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.
Turning the conversation back to your book, it certainly allows readers to live vicariously through these crazy, hedonistic stories. What’s the most self-indulgent thing you’ve done this week?
It’s gotta be something with food. This week hasn’t been so self-indulgent because of the book coming out, but some friends and I had dinner the other night at this restaurant called Resto. My assistant’s a big foodie like me and had heard of this place and the way they’ll do these great meals where they cook a whole animal from nose to tail. We did the baby lamb and it was fucking amazing! The lamb bacon was so fucking good, I couldn’t believe it. We had a great time. It’s a great restaurant!
There are some especially memorable characters in your stories, like the bloody guy singing "Sweet Caroline" at the bar and the bootleg Bubba Sparxxx. Do you ever get any of the random people who’ve made cameos in your books hitting you up after hearing about their appearances from friends?
You know, not really. It’s mostly my friends. I’ve sold millions of books, but by no means am I ubiquitous. So I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone totally random be like, “Oh, I’m that dude!” I use nicknames for everybody, so if you ever meet a girl that’s been in one of the stories, the only way you’re going to know is if she tells you—except for Miss Vermont.
We weren’t sure if that guy whose life you saved might’ve appeared and given you some thanks at long last.
Oh, the fucking dude I gave the Heimlich to? That guy was such an unappreciative prick. I didn’t really fucking emphasize what a douchebag that guy was. Whatever!
We didn’t mean to rub salt in old wounds.
I feel like I should’ve gotten a plaque or something and he didn’t even buy me a drink!
What kind of validation has your best-seller status given you? And what kind of validation is the most important? Is it good reviews? Is it people buying you drinks at the bar? Sex? Money?
That’s a really good question. I kind of write about this in the retirement section on my website, and everyone talks about things you mention: the sales, the girls, the profile. Before you’re famous it’s stuff that seems like it’d be really cool, but once you get it, you realize it’s not bad, but it’s kind of hollow and meaningless.
The thing that I think about the most, and is the most rewarding to me, is the whole past. That I kind of went from nothing to something and I did it on my own, and I did it through hard work and smarts. I built up this edifice that no one can take from me because no one else built it. I’m not some movie star relying on a studio. I have my own fans and I earned them. The result of all that hard work is that I’m financially independent, I have an amazing life, and I can do whatever I want. I don’t have to answer to anybody.
You’ve pretty much called yourself every negative slur. You refer to yourself as a douchebag, a dickhead, an asshole, and in the context of your book and the lifestyle you lead, those seem like empowering terms. Is there any insult one could unleash that would actually carry any weight with you?
The only thing that someone could say about me that would hurt me would be something that’s true that I don’t want to be. Like if someone called me a disloyal friend, or if someone said that I was a user. If it was true and it was something I didn’t want to do or be, than that would be bad. But that would mean something bad about me, it wouldn’t be what they said.
Did you ever get to a point where you felt bored with that lifestyle? Or perhaps felt pressured to continue carrying it out for the sake of providing ammunition for more books?
Well, I retired at the end of Hilarity Ensues because that’s the end. I never felt a pressure to create more stories because the majority of my best happened around the time that Beer In Hell got published, so I knew I had material. The real tentpole stories, like the Miss Vermont story and the Harlem RV story, they’d already happened, so I wasn’t worried about material.
The annoying thing for me was more people’s expectations. I’d go out and if people knew who I was, they’d say, “Oh, it’s Tucker Max! He needs to do this! He’d better do this!” I never felt pressured to create more stories, but dealing with people became really aggravating.
Speaking of dealings with people, we did some Twitter stalking and there are shocking amount of women hitting you up who aren't shy at all about soliciting you for sex. Knowing what they know about your dealings with women, which aren’t always the most tender, do you find these gestures more flattering or off-putting?
If you’re a dude, you can’t help but be flattered. Guys, we spend our whole lives trying to get pussy, so when pussy comes to us, it’s like, “Whoa, this is amazing!” At 27, I thought nothing could be better than that, but at 35, I’ve come to understand the darker side of it.
You’ve had a lot of ridiculous sexting sessions, some of which are displayed in Hilarity Ensues, stemming from the placement of your phone number within your previous book. Are there times where that over-accessibility to your fans becomes difficult?
I can just turn it off anytime. I don’t have to answer.
You must have more than one phone.
Of course! Of course! That would be a disaster!
You moved to Austin to retire, in a way, from your former lifestyle. What’s that transition been like?
I went from New York to L.A. to Austin. I hated everything about L.A.; I hated the entertainment business, I hated the people in L.A., and as soon as I was done with the movie and all those responsibilities, I wanted to get the fuck out and go to the most opposite place I could. I’ve always loved Austin and wanted to try and live there. I went there for six months, finished my last book, and loved it, so I stayed. My routine now is totally normal and boring. I wake up, get some coffee, take my dog for a walk—whatever I have to do that day, I do. it couldn’t get any more conventional and boring.
Tell us about the advice book you’ve mentioned that you’re working on.
I get a lot of questions and emails from high school and college kids, and feel like I’m in a unique position to write that book. I’ve got all the street cred in the world, just came out of that age, and won’t bullshit the kids. I’ll tell them the truth. There’s a big demand for it, I think, and I believe it could help a lot of people.
Lastly, with Valentine’s Day coming up, what words of wisdom might you have for all the dudes out there who’d love to try and connect with the numerous single girls that’ll be out tomorrow night, but might suffer from approach anxiety?
Don’t be anxious. As a general rule, whenever guys have problems approaching girls, it’s because they’re afraid of rejection or they’re afraid of something specific. The way that you get over a fear like that is you figure out what the worst is that can happen. If I’m going to go talk to this girl, the worst result is that she turns me down. Can I accept that? Imagine it in your head. The worst thing happening, can I accept that result?
If it’s no, than don’t talk to her. If it’s yes, than go talk to her. If you can accept the worst result, than what do you have to lose? Nothing. If you can’t accept the worst result, then you need to address that. Why are you so afraid of some random stranger?