristal or something. I remember I had been up for three days in a row, and I was like, “Oh, I’m really going to nail this.” So I went to the liquor store and showed up pounding Cristal — you know, thinking that would somehow help me get the role. It was a disaster.
And now you’re doing stand-up. Why?
I guess because, like, I can only break bones and shove stuff up my butt for so long. For me to make a living acting silly for as long as I can get away with it, I think the most viable way to make that happen is to evolve into more traditional comedy. I’ve really been putting in the work.
What’s one of your jokes?
Well, I talk about how people always ask me if there’s anything that I won’t do. Ultimately, I say that the folks from VH1 reached out to me to do a dating show like Rock of Love, and that’s where I draw the line. There’s no fucking way I’m going to let 30 chicks tell the world how fast I come.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but all my jokes are completely true.
Was your brief rap career, which included the album The Dumbest Asshole in Hip-Hop, supposed to be a joke?
There’s definitely some parallels between me and Joaquin Phoenix, I think. The line gets so blurry. My rap career wasn’t a hoax, but it was absolutely intended to be a joke. The problem was that I really was on a quest to somehow be a Caucasian Ol’ Dirty Bastard. I thought that the more drugs that I consumed, and the more people I insulted, that would make me successful.
So the joke was on you?
Yeah. Whatever was funny about it initially got really unfunny really fast. Like, it all went to such a dark place.
How bad did it get?
The whole last year before I got sober, I really became a nasty, mean-spirited guy. I think I felt so bad about myself that I took it out on everybody else. I put together this mass e-mail list with the most influential people in my life, and I would blast everyone all these ridiculous e-mails, thinking that it was all, like, really cool at the time.
What kinds of things did you send out?
Like, I would describe hallucinations I was having. Or I would talk about jacking off. And I was copying my own family on all this crazy bullshit. And I would just attack people for the benefit of this list of 100 different people. It was all really embarrassing, man. I thought some really inappropriate shit was okay. And that’s the scariest thing, to think that if I pick up a drink or a drug, I’ll go back to that place.
Your dad is a corporate big shot who has worked for Pepsi and R.J. Reynolds. What did he say when you decided to enroll in clown college?
Dad wasn’t feeling it. And Mom thought it was hysterical. I remember my mom and her sister sitting in my mom’s kitchen and just laughing their asses off. My first cousin was enrolled in mortician school, learning to embalm bodies and shit. And I was going to go to clown college. And my mom and her sister were getting drunk and just howling laughing, debating over whose son was a bigger loser. My aunt was like, “My son’s a fucking mortician. I totally win!” Like, their object was to convince that they’re the mother of the bigger loser. It was really pretty hysterical to them. But my mom came out to my clown college graduation and my dad didn’t.
Has he come around?
About a year after I graduated, my mom had an aneurysm and I was pretty fucked up. Right around that time, my dad told me, “Son, I feel like I’ve done a major disservice to you by not supporting you in this career path that you’ve obviously committed yourself to.” And he said, “I just want you to know that, although I wouldn’t have chosen this for you, you’re obviously going for it, and I just want you to be the best. So from now on, I’m pledging my support.” That was, like, a really big deal for me. My first call is always to my dad. It’s really rad. What had initially drove my dad and me apart — all my stunts and antics — has brought us together, closer than we’ve ever been. My dad’s been a huge part of my team.
So, just to triple-confirm: You’re totally done with drugs, right? Even pot?
Yeah. I’ve had nothing stronger than an Advil for over two years. I would love to be able to smoke pot. But the problem is if I do that, my weed bone’s connected to my booze bone. And my booze bone’s connected to my coke bone. And then it’s all this crazy shit. I used to try to quit piecemeal and ultimately I always wound up going back to everything. So the only thing I’m sure of is that if I do choose to drink or get high again, it’s all bad.
It would be all downhill from there?
Not even downhill. You pick up where you left off. And where I left off was a really bad place, man.
Where was that? One foot in the grave?
Yeah. One foot in the grave, the other one on a banana peel.