The coffee shop he had suggested we meet at was full, so Tucker Max and I ended up settling in for beers next to a pool table at the back of a dark dive bar off Ninth Avenue. While he's not above having a beer at 2 p.m., Max assures me he has tamped down on the hard-partying life he became famous for. “I’m almost 40 years old, and even to this day I’ll meet someone and they’ll be like, 'I don’t understand. Why aren’t you drunk and screaming curses at people?'” he said. “I’m like, it’s 10:30 in the morning at Whole Foods. What the fuck is wrong with you?”
Clad in comfy gray sweats and a black zip-up, the once-controversial author is older and softer round the edges, but he still has the cheeky, shit-eating grin recognizable from the covers of his controversial, best-selling books “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” and “Assholes Finish First." These debased accounts of Max's alcohol-fueled sexual conquests became required reading (or hate-reading) for a certain generation, selling millions of copies and turning Max into both a villain and hero, depending on whom you ask.
Nowadays, Max has grown up a lot — he has a fiancée and a baby son— and has publicly retired from the fratire genre to concentrate on a spate of entrepreneurial ventures (plus theoccasional ill-advised publicity stunt), including a new publishing start-up called Book in a Box, which is ostensibly what we were meeting to talk about. Yet retirement aside, Max still has plenty of thoughts about the stories that made him famous. Salon spoke to Max about the pervasive influence of his books, allegations of misogyny (false, he claims) and the narrative about sexual assault in media today. In Tucker’s opinion, any enmity that feminists might have toward him is misplaced. As he says of Bill Cosby: "That’s a dude who deserves to be attacked … That shit frustrates me a lot because that’s a real villain. Let’s all go after the real bad guys."
You’re engaged now and you’re a father, so that's a long way from the Tucker Max we once knew.
People have this vision of me from the books, and that’s all true, but it’s this tiny slice of my life that was a certain period of my life. All true, all fun, all amazing, but imagine if the only thing people knew about you was stuff you did in the bathroom? I don’t talk about this huge other swath of stuff in my life because it’s not funny or interesting. I mean, it is to me. I have a great, amazing fiancée and a wonderful kid who’s healthy and happy but there’s nothing to write about that.
Some of the things I’ve read, recent interviews I’ve done, it’s like, “Tucker Max, reformed!” Are you reformed or are you just retired?
I wasn’t deformed; I didn’t need to reform. I was a young dude who did a lot of stupid, ridiculous things like most young guys do. I’m just the one who wrote it all down and turned it into a big thing. There was nothing for me to reform. Drinking and hooking up and being an idiot, if you keep doing it for 30 years that’s like … you go through your 20s, you do it, you have a great time, and then you get bored of it because at some point it gets boring, and you go do other things.
A lot of people have called your books misogynistic. Do you think that any of those criticisms are legitimate?
Well, a lot of people don’t find that. There are a small minority of people who see everything through that lens. That’s just how they see the world, as a battle of the sexes and male oppression or misogyny or whatever. That’s how they approach the world. The reality is, more than half my fans are women and women aren’t stupid. If my stuff was misogynist, then millions of women would not buy my books. In fact, the people who call me a misogynist, it’s more guys than girls, usually, and it’s the type of guys who think they can impress the type of women who say everything is misogyny.
I guess some would say that objectifying women and using the terms “slut” and “whore,” as you do constantly in your books, is pretty offensive.
Who do you think does more slut-shaming, men or women? You should actually look at the research on this. There’s actually a ton of empirical research, there’s some really good academics doing a lot of work on this. Most slut-shaming is female-female. I like women who want to have sex; that’s great. A dude who wants to hook up with women, if he’s not sex-positive that guy is a fucking moron. I couldn’t even imagine being like, “I want to sleep with you but I’m going to call you a slut and make you feel bad about having sex.” What? How stupid is that? Even from a functional perspective, that’s like the dumbest thing I could imagine.
I feel like the media climate has changed a lot since 2006. Do you think a book like yours would find as big an audience now as it did then?
My books still sell crazy numbers. Look, when looking at my material you have to understand -- and this is not a thing I just say, you can look at pictures online of any book signing I’ve done -- hundreds and thousands of people show up. The line is usually more than half that. Either all those women are stupid or my stuff just doesn’t involve any of these nonsense ideas.
They want to use me as a straw man for them to attack to make themselves look good and position their status. I am anti-misogyny, and so I become the straw man.
You videotaped yourself having anal sex with a girl without her consent. Is that something you regret? Is that something you wouldn’t do today?
Look, that act is clearly … it’s indefensible.
Have I ever said I’ve never done anything that I regret? Of course, if someone did that to someone I cared about I’d be really pissed off at them. The point isn’t that I’ve done everything right in my life. No one would read my shit if it was, “Hey, everything I’ve done is amazing and right.” The funny thing is, you don’t ask me anything about my content, you only ask me about the narrative that other people have pushed on it. You don’t say, “Tell me about dudes whose lives you’ve changed; tell me about people who love your stuff, or the entertainment they’ve gotten,” or “Let’s talk about your work.”
Why don’t you even ask why millions of women buy my books? Why don’t you ask any of the women who buy my books and love them and take positive messages from them?
So many women have told me they love my stuff because seeing anyone unapologetically do the things they want to do and be the person they want to be is inspiring, just like Chelsea Handler is inspiring to a lot of women or Sarah Silverman is inspiring to a lot of women. Women can have male and female role models, right?
The genre you helped create is called "fratire." A lot of your fans are frat boys or guys in a frat culture, and especially in the past few years we have seen a lot of things come to light about fraternity culture, especially in terms of violence against women.
They’re horrible places. I wasn’t even in a frat; I’m totally on board. Frats have been horrible places for decades; they should be burned down, most of them. Totally on board, but that has nothing to do with me. I wasn’t in a frat, I don’t speak for frats.
That said, do you have any thoughts on how administrations should be policing sexual assault on campus? There was an article in Rolling Stone ...
I read that. The UVA one? That doesn’t shock me at all, UVA has a fucked-up culture. Look, my view is not really a popular one on either side. I think the Greek system is stupid and fucked up. I don’t think the Greek system is actually at fault, though; I think it just exacerbates existing problems at certain schools; eliminate the Greek system and I don’t think anything really changes. I don’t think colleges should be in the business of adjudicating felonies. When you sexually assault someone, that’s a fuckin’ felony, and the full force of the law should come at you.
But a lot of young men see you as a role model and see your stories as something to aspire to, in the sense of viewing women as sex objects to be conquered …
Stupid, I agree. It doesn’t help men or women.
You know what actually makes me laugh? There’s a couple times in the book where I talk about drinking and driving, which is fucking terrible. Drinking and driving kills motherfuckers, that’s awful shit. No one’s ever said shit about that! That was one of the things I was anxious to put in there; it was the truth, but fuck, it was really stupid and I shouldn’t have done it. I thought for sure I’d get all kinds of shit for that but no one’s ever said a word!
I asked you if you felt like you had regrets or if you felt like you had reformed, and --
I’ll be honest. I’ve changed a lot but I don’t know how much my opinions have really, fundamentally changed. What’s really changed about me is just that I’ve grown up and matured. I was an immature 20-year-old like most guys are, and I think, for the most part, I’ve become a fully formed adult. I’ve developed the sort of emotions and perceptions and experiences that come with adulthood. I will die where I stand before I ever repent for things I’ve done; I hate that. I don’t have anything to repent for.
I don’t want to say I’m proud of getting drunk and throwing up on myself and falling down and hooking up a bunch but I’m very proud of what I did with it. I’m very proud that I created a literary genre out of it and that I sold millions of books and that I improved the lives of tens of millions of people.
Have you been following the whole Julien Blanc affair?
Is that the strangler dude? He’s so creepy.
There have been a lot of awful narratives about sexual assault in the media lately.
You know what’s fucked up about the Cosby thing? I know one of the reporters who broke one of those women’s stories like 10 years ago and no one fuckin’ paid attention! I’ve been calling Cosby a rapist for 10 years and people look at me like I’m the bad dude. What the fuck? Hannibal Buress’ skit, go Google “Bill Cosby rapist,” -- I have told people that for I don’t even know how long.
We did a whole episode on that street harassment video and a lot of guys genuinely didn’t understand why women are upset by this video. Me and Dr. Miller and a female psychologist broke down the video. There’s two things going on: the guys catcalling and saying “hey, baby” and “hey, sexy” -- I can kind of understand, if you’re a young guy, why you don’t understand that that stuff is bad. There are two things in the video that triggered my fight-or-flight response: the guys who follow her down the street for like five blocks? I’m like, go watch that video and look at the size difference. That one dude is like a foot taller than her, and listen to how aggressive his voice is.
And people see the culture that enables a guy to feel no qualms about catcalling a woman on the street as the same culture in which a guy like you might feel comfortable calling a girl a whore or a slut. I think that’s what many people have a problem with.
I hope my stuff didn’t in any way contribute to guys being shitheads. Did it? Probably yes. For me to say it didn’t is probably naive. On the other hand … of course it did. Not all guys, but a lot of guys will email me and say, “I don’t understand why this bitch doesn’t like me,” and I’m like, well, do you call her “bitch” to her face?
Bill Cosby’s a monster and I hope he goes to jail. I didn’t know this stuff, who knew this stuff? you don’t hear it in media. It’s weird, on the one hand there is a section of media that attacks … where were those people on Cosby five years ago or five months ago? That’s a dude who deserves to be attacked. Ugh. That shit frustrates me a lot because that’s a real villain. Let’s all go after the real bad guys instead of wasting time with some poor doofus European who wore a shirt some girl made fun of. There are real misogynist villains in our culture. This is not the boogeyman; they exist; that’s real shit. Instead of -- what’s the male equivalent of slut-shaming? Is there a word for it?
Well. that’s the thing, men aren’t usually slut-shamed.
I mean, like, man-shaming. Whatever. To me, the worst offender is Jezebel. In my mind Jezebel is to feminism what evangelical Christians are to religion. They’re the worst examples of it. They ignore all the real shit and go after bullshit. All the whole video game bullshit, I don’t know the details of it but it seems like instead of worrying about what’s in nerd video games, why not go after rapists in power?
Your new start-up, Book in a Box, sets out to give people who don't have the time or desire or ability to write their own story the chance to tell it, as I understand. Can you tell me how you came up with the idea and why?
I was at this entrepreneur dinner and I met Melissa, and she’s this brilliant, amazing entrepreneur. She was like, “Everyone I know wants me to write a book but I don’t have time and I'm not a good writer and publishing is this awful process … can you help me?” So, of course -- I’d like to think that I’m not an elitist snob but of course I am -- and I start lecturing her about hard work and writing and the writer’s life and all this shit and she rolls her fuckin’ eyes. And I’m like, “what?” and she’s like, “Are you an entrepreneur? I’m an entrepreneur, too, and in my job I have to solve problems. Can you solve my problem or are you just going to lecture me about hard work?” So I got together with Zach [business partner Zach Obront] and we figured out how to get ideas out of this woman’s head and put them into a book without her having to do any of the writing work, and we came up with the process.
So who are you imagining as your target audience for this? Your target customers?
CEOs, entrepreneurs, anyone with a business -- a book can act as marketing or lead generation for a business -- speakers, consultants, bloggers, people who have ideas that they want to get out. They can think about the idea and talk about the idea but they don’t know how to write; writing is its own distinct skill. You’re a writer, you understand; you probably know a lot of smart people who can talk great but they can’t write for shit, you know?
Are you working on anything yourself, in terms of writing?
I’m actually working on a separate book with Jeff Miller, who’s an evolutionary psychologist. It’s basically a sex and dating guide for guys, called "Mate." We have a podcast that’s doing amazing, where we give sex and dating advice for guys. Because, look, the reality is that almost all the sex and dating advice for guys -- you want to talk about misogyny? That’s really what it is.
Ugh. And pickup artists are the fuckin’ worst, I hate them so much.
So does it bother you when people compare you to them?
Yes, and a lot of people do. It does bother me, it absolutely bothers me. There’s certain people, certain writers in the manosphere who I think are really good and I read their stuff and think they make a lot of sense -- the Art of Manliness is a site that I like a lot -- but most of them, honestly, are angry, misogynistic little boys who got rejected by girls because they were unattractive and awful people and then they get angry at women and hate them. I am totally on board with certain types of critiques of those guys.
There was the UCSB school shooting where the shooter was addicted to pickup artist websites --
Pickup artists to me are so fuckin’ disgusting, because everything they write about is how to manipulate and trick women. When you look at relationships that way, even short-term sexual things, that’s so toxic and so fucked up. And by the way, it makes you less good at actually sleeping with women. No woman wants to sleep with that dude, even girls who just want short-term things. Find those girls and engage with them and connect with them and then go have a fling together, and everything’s great, right? If you’re trying to manipulate them and trick them, not only is it ineffective but it’s also fucking gross and toxic and terrible.
The key to mating success with women -- whether it’s short-term, medium-term, whether you want to date girls or marry them or have lots of flings or hookups -- the key is being attractive. We basically talk about how to understand women. You wouldn’t believe -- I’m sure you actually would -- how many dudes will ask us a question and it’s like, “Have you thought about how you appeared to the woman when you said this?” and they’re like, “I don’t understand; I’m just trying to get laid, dude.” Oh, dude. [sighs]
I think it would be very difficult to be an 18-year-old guy. It was difficult being an 18-year-old girl, too.
It is, because there’s no good guidance and you’re awkward and gawky and you don’t understand anything. It's a huge pain in the ass.
Your book is about glorifying your sexual conquests. Do you think having a role model like you is part of the reason that young guys feel the need to go out and get laid every night?
I totally understand that question. My books are supposed to be stories of funny, ridiculous, embarrassing, stupid things that I did; they’re not supposed to be a manual for how to date or how to party or how to treat women or how to treat yourself, but a lot of dudes took them as a manual. I was mortified of that; that’s like being German and thinking "Mein Kampf" is a manual.