Utter the name Tucker Max aloud and you're guaranteed to get a reaction. Revered by bros and loathed by feminists, the founding father of "fratire" didn't become a New York Times best-selling author by giving a fuck what anyone thinks. And that includes the number of publishers who rejected his short stories before he finally sealed a book deal with Kensington Books, the company that would help him take 2006's I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell to the top. His ultimate goal? Tell funny stories—more specifically, the variety of true tales that used to crack his friends up in old email chains.
Years later, it's hard to pass through an airport book store or Barnes & Noble without noticing the author smiling (or maybe smirking) down at you from his prominent spot on their shelves. However, the party's got to end sometime, and the author who shared his swigs with millions has recently placed his crown on the ground, announcing his retirement from the fratire game following the release of his latest hardcover, Hilarity Ensues, which just hit shelves last week. Complex spoke to Max about his rise to fame, calling it quits, and approach-anxiety remedies that might make your Valentine's Day a little bit happier.
Interview by Lauren Otis (@LaurNado)
For starters, your books were inspired by the series of ridiculous emails you’d send back and forth with your boys from law school.
Wait a minute—you actually did a modicum of research. You can’t be a journalist. If you read the book, you’re not a journalist. You’re some impostor! No journalist actually does any work.
The stories definitely read that way, almost like messages to friends, and it gives readers this sense of familiarity with you from the very beginning. What made you opt for that format?
You almost answered your own question because I didn’t really opt for a format—I started writing because it was about making my friends laugh, and when you’re talking to your friends, you can’t bullshit. You can’t fill your emails with crap, at least not with my friends, because they’re brutal. If something sucks, they’ll tell you. It was an emerging property of the medium and it’s a very stripped down, immediate, urgent style. When I started doing it, no one else was really writing like that, which I guess is why the New York Times said that I invented a genre. It didn’t occur to me that anyone else would like that stuff, but I guess they did!
What was your process like for keeping track of these exploits? Did you find yourself waking up from a hangover and reaching for a pen, dream-journal-style?
At the very beginning, that’s what happened, and then what inevitably happened was that I forgot so much shit that I lost a lot of great stories. What I learned was that if I was going to write stories about my nights out, I needed to come up with a better system.
What I started doing was taking a voice recorder out with me. Through the course of the night, if someone said something funny or if something noteworthy happened, I would just take out my voice recorder and record a little 20-second file, like, “Joe said X, Y, and Z." So the next morning I’d wake up and if it was a good night I’d have maybe 40 files on there. I’d listen to them and the first ten would be sober, and then the next 20 would be slurring a little bit, and then the last ten would be jibberish, shit I didn’t remember at all, or shit that was stupid! If it was good, I’d write up a rough draft and call my friends and ask what happened. They’d say, “Oh, you forgot this! And that actually happened this way.” I’m not writing a police report, it doesn’t matter what precise time we got to the diner—it’s just a matter of the big events and what was funny and interesting.
It's similar to the way the cast of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia would help each other fill in story details after they’ve had nights of browning out.
You aren’t afraid to go into explicit details with your stories, even if they don’t paint the most flattering picture. Is there anything you wouldn’t write about in your books?
Ironically enough, I don’t write about the emotional stuff or the stuff that matters to me. I don’t write about the stuff most memoirs write about. It’s not funny and no one outside of my circle really cares that much. Who’s gonna pay for that?
I try only to write about the stuff that I think other people would think is funny. A lot of people think that since I’m drunk in my stories, I must be drunk 24 hours a day. What kind of stupid logic is that? It’d be like if you saw Michael Jordan at a restaurant and were like, “Why aren’t you in your basketball uniform?” I leave out way more than I put in.
To some degree, there seems to be this almost invincible lack of consequences for your actions...
I have stories where I’ve found out I may have slept with a post-op transsexual, I shit myself running through a hotel lobby, I get arrested in Harlem for a DUI—what’s consequence-less about any of that?
Regardless of what happens, there’s always an ability you have to be able to laugh off the things that happened.
Well, of course. Am I supposed to break down in tears and rack myself up with guilt? I’m no Upper East Side Jew. The vast majority of all consequences, especially in 21st century America, are completely meaningless bullshit.
Are there ever times when things are harder to laugh off?
There are lots of things that are difficult to laugh off, but that’s not what my books are about. They’re not about the larger life lessons and consequences.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, what’s the last point in your life when your friends might’ve described you as awkward?
You mean like socially awkward and gawky?
Yeah. Doesn’t everyone go through an awkward phase?
Right, OK. Maybe seventh grade, but I wasn’t awkward for a seventh grader. Everyone was awkward in seventh grade. In the bell curve, I was pretty much in the middle. Except for intelligence. I was in Kentucky, so I was obviously at the far end of that scale.
What would we have found you wearing in seventh grade?
Terrible clothes. In Kentucky, I think there might’ve been some Guess jeans. But remember, whatever the fashion was at the time, you’ve got to scale it back five or ten years for Kentucky. Do you remember Vuarnet shirts and stuff like that? There’s a reason there are no ‘90s throwback parties.