A career in debauchery has uniquely prepared talk-show host Steve Wilkos to be the honorary grand marshal of Saturday's Krewe of the Knights of Sant' Yago Knight Parade through Ybor City.
His TV career began in the 1990s as a security guard on The Jerry Springer Show in Chicago. Wilkos' popularity grew as the crowds chanted "Steve! Steve!" as he took the stage to break up fights between midget hookers and their cheating pimps. The success got him his own talk show six years ago. It now airs at weekdays 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on MOR-TV 32.
We caught up with him by phone to hear what he had to say about being the honored guest of the last parade of Gasparilla season.
Have you ever been to Tampa before?
My parents live in Palm Harbor. I've been into Ybor City quite a bit. I'm always down there visiting my parents. We're actually going down at the end of March to spend a couple of weeks.
Have you ever been the grand marshal of a parade?
Not a grand marshal. I was with Jerry when he was a grand marshal at Mardi Gras (in 1998). I was on the float with him and that's a five-hour route. The whole way, they were (screaming), "Jerry! Jerry!" I wanted to kill the guy.
You know you will be required to throw beads. Have you been practicing?
My thing is, I've got a great arm. But do people throw beads back? I love throwing beads and I hate getting by beads.
How do you deal with the comparisons to your former boss Jerry Springer?
We're not doing Springer, it's a different show. The great thing is people assumed I was going to do another Springer with the crazy, circus midgets and all. But it's different. What's good is that a lot of young people (who) watch my show don't even know I was on Springer. They were 12 at the time or something and never watched it so they don't even know I used to break up fights on Springer. That's what's nice.
I don't hide from my background. I love the Springer show. It's one of the best times of my life. My show is a totally different show. And after six years on the air, I'm being recognized for my own achievements. I liked being on Jerry, but I was second banana, and that is all I was ever going to be.
Have you been bragging to your friends about grand marshalling a parade?
In a way. I was watching the Super Bowl with friends and I said, "This weekend I'm in Tampa." ... I wish they would have moved the show to Tampa. Back when they were choosing the location for the show, there were several cities on the list like Miami and New Orleans. We went with Stamford, Conn. It's expensive here and it's cold most of the time.
What will people have to do to get coveted beads from the hands of Steve Wilkos?
I know how they get the beads on the Springer show. That's probably the best way to get them while I'm down there. I hope that's not illegal down there.
(Laughing) I don't look at guys. I just threw the beads really high that time.