Steve-O Appreciates Fine Art

In the nineteen-twenties, while living in Paris, the artist Alexander Calder fashioned a miniature circus from commonplace materials (wire, cloth, bottle caps) which he used for putting on shows for avant-garde confrères (Miró, Duchamp, Mondrian). The other day, Stephen Glover, who does modern-day variety-show stunts (tightrope walking over an alligator pit, snorting wasabi, using a beehive as a tetherball) with his buddies (Knoxville, Danger Eren, Wee Man) as Steve-O in the “Jackass” franchise, sat in a darkened room in the Whitney Museum, watching a recording of one of Calder’s productions. Glover, a professionally trained circus clown, raised his eyebrows. “Every time I see Cirque du Soleil I find myself, like, tearing up,” he said, his familiar rasp lowered to a stage whisper. “I’m just so moved by how fucking incredible humans can be.” He smiled impishly. “This is not making me feel that way.”

Glover was in town for the book tour of his second memoir, “A Hard Kick in the Nuts,” and he’d been persuaded to kill an afternoon at the museum. (His living room in Los Angeles contains a cherished Calder print.) He’d brought along his fiancée, the production designer and stylist Lux Wright, and their latte-colored service dog, Wendy, who’d walked in docilely on a gray Ultimate Fighting Championship collar and leash. “Wendy’s a mix,” Glover explained. “Belgian Malinois and Xanax.” Glover, who is forty-eight, wore a red corduroy button-down and black Ray-Bans and, among the art, had the expression of a bird who’d accidentally flown indoors. He peered at a placard denoting the dates bookending Georgia O’Keeffe’s life. “Wow,” he said. “Almost a hundred years old.”

He settled in a bright side room exhibiting a collection of black-and-white Hazel Larsen Archer photos. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor played from a nearby film installation. Glover explained that the memoir was a companion to his comedy show “The Bucket List Tour,” a combination of standup and explicit clips. (He’ll play at the Town Hall this week.) He opens the show feigning distress—“I’m in a really fucked-up situation: I’m Steve-O in my forties”—and his initial idea for the book was a guide to middle age. “Ultimately, I thought it would serve to alienate my considerably younger audience,” he said. “I’m like Matthew McConaughey,” he added, referring to the actor’s “Dazed and Confused” sleazebag character. “I get older, they stay the same age.”

The memoir instead became a book of general wisdom, drawn from his fourteen years of sobriety and the regret-laden bacchanalia that preceded them. He never expected to live long enough to learn so many lessons. “Mortality and aging in general is a motherfucker for anybody,” Glover said. “But it feels particularly hard for me, because I’ve always made a living being childish.” As an actual child, he used outrageous stunts—shotgunning a saltshaker, pulling his own teeth—to endear himself to classmates. It often backfired. “It wasn’t like, ‘Wow, look how cool Steve is!’ ” Glover said. “It was more like, ‘That’s creepy and weird.’ ”

In the next room, his face lit up. On the far wall was Jay DeFeo’s “The Rose,” an eleven-foot grayscale starburst of oil, wood, and mica. “That’s cool,” he said. He glanced approvingly at the broad black-on-white strokes of Franz Kline’s “Mahoning” and, in the next room, Claes Oldenburg’s oversized foam cigarette butts. “We’ve stumbled upon a dope floor,” he said.

Wendy tugged onward. Conversation turned to the “Bucket List” stunt of greatest permanence—an on-camera vasectomy. “The footage was totally underwhelming,” Glover said. More rewarding were scenes of him defying doctors’ rest orders in the surgery’s immediate aftermath by riding a horse bareback and serving as a human piñata. The climactic reveal: an appendage bruised brutally purple. “Thank God,” Glover said. “Without that, it would have been a failure. I got really lucky.” He noted that Wright considered the vasectomy the best gift he’d ever given her. “That’s true,” she said. She was less thrilled about the show-closing segment Glover has called the “crown jewel” of his career: a filmed act of onanism at fifteen thousand feet, performed after he leaped nude from an airplane. (He dubbed the stunt “Skyjacking.”) Wright refused her endorsement. “Until I saw the show,” she said. “Then I was, like, O.K., this is hilarious.”

Sunlight glowed low through a nearby window. A guard announced that it would soon be closing time. Glover seemed ready to go. He discussed his idea for a museum of his own, showcasing mementos of his career, such as the cheetah-print bikini bottom he wore in countless “Jackass” bits, or the scorched T-shirt in which he was badly burned while performing “fire angels” on a floor covered with rocket fuel. The attraction would share billing with a sprawling animal sanctuary that he and Wright are planning, on a compound where the two would live, inspired partly by a recent visit to Elvis Presley’s estate, in Memphis. “It might be a little on the nose,” Glover said, “but I kinda wanna call it Disgraceland.” ♦

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *