Even though Mixergy is the most popular startup podcast, apparently iTunes won’t feature it because I allow cursing in my interviews.
But listen to this interview with Tucker Max and I think you’ll see how cursing gives you an authentic understanding of how he became a bestselling author and built up his huge online following.
If you’re someone who hates when my guests hold back even just a little, you’ll love this interview. Tucker gave honest and introspective answers to questions that he could have easily blown off as too dorky, like “where did you get your confidence?” or too insulting, like “how did you recover when your movie failed publicly?”
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Here’s the program.
Andrew: Hey, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart, and today I’ve got with me a real asshole. Tucker Max is the author of “Assholes Finish First.” Am I holding it up properly? There it is. A book, which is full of stories where he’s either pissing people off or he’s sleeping with them or both. His previous book, “I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell,” has been on The New York Times Best Seller list every year since it came out. Tucker, welcome to Mixergy, man.
Tucker: Thank you, man
Andrew: So you’re getting rich off telling these stories, aren’t you?
Tucker: That’s what happens when you sell millions of books, yeah.
Andrew: How much money are you making off this book? What did they pay you to write “Assholes Finish First”?
Tucker: I didn’t get much of an advance, only $300,000, which, you know, considering how many copies of “Beer in Hell” I sold is not much, because I signed the advance for that real early. So, I mean everyone, all authors get the same deal. My hard cover deal is 15 percent of cover. So I’m making whatever, $3.45 or $3.65 a book, something like that.
Andrew: I was just listening to Howard Stern talk about how he didn’t get anything after his advance. I think he said that he just got screwed. They didn’t report the numbers properly. Did they pay you for “Beer”?
Tucker: Oh, yeah.
Andrew: They did?
Tucker: Oh, yeah. My advance was $7,500. So I’ve gotten like five six-figure checks so far from them or something like that. No, I got paid good. They don’t mess around with that, yeah.
Andrew: So how has life changed for you? It seems like you’re still pretty much the same guy. You’re throwing up on the same stuff. How has that changed?
Tucker: Yeah, the big change, I kind of wrote about this in “Assholes Finish First,” the big change is like kind of how celebrities impacted my life, how women come to me now. Like I don’t have to go out and pick them up. Like that’s kind of the big change. And the other big change is it’s weird, it’s like the way that I approach my art and writing and life is that it’s just not . . . you can’t be as reckless and as kind of cracked out crazy, unguided missile as I used to be because I have shit to lose now. You know, like, you know, I’ve sold millions of books. I make a lot of money. People can come take shit from me now, whereas before it was like if I was, you know, if I did something stupid, I was just a random guy. It didn’t matter.
Andrew: Like what for example? What would you have done before that you caught yourself saying, “No, I can’t do that now”?
Tucker: I mean, like getting drunk and driving a car. I mean that’s always stupid. That’s never a smart thing to do, but when you are rich and famous, it’s like triple stupid. Or, you know, just like forgetting to wear a condom and saying, “Ah, fuck her, who cares,” or something like that. There’s a million things you can do and get away with or that the ramifications really don’t matter as much if you’re just Joe Schmo. But if you have a target on your chest, then sort of everything gets amplified. So you just have to be a lot more careful about a lot of the things you do and the people you hang out with. You know, of course, it’s been a long time since I met someone who didn’t, you know, become friends with someone who didn’t know who I was or didn’t like have any concept, like I kind of dealt with them on a normal level instead of them having like some preconception of who I am. Whether it’s good or bad, it impacts differently. So you know, it always impacts.
Andrew: I want to give people a sense of how life has changed. I mean girls now are, as you said, they’re throwing themselves at you. They’re pursuing you so they could have a story or maybe even be in your story. Can you tell the story of the lemon drop girl? I think that’s a good example.
Tucker: Yeah. That girl, just if you Google Tucker Max lemon drop or something, the story will come up. This girl she went to Penn State. I did a movie premier at Penn State or something like that. She came out to hook up with me, and we hooked up, whatever, no big deal. And then she wrote a story about it for this site Lemon Drop. It’s like an AOL women’s site and it blew up. It was actually a pretty fair recount of the night. And then I wrote sort of like a, not really a response, but just, you know, she wrote one thing about how I didn’t stop fucking her until she pretended that she came to get me to stop. And I was like, “Sweetie; I wasn’t paying attention to that shit. I stopped when I came. When you came was not, you know, come on.” But, you know, like that was actually not bad in terms of, she didn’t, I thought what she wrote was very fair and realistic, whereas other people have written stuff, like a couple of people have written things about their interaction with me where I’m just like it was made up. It just didn’t happen. I’m like okay, whatever.
Andrew: Yeah. There’s a sex story that I wrote up on Mixergy.com about the time the two of us did it, so.
Tucker: Yeah, right.
Andrew: I just needed the hits that week. I had advertisers to please, I needed some traffic.
Tucker: I actually did something like that on April Fools many years ago, like ’05, ’06. I wrote a story about how I went to a farm and beat up a bunch of animals and slept with a pig or something. I thought it was clear. I posted it on April 1st. I thought it was clearly obvious everyone knows an April Fools’ joke. But a bunch of people didn’t get it. Whatever, welcome to the Internet, I guess.
Andrew: You know what? I think it’s more than that. I’ve got to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect with you either. I’m reading these books. I’m getting lost in your experiences, and I kind of feel like anything’s possible with him. What am I getting myself into? So I could understand, well maybe that story’s a little bit out there, but I could understand.
Tucker: A lot of people say what you’re saying. That’s not an uncommon thing. But what always weirds me out is when I wrote these stories, it never occurred to me that they were like a weird or outliers or unusual. I thought everyone did this, because all my friends did it. So my stories were never supposed to be impressive in terms of how much I drank or how crazy the things I was doing was. They were more supposed to be entertaining and funny, because I started writing them for my friends, and you can’t bullshit your friends. You can’t lie to your friends. My friends know me. They know what I’m going to do and not do, whatever. So if I write a story about founding a children’s cancer hospital, they’ll be like, “All right. This is clearly bullshit.” But if I wrote a story about throwing up on myself, they’re like, “Okay, that’s the Tucker I know.” Yeah, it really never occurred to me that people would think that these were like, oh my God, this guy’s so crazy. Who does this stuff? Because in my universe, I thought everyone either did it or knew someone who did it.
Andrew: You started out wanting to be a writer. Is that right?
Andrew: You didn’t?
Tucker: I went to undergrad in North Chicago for Econ, and then I got a scholarship to Duke for law school. Like being a writer was not just the last thing on my mind. I was derisive of people in the arts and writers and stuff like that. I really was. Like I was one of those, I’m going to be a swinging dick, work for Goldman, blah, blah, blah. I was one of those asshole idiots that like everyone hates and they should. But I was one of those guys at 23. Yeah, the idea that I would become a writer was never, never in my head.
Andrew: So how did, when you’re telling these stories publicly, was there any fear that people would see this and you wouldn’t get a job, you wouldn’t get respect, you wouldn’t get I don’t know what in the future you wanted for yourself?
Tucker: Respect. Here’s the thing is you have to understand, you got to remember again, my entire style developed over a couple years of sending e-mails back and forth with eight guys who were just like me. So, the idea that other people would want to read this or that they even would really read this didn’t occur to me at the beginning. It only kind of came about later on as I figured out, oh my God, my friends would forward the stories around and other people would love them and then forward them to their friends, etc., etc. I started getting my e-mails forwarded back to me from like other social circles, like people I went to college with who didn’t get the original e-mail. They’re like, “Oh, this is so funny. Did you read this?” I’m like, “Motherfucker, scroll down and look at the header, I fucking wrote that.” So when I first started doing this, it never occurred to me that the two things would intersect or interact. And then I wrote about this in my first book, I got fired from my first law job in three weeks. And then, I didn’t really write about this in the second book, but I wrote about it a little bit. My dad fired me from the family business. And so these two things happened basically within like six months or a year of graduating law school. So it was like after that my buddies were like, “Look, dude, clearly law and business aren’t for you. Why don’t you go write? You write these hilarious e-mails that are better than anything we’ve ever read, this is what you should do.” So I did.
Andrew: And is that when you launched TuckerMax.com?
Tucker: That was. That basically was the, that’s the abbreviated version, yeah.
Andrew: Before the lawsuit, actually what did we leave out of the abbreviated version that’s important for people to hear?
Tucker: I mean just like, when I was in law school, I put up this thing called the Tucker Max date application page. It was up for like six months my 2L year, and it was just, it’s still on my website. It’s just this goofy thing where girls can fill out an application to go on a date with me, and it was a total joke. It was not intended to be anything other than a joke. And no one really saw it other than the people I went to law school with and some girls or whatever. But that was it. And I took it down when we all went to work, obviously, because it had everyone’s real names and pictures. This was 2000, ’99 or 2000, this is so pre-Facebook, pre-MySpace. This is like Geocities was the big site then. So this is pre-Napster almost, I think, or right when Napster came out. And so no one was on the Internet, so no one was worried about privacy and all that bullshit. So I just took it down, but I took it down before we went to work. Basically then I got fired from two different jobs, etc., etc. And then that’s when my friends were like you need to put your website back up. I didn’t really put the Tucker date application page back up, I just put up TuckerMax.com and then I put my stories up. And the date application was up too, but that was never really like a big part of it.
Andrew: Now, before I continue with the story, I’m wondering where you get your confidence. I mean even before you were this big online celebrity, back when you were just at Duke, you talk about in the book how you’re walking up to strangers and insulting them. You’re holding a megaphone and saying to the world, “Look at me. I’m the smartest person here. I’m the ruler of the nerd campout.” Where does that kind of confidence come from?
Tucker: That shit’s funny, dude. What do you want me to say? Okay, confidence comes I think from accomplishment. If you’re a confident basketball player, it’s because you played a lot of pick up games or a lot of whatever, league games, you know what you can do against guys. I’m confident as a person because I don’t know, from day one hour one, my whole life I’ve always realized I can do this, whatever it is. Whether it’s school, whether it’s girls, whether it’s drinking, whether it’s work, whether it’s anything, thinking, life. I’ve always realized I can do it. I may not be the best, but I’m always really, really good at it. I don’t know. ,Like it’s just always been part of who I am. In fact, I’ve always been shocked other people don’t feel the same way. That to me has always been the confusing thing. Not why am I so confident, but why don’t other people do this? I don’t . . .
Andrew: Why do you think other people don’t have that kind of confidence?
Tucker: Man, you know, I don’t know, man. I’m a smart dude. I don’t know if I’m smart enough to know that. My guess would be, you know, I think a lot of people . . . this might sound weird and I might be off base, but I’m just going to give you what I think. I think a lot of people . . . I had an accidentally weird childhood. Both my parents, my parents weren’t like abusive in any way, they didn’t hit me or put anything in my butt or anything like that, but they just were not very good parents and they were never around. My mom was a flight attendant for Pan Am. My dad, my parents were divorced when I was a year and a half. I never saw my dad. He was in Florida. So I basically grew up alone and I learned how . . . I wasn’t starving or anything like that. But it was just much of my childhood was spent alone or just doing whatever I decided to do.
So I learned from an early age to be self-reliant, and I learned very early on how to cook, how to do taxes, how to figure things out, how to read a map, how to do all these things because if I didn’t figure it out, it didn’t get done, right? So I guess that really, if anything, is what caused me to be confident, because it’s like anywhere I went I was usually one, two, three, four steps ahead of my peers because I had to be. Now I think a lot of people grow up either they’re spoiled or they’re coddled or they have a family that puts them down or tells them they can’t do anything, whatever. You have a family situation or a life that defines who you are, and so they think of themselves as I am this. And so once you think of yourself as only being capable of X, then you will never be better than X. But I didn’t really have a family that supported me all that much, but also, the other side of the coin is that no one ever told me what I couldn’t do. So I just went and did it and I failed a lot, but more often than not I succeeded. And if I didn’t succeed right away, I kept working and I figured out how to do it. So I kind of learned early on it’s up to you, you know, it’s up to me and my life is going to be what I make it. And so once I got out in the real world, even school it was like I already know how to do this. I can do all this stuff. I know this stuff better than you, and then combine that with the fact that I’m a young guy, full of testosterone, arrogant, hubris, all that shit. I mean there’s definitely, it’s not just confidence. A lot of it was arrogance on my part.
Andrew: You’re saying the little things, mastering a map for example that confuses some people, just having the confidence to know I know how the map works, I know how to feed myself, I know how to lock the door when I leave the house and come back in and not wait for my mom to unlock it for me, those little things gave you confidence to do the next level things and that gave you confidence to talk to any girl anywhere and get her in bed?
Tucker: I was very self reliant and I never had a conception of what I couldn’t do. To me everything was possible because I never had anyone telling me what I couldn’t do. So, yeah, I don’t know.
Andrew: Did you ever have a setback though where you doubted yourself? How about in the beginning? Did you ever have a moment in the beginning where you couldn’t’ get a girl? Where you were unsure? Tell me about that.
Tucker: Introduce me to a guy who says that he can get any girl that he wants, and I will introduce you to a liar. That’s retarded.
Andrew: So tell me about when you were that kid in school and couldn’t do it.
Tucker: No, no. No, you’re confusing . . . people have this concept that either you’re a failure or you’re a success. But that’s just not reality. No one is both. There was a great Nike commercial a few years ago where Michael Jordan saying, you know, I’ve missed 36,000 shots in my life. I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot 29 times and failed, blah, blah, blah. It was all the things he’d done wrong. But he’s like I have six rings though because my failures are what led to my successes. And I always understood that from a very young age that it’s sort of like to be a success you don’t have to never fall down, you just have to get up one more time than you fall down. Get knocked down eight times, get up nine, you’re a winner. It doesn’t matter how many times you fail. What matters is do you learn from your failures and get back up and keep going? And I’ve failed so many times in so many ways. I got tons of stories about ways that I fail. But to me that’s not, failure’s not a bad thing. What’s a bad thing is accepting failure as defining you. I missed this basketball shot so I’m never going to take another shot again. Well that’s fucking stupid. Get better and you’ll start hitting more and more. Or my first book didn’t sell well, so I’m never going to sell again. That’s fucking stupid, maybe you should learn the mistakes, you know.
Andrew: Tucker, even the best athletes go through slumps where they get in their own heads. Did you ever have that feeling maybe even early on? Tell me about that.
Tucker: Actually, I wouldn’t . . . early on it’s weird. Early on I was way more confident than I am now, but a lot of my confidence was bluster and hubris and bullshit. That’s a very strange kind of thing. Before I started, right when I started writing, I was full of confidence because everything was possible, right? Everything was in front of me, nothing was behind me. I hadn’t failed or succeeded, so I could be anything. Now that I have traveled this path for eight years and I’m a number one best selling author and I’ve sold millions of books and I’m like a hero to a generation of kids, in a way I’m less confident than I was then. The confidence I do have is much more real and much more foundational and unshakeable, but I know who I am and I know what I could do now. I can read “Confederacy of Dunces” and I know I can never write this book. This is transcendentally good and I don’t have this ability. Or I can read some other book and be like, “This is crap. I can do this on a weekend.” I know where I fit now, which is kind of a different sort of confidence. I don’t have that crazy 20-year-old huberis anymore, but the confidence I do have is unshakable because I know here’s the proof, I’ve already done it.
But yeah, dude, that doesn’t really answer your question. Your question was have I ever doubted myself? Of course, absolutely.
Andrew: Can you give me an example of when you did? I want to relate to you on that level, and I want my audience to relate to you on that level.
Tucker: Okay. Here’s a great example, man, that everyone can understand. My first book was a massive success, and instead of doing the second book, I decided to push that off and do the movie. And Nils and I wrote this amazing script. We got offered millions of dollars from studios, turned them all down because I wanted to do the movie my way, and we picked independent path. We picked a director and we did all this sort of stuff. And we made a movie, whatever. We ended up picking the wrong director and there were a lot of problems, but I still was very proud of the movie and I still thought the movie was going to be great and it was going to blow up and do really well. I would’ve bet anything that it would have. I was very confident that it would have. As confident as I’ve ever been, and it didn’t. It just flat out did not do well at the box office, and that, I don’t want to say it shook me to my core or something. But yeah, dude, it was like, there was a lot of . . . I had to really kind of take some time off and take a step back and look at myself and say, “Okay, where did I fail? What did I fail at? What am I not seeing? Clearly I did something wrong. I saw something wrong. So now I need to figure out what that is.”
And that was tough, dude, because it was one of the first times in my life I had truly publicly failed. Not the first one, but it was one of the first time. When I got fired from the law firm, that was awful because that’s what I had trained my whole life to do. I had a degree in that. I couldn’t even finish a month at a law firm. But it’s not the same thing as doing it in public. All my friends and my family knew and that was embarrassing no doubt. But when you already have a certain, whatever, fame or celebrity status and you do something that doesn’t work, it has a different impact on you. In some ways, it’s harder to be honest because all the brown nosers are like well it wasn’t your fault. And all the people who hate you are like everything’s your fault. And neither of them are right. You have to kind of find the middle ground and you have to say, “Okay, these things fucked up and weren’t my fault. These things fucked up and I contributed to them or I caused them.”
And the movie definitely taught me a lot about myself and about how to deal with success and failure and how to move forward. It was not an easy thing, man, to come off that movie and then have to come write the sequel to a book. If I had written “Assholes Finish First” two years after “Beer in Hell,” that would’ve been when “Beer in Hell” only sold about 150,000/200,000 copies and had only been on the bestseller list a few months. It wasn’t the classic that it became. But because I pushed it off for two years to do the movie, it became this monolith and my biggest selling year ever for “Beer in Hell” was last year. And so it’s like in the shadow of that beast, that leviathan, I had to write the sequel coming off a failure. That was hard, dude. I really had to take a step back and take a couple months off and go back to my roots and find who I was and kind of figure out what I was doing right and wrong and kind of get back to basics.
Andrew: The questions you said you ask yourself are similar to questions that entrepreneurs have told me they ask themselves after a previous company closed or after they lost money in the past. What were your answers to questions like why did this movie fail? What did I do wrong?
Tucker: You mean like specific things, or more general type things?
Andrew: Whatever it is that occurred to you when you were analyzing it. What was your analysis?
Tucker: There were a lot of specific actions that won’t be interesting. But the big things, the meta lessons I took away were that I had invested a lot of my self worth in the result of the movie instead of being cognizant of and enjoying the process. And because of that it infected the process in a lot of ways and it altered the way I acted at certain times, which created sort of a cascade of bad decisions.
Andrew: Can you give me one example, and I promise I won’t harp on this. But there’s so much to learn from this.
Tucker: Okay. All right. Well, I thought I understood how the Hollywood system worked. I was still arrogant enough that I thought truly understood the system. And you could think of it the same way as starting a company, like a first time entrepreneur saying I know how to do a startup. You may think you know, but you don’t know until you’ve done it, right? I thought I knew how Hollywood worked. I thought I knew how the set would work, etc. So we picked our own director, and we ended up picking a director who essentially sold us in the room that he would act a certain way and do a certain set of things on the movie, but when it came time to do it did something totally different. And by the time we got to that point in the process, there was no way to unfuck the decision. And then because he didn’t live up to what he said he would do, I instead of, what I should’ve done is said, “Okay, we are where we are. We can’t change it. I need to figure out how to make the best situation possible out of this.” What I did was the wrong thing. I got fucking pissed and I got angry and I didn’t deal with those emotions. So instead they kind of came out in the way I acted towards him and towards a lot of other people, and it negatively . . . a movie set’s a very sensitive, delicate artistic place and you can’t act like that there. And I did because I was fucking pissed off because this guy had fucked me. And it negatively impacted the movie in a lot of ways, and I can’t even watch the move because I can see on screen in scenes where I know what’s going on in the background and I know someone’s fucking up a scene and I know it’s at least partially my fault and it drives me nuts. It drives me nuts because I didn’t have to act that way. Even with the bad decision, I could have just swallowed it in the short term and gotten the best product out and then dealt with the director later. I didn’t. I was short sighted in that way.
Andrew: So then how do you rebound from a situation like that? Were there people on the sidelines who are rooting for you to succeed and you’ve let them down? And those who are rooting for you to fail and they’re cheering at this failure?
Tucker: Yeah, of course, those people exist.
Andrew: How do you personally rebound, apart from them? How do you rebound yourself? I want to learn from this because I’m going to be in your situation. Hopefully, I’ll get to that height and hopefully I’ll survive there. But if I fall from anything, anywhere near that height, I want to learn from how you did it.
Tucker: Well, you have to start with a base where you understand who you are and what you can do. And it’s like if you invest your sense of self in your product, whether it’s a book or a movie or a website or a startup, then you’re going to, if it fails, you’re going to psychologically collapse. You’re going to be fucked up as a person, right? So you need to separate your identity from what you do. And you need to look at yourself as I am a distinct person. I have these sets of skills, I have these likes and dislikes, etc. Now this is a project I am working on, and I am going to do my best. If it succeeds, that’s great, and if it fails, that sucks but you don’t look at success as proof that you’re God or failure as proof that you’re a piece of shit. Neither of those things are true. You look at whatever happens as a learning experience. And if you fail, you say, “Okay, that sucked. What happened? What went wrong?” But you don’t’ let it reflect negatively on you. And if it succeeds, you don’t go the other way and become some bigheaded douche bag who thinks you’re King Midas now because you have one good startup. Do you understand what I’m saying?
Andrew: I do, yeah. Now what is it that, the people who I admire most are the ones who know who they are, what they’re good at. Like you listen to Gary Vaynerchuk, he’ll tell you he knows he’s good at speaking, he’s not good at writing. You listen to Tim Ferriss, I was talking to him just the other day, he says he’s good at certain things, but he’s not going to take running and make it into his life. He’s good at figuring out the small parts of running that will give him a huge advantage but not the little parts that will give him that extra edge maybe. Maybe I’m not saying it right. But he knows who he is and what he’s especially good at, and that’s what makes him so great. What is it that you’re especially good at?
Tucker: I get this question a lot, man. I don’t know. I don’t know, because I’m a pretty good writer, but there are a lot of people out there who haven’t sold any books who are better writers than me. I’m pretty funny, but there are a lot of comedians out there who are way funnier than me that no one knows about. Any specific skill that I look at in myself, I feel like I could find some many other people who are so much better at that specific skill. I don’t know either I put together a suite of skills that is unusual, like unusual combination, or the only thing I can think of, man, that I’m really good at that makes sense to me, and I could be way off, but I feel like I’m really good at being honest with myself and looking at reality as it is and not as I want it to be or not as I’m trying to pretend it is. I’m not perfect with that, and I don’t do it immediately, but I have this feedback loop in my head where I’m always comparing actual to expected or desired. I’m always comparing. So the more wrong I am, the closer I get to being right, and sometimes it takes me a long time but the feedback loop is always going. I’m always, always, always, always comparing actual to expected or desired. And I’m never, ever willing to fool myself about my expected or desired being actual. I’m always willing to look at the two together, they are separate, and compare them objectively. And because of that, I’m always willing to work on the things I’m not good at, or I’m always willing to improve the things I am good at that need to be improved or I’m always willing to kind of take a step back and listen to new ideas or change things or change my opinion. It’s not like one day okay I decided I’m going to be a Republican, and that’s just it for the rest of my life or something, or Democrat, whatever. To me, facts are something, or opinions are something that change with the facts. And if the facts change, you need to change your fucking opinion. That just makes sense to me, and that’s something I feel like I’m pretty good at. And you can kind of see that, I think, in the course of my life. Yeah, I don’t know.
Andrew: I think when I bought your book, I think Amazon recommended that I also buy some book about self discovery through writing or personal understanding through writing. It was kind of an odd pairing there, but now I’m starting to wonder if it’s not as odd as I thought it was. Is it because you write about your life that you have to take a moment to analyze what happened and who you were in that moment that gives you a better sense of who you are?
Tucker: No. You know, when I first started writing this stuff, dude, the idea that this was self-reflective writing was not in my head. I was writing this stuff to entertain my friends. And it’s weird, where I started and where I am now are very different spots. I started in my mind as just writing funny stories, but I’ve come to realize that because I’m so honest and I’m so authentic and I’m so courageous in my writing that a lot of people who don’t relate to me in terms of drinking or hooking up or partying still love my writing because they relate to the fact that I’m so courageous, that I had the courage to go be the person that I want to be and not who other people tell me I should be or not. I’m not fitting into some box everyone else is. I’m going to go fit in the box I want to fit into. And that is sort of an underlying message in my books. I’m never really explicit about it, because it’s not something I think about.
To me it’s just natural to be who I am, but it’s not natural to a lot of people. I think it kind of goes back to what we were talking about why I’m so confident is because I’ve always had to do things for myself. So the idea that someone else can tell me what to do and who to be is anathema to me. And that, I think that idea comes through in my writing, and because of that, I’m so authentic and I’m so honest and I’m so raw and no one is really like that in media, very few people. And when you are, all those people who kind of see the emperor with no clothes but are afraid to say something, you become a hero to them because you’re the guy who said the emperor has no clothes. No one wants to go first. And in my sort of niche and world I’ll go first. But it doesn’t even occur to me that I’m going first. I’m just going and I guess I’m first whatever. But all these other people who want to do that can now then come in behind me and follow the path and have the courage, well Tucker’s already done it, I can do it. It’s sort of like, I mean how many times in sports has a world record stood for years, and then someone breaks it and then like 15 people beat that time, the world record time right in a row. It’s weird. It’s happened over and over and over and over again. No one had ever run a four-minute mile. Roger Bannister does it, and then like 15 people do it in the next three years or something crazy.
Andrew: How are you saying that the emperor has no clothes? I see more like you’re saying that girl is a donkey, or I want to sleep with an amputee. Those are different from the emperor has no clothes.
Tucker: No, they’re not. They’re not because there are different ways of saying that. You can be a political commentator or you can be a Julian Assange or whatever and say the emperor has no clothes. My writing isn’t about that world. My writing is about a very different world. It’s about social interactions with 20 somethings, like goofy bar, sexual social interactions, and that world has its own rules and its own signifiers and its own social status and its own ranking and everything. The same as politics or government or anything else, it’s just different. And in that world, I’m the one who comes in and just does all these things that everyone else wants to do but is afraid to do. Or I say the things that I’m thinking that everyone else is thinking that everyone else is afraid to say. And like I said, dude, it truly, this idea, this is something I did not understand any of this when I started writing. This had all developed. It’s an emergent property of my style and the way I write is people are just utterly, incredibly attracted to the honesty and courage. I mean, you don’t have to take my word for it, dude. I can forward you 10,000 e-mails I’ve gotten just this year about this. Or you can go look at whatever, the Facebook fan page or . . .
Andrew: I don’t doubt that people relate to it. I don’t doubt that people admire it at all, and I’m not pretending that I don’t admire your openness and the courage to express what’s on your mind. In fact, I’m wondering how you can do it. When you’re faced with a blank page, there are two things that are hard — first of all to fill it up with text and second to be open in that text. And anyone who’s tried to write a blog post and given up halfway through, and most of us have at this point, or any kind of article, wonder how you do it so consistently? How can you sit there and write and be open and write and be open and write and be open?
Tucker: See, I’m going to give you the same answer I gave you on another question before. To me the heart, to me the question is how can you be any other way? I don’t understand any other way to be. Why would I sit down and write bullshit, you know? I mean, I might be fooling myself. I might write something and I’m lying to myself. We all do that, whatever. But I never in my life have written something that I knew was a lie or knew was bullshit or changed something to make it more palatable or like said well I want to write X but I can’t because someone will look down on me ,so I’ll write Y.
Andrew: But have you had the opposite? Have you sat there looking at the page saying what I really feel is I’m embarrassed that I finished so quickly with lemon drop girl and that she’s telling the world I better just maybe cover it up and say no, she wasn’t lying, no she wasn’t faking her orgasm, no I didn’t finish, was there any feeling like that? That hey, you know what, I shouldn’t be this open, I got my own self worth here? No?
Andrew: In writing and being able to just write consistently, there’s no holding back there either? You don’t see the blank page the way most people do as a scary obligation and a chore. It just flows out?
Tucker: I get a lot of people asking me . . . the biggest questions I get are all life advice. But then the second biggest set of questions are about writing. And what I always tell everyone who wants to be a writer is if you don’t feel like you have to be a writer you shouldn’t be a writer. I’ve always been a writer my whole life. I never really recognized it, but I was always the one writing overlong Christmas e-mails to family that were funny, shit like that. I was always that guy. And once I decided to kind of like just take the plunge and be a professional, to me that was a very natural thing. I got up every day and it’s like cool, I’m going to write today, blah, blah, blah. It just comes out of me. Its part of who I am is putting this stuff down on the page. If I feel like it’s a chore, I don’t fucking do it. I mean, that’s just it. Especially now, dude, I have plenty of money. I don’t have to do shit. I don’t have to get out of bed in the morning.
Andrew: You don’t have to keep this going and find new entertaining stories for the audience that’s growing every day, that’s looking for you to produce new stuff? There’s no sense of obligation there?
Tucker: No, I don’t have to. Well, first off, I’m 35 now. I don’t do the same shit I did at 25, and there’s no way I’m going to be doing this stuff at 45. So of course at some point I’m going to run out of these type of stories. Yeah, I mean I’m basically getting to that point now. Okay, then I just don’t write those type of books anymore. Either I’ll write other stuff, or if I don’t feel like writing anything, I just won’t. I mean to me it’s sort of like if you’re a racehorse, you’re meant to run, you’ll run. Don’t pull a fucking plow. And don’t try and be a quarterback. Neither of those makes sense. I am doing what I should be doing, and it’s very natural. Sometimes it’s hard work and whatever, but it’s never a chore. I never stare at a blank page and don’t know what to do. The only time I have a problem with the blank page is if I need to say something and I’m afraid to say it or I don’t want to say it. There’s a story in “Assholes Finish First,” the Tuckerfest story, that event happened long before “Beer in Hell,” and that story was supposed to be in “Beer in Hell” and I didn’t put it in “Beer in Hell” because the second section, the last section about meeting up with my fans at this wrestling thing was so emotionally stressful to me I couldn’t write it. But I’m not going to sit down . . . to me writer’s block is I won’t face something, so I can’t write about it at all. Not I don’t know what to write or I don’t feel like writing. If I can’t write something, it means that there’s some emotion or issue that is unresolved in my head about this story that I haven’t figured out yet. And so I put it to the side until I’m either ready to figure it out or I’m ready to carve into it. I wasn’t ready to write that Tuckerfest story until this book, and I was finally ready to understand and to deal with the emotions behind that.
Andrew: Can you tell that story briefly?
Tucker: It’s just I had a bunch of fans invite me to New Jersey to go to this semi-pro wrestling thing. This was like 2003, so it was like the first, I mean I only had a website. I was not famous by any stretch of the word. I just had some fans from my website. But I was 27, whatever, I thought I was famous. I was a moron. But I figured that this is pre-MySpace everything, so I didn’t understand how people lied on the Internet, shockingly. I thought all these people were going to be . . . I had this message board associated with my site and all these people made themselves out to be just like me and my friends. So I thought they would all just be like me and my friends. It’d be like cool people to hang out with. And I get there and they are quite literally the biggest collection of losers I have ever met in my life. And not like, I don’t mean like a World of Warcraft nerd or something like that. Like you can be kind of a nerd and be cool, if you’re comfortable with who you are, that’s cool, that’s no problem, man. You’re cool if you’re cool with who you are, it doesn’t matter who you are. These people were so desperately insecure and hated who they were so much they were trying to be me and my friends. And it was so awkward and so shitty and I didn’t know how to deal with it. It drove me nuts. And it drove for years, like five years, six years I couldn’t write about it because I couldn’t process the emotions, because normally I would’ve made fun of those people and fucked with them. But I didn’t do anything because they were my fans, and I was afraid to piss off my fans. And that to me was like the worse sell out that I could do. That was a betrayal of myself. And I didn’t really want to admit to myself that I betrayed myself, but there’s no other way to write that story. If I write the story, I have to kind of deal with those awful things I did or I can just not write the story. So I just didn’t write the story. But once I was able to deal with it, then I wrote the story.
Andrew: The other thing that happened that year was you wrote about your, I guess, having sex with the former Miss Vermont.
Andrew: She took you to court. A judge said don’t use her name, don’t refer to her in any way, which was a shocking case in a country where there’s freedom of speech. It got you a lot of attention. ACLU intervened. It was overturned, and you were able to write that story. That got you a lot of press. I understand how that helps make Tucker Max and put you on the map. But one case does not make a career. What did you do beyond that to make your, to grow your audience to get book sales or to get people to even know who you were that you existed?
Tucker: Okay. So I wrote a piece about this for Tim Ferriss.
Andrew: I saw that piece, yes, where you’re talking about how you sold so many books, I think, right?
Tucker: Right, right. How I marketed, because I market in kind of a different way than a lot of people. There’s a lot of marketing tips, how you do this, how you do that, whatever. But the big, big thing, the most important thing if you’re creating art, you know or content, original content is you’ve got to create something great, something that people value. Either something great or something that people value. Like someone like you, you’re not creating art in the high sense of the word art. You’re creating like content, but it’s still very, like you can create very high value content for people or you can create shitty content, right? So if you’re doing interviews whatever, an entrepreneur site, you have to focus on creating the highest value content possible for your readers. Whereas someone like me who’s sort of creating art, something out of nothing, obviously I want to create value, but there’s not a formula for creating value in that sense. What you have to do is sort of create the best art you can, and you do that by practicing a lot, working on your craft and being honest, authentic, raw, and courageous. Once you do that, everything else is easy, dude. It almost sells itself. It doesn’t totally. But the things I did that were different from a lot of people is I gave a lot of my early stuff away, and I put it up on my website TuckerMax.com. It’s still up. What that does is it lowers the barrier of entry. You go to a bookstore, there’s a book there. I think it might look good, pay 15 bucks for it, I don’t know, blah, blah, blah. For me, anyone can e-mail you my stories. You can find them anywhere. You can read two or three and say this is fucking funny, I’m getting the book. And that has helped me immensely. Probably half or more of my sales are because of that. The other half are word of mouth because I wrote something really good. I mean that’s the big thing, man, give stuff away, make it easy for people to share, engage people when they do, that kind of stuff. It’s all pretty basic Internet marketing.
Andrew: That’s what you said there. What I’m wondering is what beyond that? Because I see other people who put good stuff out there consistently and they don’t get attention. I’m wondering if it’s also that you stand for something, that when people say they like Tucker Max they’re making a statement about themselves. When people come here and say that they’re like 37signals, they’re making a statement about what they stand for. Is that true too with you?
Tucker: Yeah, you know, I think there’s some truth to that absolutely. I don’t know how much that accounts for my success because, dude, you should come to one of my book signings. You know, 400 people, it would be half men, half women. You’ll have 14 year old girls all the way up to 84 year old crazy cat ladies. You’ll have 15 year old boys all the way up to 65 year old retired Army colonels and everyone in between. So, clearly a lot of those people are not, I’m not an identity to them. There’s probably a core group, 30 percent of my fans, that that’s true for. I don’t think it’s a lot. I think a lot of people like it for different reasons. Some people like it because it’s really funny. Some people like it because it’s inspiring. Some people like it because they see it as mindless entertainment. It’s hard for me to say. It’s sort of like saying, why is Rolling Stones popular? You could say they have good music, but then it’s like well what does their music mean to people? I think it means different things to different people. I mean I have whatever Rolling Stones’ song on my iPod. It definitely means something different to me than it does to my mom, you know. So is this great art?
Andrew: What about promotion? The early rock bands that we admire we’ve learned about payola, how they used to slip coke in the sleeve of the record in order to get their records played, and that helped us all discover that they were damn good, that they were creating great art. What kind of promotion were you doing?
Tucker: You know, not a whole lot. I was mostly just getting linked on CollegeHumor or Fark or stuff like that. The mainstream media has never really embraced me and never really done [interference] done stories about me. For the most part, I would say 80 percent plus of my PR has been word of mouth, the best kind word of mouth. I mean I write good stuff, stuff that’s compelling to people, stuff that makes people want to tell other people about it. There’s something maybe to your identity idea, but I think you know something when you want to tell other people about it. When you want to share it, that to me is the mark of something great. I mean I hate to keep talking about Tim, but I’ve been reading his book “4-Hour Body.” I mean it’s fucking great. I want to tell all my friends who like working out or care about health issues; this is a book you need to read, right? And it’s not because Tim’s my friend. Like God bless him, I would help him anyway. But if the book wasn’t good, I wouldn’t tell my fucking friends. I’m not going to bullshit my friends. That to me is the mark of something really good, is do you tell your friends? People write stuff that’s okay, you know, it’s pretty good, there’s plenty of bloggers out there who are mediocre. Mediocre doesn’t cut it. You need to be compelling. And that doesn’t mean you have to be controversial or whatever, but compelling is like you can’t not read this, you know.
Andrew: What do you do to make your writing compelling, because if I hadn’t met you, if I hadn’t read the book, in fact maybe even before I read the book, I don’t know, I might’ve even thought something like hey, he’s just a guy who talks about sex and of course anyone who talks about sleeping with lots of girls is going to get a lot attention. But it’s not that. If you read the book, if you pay attention to what you, Tucker Max, are saying, you could see that it’s not that. What is it that makes you so compelling?
Tucker: Here’s the thing. Just because you talk about sex and girls and drinking, that [interference]. No, that does not mean you’re going to get attention. You’re actually wrong, dude. I have seen easily 10,000 copy cats . . .
Andrew: So what is it, because you’re right. Howard Stern used to get that wrap, and then guys would go on the air and they would pretend that they have a crazy cabby too and they were also talking dirty and they got no attention.
Tucker: And they sucked.
Andrew: So what is it that makes people . . .
Tucker: I think part of it is, it’s one part talent, ten parts practice, and then I think ten parts understanding . . . I don’t know, dude, it’s a complicated question, man. It really is. You definitely have to have a little bit of talent, but there’s way more talented people than me. And you have to practice, but a lot of people practice hard. So then the question becomes if you’re talented and you practice and you’re not making it, what are you doing wrong? And I’ll personally come back to courage. You’re writing the same shit everyone else is writing instead of writing something new and original and authentic. But you can’t be new and original and authentic by sitting down and saying . . . I never thought I was being original. That’s the last thing on my mind. I never thought I was being original. I knew I was being funny, and funny always sells if it’s actually funny. But the idea that The New York Times would say that I invented a new literary genre never occurred to me in a million years. But that’s kind of the thing about originality is that if you sit down and tell the truth, people are going to think you’re original because no one does that. In this day in age, in America, no one tells the truth. And when someone does, they . . . Howard Stern became the king of all media by doing nothing more than telling the truth. And I became the inventor of a literary genre and sold millions of books by doing nothing more than writing about nights that we all have. That’s it, dude.
Andrew: Tell the truth and courage.
Tucker: I was just honest. I was honest and skillful. I skillfully wrote about nights we all have in an honest, authentic way.
Andrew: So if we’ve got somebody who’s listening to us, maybe a fan of yours who just listened to us all the way to this point and they’re wondering, why don’t I have it? Why don’t I have the success that Tucker Max has? I’ve got talent. I always did a lot of writing even as a kid. I write every single day. What they might want to look at is, are they being courageous enough to be open and truthful? Are they really revealing what’s going on with them? And if they’re not, that’s the weakness right there. You mentioned the compliment you got from The New York Times. What else are you proud of in this career? What are some of the proudest accomplishments?
Tucker: I don’t know. That’s actually a hard question. I mean clearly I’m proud of being number one. It’s weird, man. It’s like when you start off, all the things that you think matter, when you get them, you realize they don’t matter. When I first started writing, all I wanted was a book deal. Then I got it and it was like okay, great. And then I wanted a best seller and then it was, okay, great. And then I wanted to be a number one best seller and then it was, great. I wanted to sell a million copies and then it past a million and it’s getting close to two and blah, blah, blah. And all these things that you think matter, that help motivate you at the beginning, once you’re there, it’s not that it’s a hollow victory, but it’s just like it doesn’t matter that much.
Andrew: So what does surprisingly matter?
Tucker: I don’t know, because I don’t want to give a bullshit answer. Oh, I love it when people write me that they’ve changed their lives and they’re inspired. I get those e-mails all the time and I like them, but I feel like it would be a lie for me to say that’s the proudest thing. I’m glad for those people. I really am but I don’t know.
Andrew: Is it seeing the crowd at a book signing?
Tucker: Here it is. Here’s what I’m personally most proud of, is that I have created a world for myself where I can get up every day and I don’t have to answer to anyone but myself. That’s the thing I’m most proud about. Every day I can look myself in the mirror and I can know I’m not doing anything today that I don’t want to do. I don’t have to do anything I’m doing today. My life is a choice. It’s my choice. It’s not something that’s being forced on me by someone else.
Andrew: I see.
Tucker: That to me is the ultimate success, being able to live your own life, your life your own way.
Andrew: All right. What’s next?
Tucker: I got to finish my third book and then I don’t know, man. We’ll see.
Andrew: Writing it now?
Andrew: A collection of stories like the previous two?
Tucker: Same thing as the first two.
Andrew: Getting a bigger advance this time?
Tucker: Well, we’re right in the middle of negotiating. I’m not sure. I may take less money in order to get more in the back end, take less up front money. I don’t know, dude. I don’t care. Either I’m going to get a really, really big advance, or I’ll take less money in the front to make more in the back if the book sells well. But it all evens out in the end.
Andrew: For a writer like you, where does the bigger revenue come from? Is it speaking? Is it something else?
Tucker: I mean, for me it’s books because I’ve sold millions. For someone like Bob Sutton or somebody who’s like an academic type, they probably make a lot more speaking because they don’t sell a whole lot of books. But the people who do buy their books are the type that book speakers and they charge $10,000 a gig and they get whatever, [interference] a year. I charge 25 a gig because I hate doing it. So I only do like three or four a year, but that’s fine for me, man. I don’t really like doing it, and so for 25, I’m going to do a good job. For 10, I don’t want to show up.
Andrew: $25,000 gets Tucker Max to come in and speak to your organization, and you do it three times a year?
Andrew: All right.
Tucker: I did three or four last year, something I think and I got three booked this year, next year ’11.
Andrew: Here’s a final question that people love to hear the answer to. One thing, they listened to you all this way. They admire you enough to have listened and absorbed everything you’ve said so far. They want to go do something with all this admiration and energy. They want to live the kind of life that you’re living. What’s one piece of advice that you can send them off where they could take action immediately and start to see some results?
Tucker: Man, it’s hard because any kind of advice I would give either you have to know the person to give specific advice or I have to give really general advice. But I feel like the big thing that most people do wrong is they think there are so many more rules than there are. They think there’s so many rules that they have to obey than they do. And for the most part, man, death, taxes, gravitational constant are the only three things we have to obey.
Andrew: What kind of rules do they imagine are there that aren’t?
Tucker: I’m not allowed to say this. I’m not allowed to think this. I’m not allowed to start a company, I don’t have enough money. In order to be a writer, you have to have a trust fund, blah, all these, whatever, dude. I mean everyone has their own rules. It’s impossible to like, you know, thing, but these are bullshit, almost every single one are bullshit. I mean, all these, I get those e-mails all day too, all these people like if I had this that you have, then I would be able to be a writer too. Well, I didn’t have that when I started motherfucker. A lot of people seem to think I have a trust fund. And I’m like, “Can you please give me the fucking account number so I can make a fucking withdrawal because I don’t know where that motherfucker is? I don’t know.
Andrew: All right. Well, let’s leave it there. If anyone does know the trust fund account number for Max Tucker, would you please e-mail it to him? I happen to know his e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org for that account number. Thanks for doing the interview. Thank you guys all for watching. Get the book and check out the website. Here let me hold up the book again, right there. All right. Thanks for doing the interview. It’s good to meet you.
Tucker: No problem. Thanks, man.
Andrew: Bye everyone.
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