Exclusive Interview by Brad Balfour
Web phenomenon, book author and now film producer Tucker Max became an accidental Bad Boy through a combination of drink, smoke, willing women, too much testosterone and the Internet. Nonetheless, bad boy he became rather than a corporate lawyer. In his callow youth, he swaggered his way through a law education (at Duke) and reflected a frat boy wantoness that I have both hated and begrudgingly admired in its sheer assholic-ness.
Since he blogged it along the way, he garnered a virally expanding following, transformed his blog into a funny book, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, got it published by a division of Simon & Schuster, and has a huge following of wanna-bes, appreciators of his bawdy style and lots of women -- and most seem self-possessed and not self-flagellating.
So, is Max an heir to the sexual liberation of the '60s or just another exploiter of women -- a male chauvinist pig -- or both? Sitting down with Max, I got to see both his brashness and vulnerabilities when his film/bus tour came to NYC recently -- and we talked about his writing, his producing, his past and future.
Of course, both the business and the attitudes come easier when you've reached a certain plateau of success -- his book became a New York Times Best Seller and he co-founded Rudius Media, an Internet-based publishing outlet and management firm. That success paid off. It allowed him to hire a director, Bob Gosse, get Richard Kelly's production company -- Darko Entertainment -- and Freestyle Releasing to release it, with actors Matt Czuchry (as Max) Jesse Bradford, and Geoff Stults to star in the film.
And in the so far maligned film version of the book, Max even had a revisionist vision of his stories which reveal the value of friends and the virtues of a stable, long-standing relationship at the end of it all.
Q: You did it all for fun? The key was, you wrote it down.
TM: [Your generation] broke the walls down and we came in and said, "Alright, let's just have fun," instead of worrying about liberation, because you guys already did that.
For my parents, it was a different time; it was kind of shitty. Now it's much easier to do this stuff, be public about it and not have to deal with bullshit repercussions.
Q: Would you have had a life if there wasn't the internet?
TM: No way.
Q: You're like a Playboy Magazine manifestation through the internet.
TM: This is not a guess on my part. I tell you, in 2001, when I first started thinking about this could maybe be a career or I could do this, because I never thought I was a writer, I never self identified as a writer. And my boys were always like dude, these are the funniest emails, you need to write this stuff down.
Q: So you were writing these as blogs.
TM: Take the "Sushi Pants" story. I drove from that parking lot, drunk, to my office, wrote that story down. Do you know why I wrote in that time stamp format? Because I was too drunk to write complete sentences. Seriously. All I could do was get the jokes out and the time stamp thing was my way of showing progression, that was it.
So I stumbled into this stuff. I took maybe five or 10 of these stories and I sent them to publishing houses and agents, every fucking one, like I probably sent out a thousand query letters or some stupid shit like that. 90% ignored me. The rest sent rejection letters, and two or three editors actually took the time to send personalized rejection letters about what an awful person I was, how terrible my writing is, and how I should never pick up a pen again--that kind of shit. That was 2002.
At that point, dead in the water, no internet, what the fuck do you do then, right? Nothing. My buddy was like, "Just put it up on a website; fuck them." I put it up on a website and the shit blew up on its own. There was obviously a market for it; none of the publishers or agents saw it though.
Q: Did you do your own editing or did you have help?
TM: Nils [Parker].
Q: This is a pop culture book; though it's not written in a literary fashion, you're not outside of a literary tradition of J.P. Dunleavy's "The Ginger Man" and other books about bawdy characters or cads. I'm sure people have said you're a post-literate Henry Miller.
TM: The two comparisons people use a lot -- and I don't really agree with either one -- are Hunter S. Thompson, which I feel like doesn't make any sense because he's so political and so drug oriented and I think he's a lot better writer too, and Bukowski, and I don't feel like that makes any sense either.
Just because the subject matter is generally the same -- drinking, women, partying -- they're like, "Well it's the same," but I feel those two are both not only much better writers, but they come from such a different perspective than I do.
I come from a perspective of... to me, it's all about joy; the stories and everything. It's funny, it's all about making people laugh and being entertaining. Theirs is like your generation's perspective, which is totally totally different than mine. Hunter S. Thompson is nothing if he wasn't a political animal, and Bukowski, the dude was depressed, man.
Q: Are you the end result of the sexual liberation? That's to say, what's wrong with fucking? It's like enough already with all sort of political correctness. Don't get me wrong. You're just as much of a dork as the girls are. But in a funny way, girls are totally in control of you; it seems you're not really the cocksman that you like to think you are.
TM: I know as well as anyone that everything I do is to get laid. People are like, "Don't you hate women?" Hate women? I love women; everything I do is to impress women, dude. Everything. It's not just about getting ass; if it was just that, you get prostitutes. It's more about interacting with women.
Q: You are really fascinated and obsessed with them. Some men are p-hounds. Or have been. There is something to having that sort of completely unabashed encounter.
TM: It's almost like Casanova.
Q: It's all possible; you're not the most beautiful guy in the world.
TM: Not the smartest, not the funniest, not the best looking.
Q: But you're pretty funny; I'll give you that.
TM: There are tons of people funnier than I am. Nils is way funnier; that's why he has such a hot wife.
Q: That's why he has the hot wife.
TM: His wife is rich too; so fucking rich it's crazy. I was kind of jealous but whatever.
Q: So, the art of cocksmanship. Is it 100 women? 300 women? 50 women? When did you lose count?
TM: I know I was in triple digits before I put the website up, but not much into it, and since then dude it's been... If you're like over 30 or 40 and you know your exact number it's kind of creepy. I have no idea.
Q: Do you consider yourself specifically west coast animal -- aren't you based there?
TM: I'm not West Coast at all. I was born in Atlanta, but I grew up in Kentucky, outside of Lexington, in Winchester.
Q: Do people perceive you as a right-ish kind of guy?
TM: Usually, whatever people's particular political leaning is, they either think I'm just like them or the opposite. I never talk about my politics in the book ever because I feel it's irrelevant to the comedy, but personally I guess I'm what you'd call a "South Park Republican" -- fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Very much pro-choice, pro-legalization -- it's so stupid that pot's illegal -- all that sort of stuff, but I'm not very progressive economically. Not like asshole George Bush Republicans, but more like a classical one.
Q: You could be a Democrat nowadays?
TM: I could find a position in Obama's cabinet, yeah, if they ever wanted me.
Q: He's had more Republicans in his cabinet than any Republican has had Democrats in theirs in recent years.
TM: Seriously, that's true. Even if I was a Republican, George Bush would have pushed me out of that party.
Q: They definitely are the guys that would have repressed and jailed you.
TM: No question; evil, those guys.
Q: So it really is your movie.
TM: For better or for worse it is ours. Nils and I are the co-creators start to finish; we wrote the entire script, we picked the director, cast the actors, picked the financiers, and we were not just on-set producers but made every creative decision, it was us and Bob.
[Tucker and cast member Keri Lynn Pratt]
Q: Did you get to say everything about the casting?
TM: We did this as an independent movie for that specific reason. Nils and I had every opportunity to sell this; Fox Searchlight offered us $2 million for this script but we turned them down flat because they were going to pick the director, pick the actors, and they'd make the movie they wanted to, not the movie we wanted. We had a very specific creative vision, which is why we adapted the screenplay and we independently financed it.
Q: That's another thing that's different from the writers of the old days. You can make your own movie. You're a creation of the internet and you culminate in the post-literate media era.
TM: Believe me, I am acutely aware of how I'm taking advantage of opportunities that were not available to people before me. Before the internet, if the gatekeepers of media stopped you, you had almost no way around them. Now, you can go directly to your customers, and that's what I've done since day one.
That's what this premier tour has been about; we didn't advertise this, we didn't sell this through Ticketmaster, I put it up on my site, on Facebook, on Twitter, and we sold out the whole tour just going directly to my fans.
You can't really release a whole movie like that; we're going to buy plenty of commercials and normal theaters, but the initial grassroots marketing came from my direct interaction with my fans.
Q: So where'd you get this ego?
TM: That's a good question dude; I don't know. Narcissism, dude. I have a Narcissistic Personality Disorder; in some ways it's beneficial. There are many ways that it's not, but some ways it actually helps.
Q: Your parents didn't fill your narcissistic needs when you were little.
TM: My parents were very much absentee parents. From a very young age I was kind of on my own; not like a street urchin, I always had food and clothes. But they were very much in their own worlds doing their own things.
My parents were divorced when I was a year and a half; my mom was a flight attendant so I was always on my own so it's kind of like sink or swim. And I just from a young age did everything on my own and developed this narcissistic confidence.
Q: Do you think of yourself as a guy's guy or not?
TM: I'm always hesitant to say I'm a man's man because that has such loaded connotations. I feel like I just am who I am, and some guys see me as a role model, some guys see me as a pariah, some guys love me, some guys hate me. Whatever; people just bring their own baggage to what I write and some people love it and some people don't.
Q: Can you talk to women and do women like being your friend?
TM: Oh yeah, no definitely. I don't really have a lot of female friends I don't sleep with. I have a few, but most of my female friends I hook up with, I call them fuck buddies. So it's like, a girl you're sleeping with and not dating, not like a booty call and not a girlfriend, but kind of in between.
It's great because it's like the transition stage between pure bachelorhood and a committed relationship. You have a couple of girls you're really good friends with, you like hanging out with, you hook up with once or twice a week, but you can still chill and go out drinking with and it's no pressure; it's great.
Q: So you have the choice of becoming a producer, where you're encouraging other writers and a new lot of productions like this, or you're going to become a monk.
TM: There's no question; I'm not going to act at 43 the way I act at 33. [And I'm not like I was at 23.] I'm going to be like Dr. Dre; make your mark in front of the mic and then step behind when you're done.
Q: What's with the idea of making it with physically challenged people?
TM: I don't prefer disabled people -- that's like a fetish -- it's more like... You know how when you're in a group of friends and it's like who can drink more, or you kind of one up each other? With us it was always, who had the best story, and so if you've hooked up with a midget that's kind of funny. It's fucking hilarious; the sex wasn't that great, but it's the ability to say "I hooked up with a midget." And same thing with a deaf girl; it's a novelty.
Q: How did you cast Traci Lords -- the former porn star turned conventional actress?
TM: She read the script and she loved it. And the reason she wanted to do this role is because if you look, the female characters are actually pretty smart, strong and in power. They're not dumb sluts or ridiculous, omniscient characters like you see on sitcoms; they're really good, strong female characters. And she loved the script, she thought it was hilarious. So she did it.
Q: Did someone bet that you were going to get arrested.
TM: During the shooting there was a pool, it was a joke, like who would get arrested. Nils, like third day, he gets arrested at a horseshoe casino. He was the first one to get arrested.
Q: Was there any temptation to play yourself?
TM: Yes, there was. Early on in the process...[I realized] I'm not a very good actor. I'm good at some things, acting is not my thing. I set up in my house a camera and I read a couple of the signs with myself.
I threw that shit away because it was embarrassing; I was terrible. I had very little respect for actors before I made a movie, and now I have a lot of respect. It is very hard. I had no idea how hard it was until I tried it and I watched myself and I'm like, "I suck! I'm terrible!"
Q: What gave you the most anxiety? Casting someone to play you? Or casting the women?
TM: There are so many great actresses in Hollywood and there are so few good parts, I knew we would find good actresses, so that wasn't the problem. I was anxious that we would get the Drew character right and the Tucker character right. I thought the Drew character would be harder but Jesse Bradford was the first person we saw and he nailed it right off the bat. After that we just couldn't find a Tucker; it took 200 or 300 actors coming in.
Q: Really? You must have been sick of yourself.
TM: Dude, you have no idea. It was so hard to find that balance between guy who is redeemable and likable but still kind of edgy and an asshole. Actors were either kind of creepy and aggressive, or weepy pussies; no one fit that line. Czuchry came in though and nailed it.
Q: You can't be too creepy and disgusting because you have to create a sympathy.
TM: I feel like in a lot of ways he's a better me than I am because he's so much more likeable.
Q: After I got through the book, I thought there were many times when you actually displayed a moral rudder and had a sort of positive point of view. It's a little unfair to call you completely an asshole.
TM: Well you can be an asshole and still not be a bad person. You can be a good guy and still be an asshole. Well there's no question I've grown. Making a movie is no joke man; you've got to learn how to collaborate and how to work with other people, and I wasn't good at that in the beginning. I've gotten much better now.