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Podcast 106: Steve-O on Becoming a Stuntman, Finding Recovery & Sense of Purpose

January 12, 2021

Our guest this week is legendary stuntman and star of MTV’s Jackass, Steve-O.

By Will Ahmed

Listen, review, subscribe.

This is a story about self reflection, change, and growth. Steve-O talks about his remarkable transformation from a drug and alcohol addict to a man who has been sober for over a decade and practices mindfulness and meditation on a daily basis.

He shares why he started doing stunts and dangerous acts, what he’s learned about the trials and tribulations of fame, and how he was actually homeless when Jackass hit it big. You’ll also be shocked at how elite Steve-O’s WHOOP data is.

Make sure to check out his podcast, Wild Ride with Steve-O, and keep an eye out for Jackass 4, which is scheduled for release later this year.

Stay healthy and stay in the green!


Steve-O Podcast Show Notes:

3:42 – Surviving His Younger Years. Steve-O expresses surprise that he’s still alive in his mid-40’s after abusing drugs and alcohol for years. “I never thought I would see 30,” he says. “I had a feeling of being defective and not fitting in and not being equipped to survive in the world. That was my default setting.”

6:44 – A Need to Fit In. “I had this social awkwardness and this inability to fit in. This discomfort in my own skin,” Steve-O says of his childhood. “I wanted so much to be accepted by my peers and to be so popular. But I tried so hard. I was so aggressive, overwhelming, and annoying. I was a ball of energy that wanted affection and I got the exact opposite.”

11:37 – Getting into Drugs and Alcohol. “I decided, at 16 years old, that I was going to be a pothead and take acid and drink. I hadn’t even done any of that stuff yet. For me, getting into drugs wasn’t somebody offering it to me and pressuring me to do it. I decided that that was going to be my new identity.”

13:40 – Getting Injured. “I don’t believe at any point where there was a feeling that getting hurt doesn’t bother me. It wasn’t that. … I don’t consider myself an adrenaline junkie. I identify as an attention [seeker]. Injuries along the way were just sort of like the price of admission. I don’t have a particularly high threshold for pain on any level. I feel pain as much as anybody else, and I think it’s important that’s the case because if I didn’t feel the pain then there wouldn’t be a reaction. That’s what makes the video compelling.”

17:06 – First Career Goal. “What I saw myself doing and what I applied to the University of Miami for was to try and become a creative advertising executive. I thought I could make killer videos and make commercials and manipulate videos to sell products. I thought that was something I could really get behind.”

18:39 – College Dropout. Steve-O details how he was on the verge of being kicked out of the University of Miami within a week of arriving on campus. “All the guys on the floor saw the way I was partying and said, ‘Dude, if you get so much as a 2.0 GPA – and the way you’re going, it’s not going to happen – if you do, we’ll throw a party for you.’ … I broke a 2.0, and I might have had a 2.1.”

21:26 – Breakup That Launched a Career. Steve-O says his college girlfriend dumping him led him to try crazy stunts. “I had this crazy group of friends and one had rappelling equipment. We’d be taking acid and trying rappelling ropes to the library and rappelling down. … It was an expression of my angst from this heartbreak.”

24:18 – Becoming a Stuntman. “When I dropped out and I was kicked out of the dorms [at Miami] people asked ‘What are you going to do now?’ I said, ‘I’m going to videotape stunts. I’m going to become a crazy famous stuntman.’ Everyone I told that to sincerely felt sorry for me. They said, ‘You’re going to become a famous stuntman with a home video camera? What a shame. What a tragic loser.’ And rightfully so, there was no precedent for that.”

28:05 – Dealing with Criticism. “I’m generally perceived as this crazy guy who is unafraid and unphased, and that’s so not it. I’m gripped by fear. I’m terrified of negative feedback.”

29:07 – COVID-19 and Respiratory Rate. Steve-O and Will talk about the groundbreaking WHOOP research showing a potential connection between an elevated respiratory rate and COVID-19 cases.

31:39 – Sobriety. Steve-O has been sober for almost 13 years.

32:39 – Jackass. “It was overnight,” Steve-O says of the success of the show. “At that time, there really wasn’t video playing on the internet. … It was an instant hit.”

34:22 – A Homeless TV Star. Steve-O says he was homeless when Jackass hit it big, “I had been living with my sister, but she kicked me out. I was homeless, I was completely broke. I had made less than $1,500 all told for the first season of Jackass and that had long since been spent. I had lost my job in the circus, I was unemployed, homeless, broke, and a star on the number one show in the history of MTV.”

39:14 – Fallout from Success. “I was a cocaine addict in LA on the sunset strip. People were aware but what I kept hearing was, ‘Man, you better hurry up and make some [stuff] happen quick, strike while the iron is hot, because your show is going to get cancelled and it will be all done and you’ll be amazed how fast that happens. You’ll be a flash in the pan.’ I remember that being really soul-crushing. It challenged my view as the video camera and the video footage being immortal.”

40:35 – Understanding Fame and Celebrity. “There’s nothing healthy about celebrity and all it entails. Nobody’s trading in their celebrity, you can complain about it all day long, but nobody is trading it in and I’m not trading it in. I’m profoundly grateful for it. With that said, I think we can safely conclude that there’s nothing healthy about fame or celebrity. … Everything that celebrity is based on is inherently, by definition, external validation. I think everything that happiness is based on is within.”

43:39 – Finding Recovery. “I think what recovery and spirituality has instilled in me is the importance of finding separation between my persona, and my livelihood, my profession, and me and my intimate relationships, my identity as a person, and what I’m really all about. I have to separate myself from Steve-O otherwise I’m [in trouble]. … Steve-O was a shield for a really sick Stephen.”

45:58 – WHOOP Insights. Steve-O has a very high HRV (160) and a low resting heart rate (45). “I feel like a world-class stuntman should have a low resting heart rate,” Will jokes. “It’s interesting that your HRV is so high, because we actually see people who have used drugs and alcohol heavily that can suppress their HRV over time. You must be in such a zen state,” Will tells Steve-O.

47:29 – Meditation. “I believe – and I know a lot of people think, ‘What a kook,’ – but I genuinely believe that by the virtue of a disciplined, spiritual practice of meditation twice a day that you actually get plugged into something where the universe conspires in your favor. We’re all interconnected no matter what. I just think it plugs you in. It’s a big deal. It’s a real life hack.”

50:25 – Gratitude and Serotonin. Will talks about Dr. Andrew Huberman’s appearance on the WHOOP Podcast and how your body chemically reacts to feelings of gratitude.

Connect with Steve-O:
Bestselling book Professional Idiot, A Memoir
Steve-O’s Wild Ride Podcast


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Will Ahmed

Will Ahmed is the Founder and CEO of WHOOP, which has developed next generation wearable technology for optimizing human performance and health. WHOOP members include professional athletes, Fortune 500 CEOs, fitness enthusiasts, military personnel, frontline workers and a broad range of people looking to improve their performance. WHOOP has raised more than $400 million from top investors and is valued at $3.6 billion, making it the most valuable standalone wearables company in the world. Ahmed has recruited an active advisory board that consists of some of the world’s most notable cardiologists, technologists, marketers, and designers. Ahmed was recently named to the 2021 Sports Business Journal 40 under 40 list as well as 2020 Fortune 40 Under 40 Healthcare list and previously named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40. Ahmed founded WHOOP as a student at Harvard, where he captained the Men’s Varsity Squash Team and graduated with an A.B. in government.