Tucker Max.

Tucker Max. Illustration by Charlie Powell

Cover Story
Life

Tucker Max’s Culture War

How the godfather of “fratire” went from chronicling his drunken sexual conquests to ghostwriting Tiffany Haddish’s memoir.

“I fucking love #MeToo,” said Tucker Max, slamming a palm on his kitchen table with so much force that a bowl of sautéed mushrooms shuddered. “These are awful, evil men who have been exploiting women for decades, and that shit going public was the greatest fucking thing.”

If you’ve read even a few pages of Max’s writing, it is deeply weird to hear that distinctive voice—the wrecking-ball bravado, the profanity and brashness—applied to a dinnertime discussion about the systemic abuse of male power. And yet here we are in his house just outside Austin, Texas, talking about Harvey Weinstein (“that motherfucker should be in jail”), Louis C.K. (a “creepy” guy who “should definitely be ostracized”), and Matt Lauer (“locking women in your office is called kidnapping, that’s a fucking crime”). Max speared his steak with a fork and shook his head in disgust.

He’s now 42 years old, married, with two young children. He also happens to have co-written The Last Black Unicorn, the best-selling memoir published in December by Tiffany Haddish, breakout star of Girls Trip and beloved comedian known for her confident raunch. News of this collaboration was met with reliable surprise, given Max’s previous work. It’s been more than a decade since he published I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, the first in a string of books chronicling countless drunken hookups and blackout nights with his bros. Here are a few things he describes in Beer in Hell and its sequels: having anal sex with a woman while his friend videotapes it without her knowledge through slats in a closet door; “getting smashed and goin’ hoggin’,” otherwise known as “fucking a fat girl”; encountering women he classifies as “Land Beast,” “Elephant Legs,” “cow-whore,” “common-stock pig,” and “wildebeest”; and attending a convention for little people explicitly to, in his words, “fuck a midget.” (He succeeds.)

The success of these books got Max anointed as the face of a new literary genre, dubbed “fratire” in the press. Now that genre has petered out; in 2018, you’d surely be hard-pressed to find a major publisher for a book that demeaned and objectified womankind in the name of low-stakes LOLs, with zero interest in addressing the broader social context. What Max once represented—the horny id of a certain species of privileged American male, held up without shame or filter—has never been more publicly reviled. Byrd Leavell, who has been Max’s literary agent since his Beer in Hell days, thinks it would be hard to take those books to market now. “Jokes can’t be offensive anymore,” he said. “They can’t be misogynist. You can’t do humor from a place of privilege because the world doesn’t want that and the kids are woke now.” One recent comment on Max’s Facebook page muses: “Didn’t realize I still followed you. Doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of room for Tucker Max in a 2018 world.”

Max knows his reputation and resents it. The mere suggestion that he might personally have anything to reckon with during this widespread cultural accounting about sexual misconduct makes him very mad. For the common perception that he is a woman-hating brute, he blames, in part, the journalists who “created a straw man and used that to virtue signal against.” For his failure to get taken seriously as a literary figure, he blasts the publishing snobs who trivialized him even as he cranked out best-seller after best-seller. He’s full of recrimination, but none of it is directed at himself. As for the women he called wildebeests or the one he sneak-filmed in the act of butt sex: “None of what I did was sexual harassment,” he said. “It was about sleeping with a lot of women, maybe being a dick to them, but not using power to rape them.” Though he’s sworn off fratire, he still detests those who judged his actions back when he dared to write stories about his life and continue to judge him today. “Telling the truth,” he said, “is the quickest way to get absolutely destroyed in our culture.”

Given this claim to alienation, it does make a strange kind of sense that his highest-profile gig in years is one in which he got paid to tell someone else’s truth. To Max, his partnership with Haddish was self-evidently a natural one. Never mind that he once tweeted, “Any hot African-American girls around? Trying to knock out Valentines Day and Black History Month all at once”—“That tweet is FUNNY!” he said. “That’s a joke SHE would make!” Like him, he said, “Tiffany is hilarious, and she tells the fucking truth.” Of media outlets that were shocked at the news Haddish had chosen to collaborate with him, he said: “Tucker Max doesn’t fit the intersectional feminist party line. Shut the fuck up! Is the book amazing or not?”

This feels like it gets at the crux of his general aggrievement: a frustration that, even now that he has a wife and kids and impassioned opinions about the monsters of #MeToo, he’s still facing down a world that is suspicious of his voice. “The only people who can tell offensive jokes now are people like Tiffany,” he said, “because a black woman can tell almost any joke she wants.” So where does he think that leaves guys like him, who dare to say the things he says while looking the way he does? “A 27-year-old me in 2018,” he said, “would have to be Tiffany Haddish.”

Aside from some kid-size bikes by the front door, the Max residence looks like a reality-show group house before the cast moves in—there’s an air of blank, stagey luxury, from the Tuscan-style wine cellar (“We have about 500 bottles in there”) to the waterfall trickling into the backyard pool. A Juliet balcony overlooks the living room. “Just a typical McMansion,” Max said, as we entered, with a kingly wave.

Max drives a Mercedes and drinks $250 bottles of pinot noir (“This is the best pinot noir made in America, and when I say best, I mean the best”). He swirls his wine before he sips it. He and his wife, Veronica, have a “household manager” (Veronica’s words) who drives the kids around. Guests to his home may be greeted with a white marble tablet bearing prosciutto and sliced cheese. The mayhem of his past has been fully swapped out for the milder chaos of domestic life. During my visit, both of Max’s children barfed profusely due to a stomach virus, one of them ralphing directly onto Max’s gym shorts. (Max calmly withdrew to change into a different pair of gym shorts.) At one point, his naked 3-year-old son scaled a high chair, leaped onto the countertop, and presented himself with one tiny hand over his crotch. “Huh!” said Max. “He is always naked, but he doesn’t usually try to cover up.”

Being “Tucker Max” has been very profitable for Tucker Max. When he started writing in the early 2000s, he said, “the entire social justice warrior movement didn’t exist.” He calls it “authoritarian” and “anti-American.” He describes Lena Dunham—“the anti-me”—as if she were its living embodiment. “She got a $6 million advance for her book, and it was a complete bomb,” he said. “I had a massive groundswell of support, massive book sales, and everyone in media hated me.” None of those book sales have diminished his sourness toward the publishing industry, which he believes has treated him as a kind of lowbrow novelty item, underpaying and underestimating him at every turn. “I could’ve so easily wrapped myself in literary pretensions and had those literary douchebags slobbing my knob for decades,” he said.

By 2011, after selling many millions of copies and producing a movie adaptation of Beer in Hell, Max felt like he’d milked his fratire days for all they were worth. “This is not who I am anymore,” he wrote on his site, in an announcement that read less like a genuine change of heart than a savvy pivot. Then he spent a few years as a kind of self-styled dating expert, cranking out a podcast called Mating Grounds and a swaggering guide called Mate: Become the Man Women Want before deciding that persona had run its course, too. He met his wife, Veronica, a nurse practitioner who now runs an on-demand medical service, through a mutual friend in 2013. “I Googled him and found his website,” Veronica recalled. “And it was like … I get inappropriately drunk, I sleep with lots of women, blah blah blah.” She was skeptical. “But my friend said, no he’s super nice, he’s donated all this money to Austin Pets Alive.” They had their first child in 2014 and were married soon afterward. “He’s done a lot of personal growth,” she said.

A lot of this personal growth came via Freudian psychoanalysis. For four years, Max saw an analyst four times a week. They discussed his relationship with his dad, a “boomer narcissist,” in Max’s words, whom he spent his youth bitterly resenting. They discussed the underlying emotional issues that drove much of his behavior during his 20s. “It’s hard for me to be vulnerable, to let people in,” he said. Overall, Max views his younger self with more self-pity than regret. “I wasn’t happy,” he says of that time. “So I moved the fuck on and said, ‘I’m gonna go become the man I want to be.’ ”

Book in a Box, the company he founded in 2014, makes perfect sense as a Maxian venture. It conveniently merges his disgust with the cultural elite, his image of himself as a kind of populist crusader, and his belief in the magical self-branding power of books. “There are all kinds of people who have really important, valuable things to say,” he said, “that the publishing industry ignores because they are not interesting to rich white people who live around Central Park.” (Recent Book in a Box titles include The Perfect Southern Fraternity Party and a hedge-fund manifesto called Bite the Ass off a Bear.) For a base price of $25,000, no matter who you are, Book in a Box will make sure your idea gets turned into a book, from conceiving to writing to printing it. Or as the company’s head of manuscript, Meghan McCracken, put it: “The whole gatekeeper system is bullshit. Here, everyone gets to have a book! I mean, if they can pay.”

But the “gateless” Book in a Box will still happily provide a path to traditional publishing if it turns out that traditional publishers are interested in one of its books. In Tiffany Haddish’s case, her manager, Joel Zadak, had heard of Book in a Box and approached Max when they were looking for a ghostwriter. “I knew there would be a possibility that feminists who know his brand who might be interested in Haddish would be like, ‘Ew gross, Tucker Max,’ ” said Zadak. But he also wanted to be practical. Haddish wasn’t famous yet. Max had lots of storytelling experience. And Haddish, he said, had never heard of Max. “I explained to her what he was,” he said. “She was like, ‘I’ve done shit crazier than him!’ ”

Obviously, the gambit worked. Haddish contracted with Book in a Box, and Max spent several days interviewing her. “People are like, she’s a black woman from South Central, you’re a white dude from Kentucky,” he said. “But the dynamics of … broken families are the same.” In the end, the memoir was acquired by Max’s Beer in Hell publisher Jeremie Ruby-Strauss at Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, and it spent four months straight on the New York Times best-seller list. “Jeremie knew I was involved and that it would be a baller book,” Max said. (Ruby-Strauss declined to comment.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Max couldn’t resist broadcasting his role. “My first new book of short stories in years is out,” he wrote on Facebook. “No, I did not transition to become a black woman. … I was the co-writer for Tiffany Haddish’s book.” He went on to call Haddish’s “Roscoe” story—a tale about the time she had sex with a disabled baggage handler, which she has been telling in her stand-up act for years—“arguably the single greatest story I have ever written.” Then came an interview with Jezebel in which he said that Haddish, despite indeed being a “fantastic storyteller and speaker,” was “not a very good writer.”

Even for those well-acquainted with Max’s famous bragginess, that Jezebel interview—in which he also declared that “part of the strategy was that my name would help sell the book”—ruffled some feathers. “Haddish is the golden goose, she is incredible, this book is saving jobs, and the Jezebel piece freaked everyone out,” said someone who works in publishing but asked not to be named for fear of professional retribution. “Tucker didn’t know how to be a ghostwriter because he didn’t know how to share the spotlight,” the source said. “There’s always an agenda there, and right now it’s leveraging Tiffany to build up on Book in a Box and make a billion dollars.”

Talking to Tucker Max feels a bit like conversing with a tennis ball machine that reflexively, vehemently spits every single ball back into your face. He deflects questions he dislikes by either calling out what he deems their inherent bias or by deploying colorful analogies to reframe the conversation. If you wonder whether he has any personal regrets about calling women “whores,” perhaps you’ll be met with: “How appropriate would it be to judge Alexander Hamilton by today’s moral and ethical standards?” Express surprise at how loudly he disdains Wall Street dudes who are into “hookers and blow” because that sure doesn’t seem like a lifestyle he would’ve disapproved of in his 20s, and you might hear: “Disapproved of or done? I mean, I don’t disapprove of gay people, but I’m not sucking a dick.” Mention that recording a woman during sex without her consent seems like the kind of thing other men might be reckoning with as part of #MeToo, and you may be met with: “You are conflating sexual consent with recording an event.” Has he lost any sleep over the way he treated women during his Beer in Hell days? “The underlying assumption in that question is that women have no agency.” Refer to his reputation for misogyny, and he is aghast: “Why would I spend so much time trying to get women to like me if I hate them?” Suggest that the name “Tucker Max” carries certain cultural baggage, and you may be interrupted with: “Had baggage with WHO? Had baggage with YOUR crowd.”

If any of this—the relentless entrepreneurial agenda, the showboating rhetoric, the bulldozer defensiveness, the elite-bashing, the victim complex—sounds familiar, he’s clear that this is a comparison he deplores. “I would say Trump and I are direct opposites,” he said. “I recognize my own fallibility and my own need for help. He does not.” Trump is, to his mind, a classic “boomer narcissist,” just like Max’s dad.

To Tucker Max, the #MeToo movement jibes quite well with his feelings about the importance of speaking truth to power, since he does not believe he was ever among the powerful. All those public apologies by men accused of sexual misconduct repulse him for their phoniness. “Raise your hand if you are the fucking dude who was writing honestly about the shit you did 10 years ago,” he said. “Oh, that would be me. The only fucking one.” By framing his writing as an act of righteous authenticity, he can insist that he feels no trepidation about the day when his own daughter will be old enough to read his books. “I actually think the books are a great way to teach kids about sex,” he said, “if you’re willing to have an honest conversation.”

But as Max talks about his own evolution, it also feels like one reason he got tired of fratire is that he became disgusted with a chunk of his fans—specifically, the Red Pill and incel types who lionize him. “Most of those dudes are fucking toxic, creepy weirdos,” he said. There was always an element of his audience, he explained, “that are people I can’t stand.” He hates being conflated with “manosphere” guys. What he cared about during his fratire years was “drinking, hooking up, partying, and writing about it,” he said. “It wasn’t a political statement.” He finds, say, alt-righter Mike Cernovich, who has a history of men’s rights activism, to be just as bad as the mainstream media types Cernovich claims to deplore: “He’s like a gargoyle David Brooks, a liar and a prevaricator and a tribalist.”

There’s something about Tucker Max that’s at once sui generis and oddly recognizable. His desire not to play mentor to the worst dregs of masculinity seems genuine, if a low bar to cross. His sincere bafflement at the idea that he has anything to answer for sounds like a turned-up-to-11 version of feelings many men are experiencing in this unprecedented moment. He’s far from the only American male who’s become more actively aware of just how widespread sexual harassment is while also maintaining that since he isn’t in the realm of Harvey Weinstein, his own behavior is personally exempt from reckoning.

Of course it’s false that loudmouth white guys can no longer say what they want and get rewarded for it. What has changed since 2006 is that our cultural gatekeepers—book publishers, the media, Hollywood—have mostly realized that the dynamics we took for granted for so long were built on power structures we didn’t see. That’s not to say that all publishers are now too squeamish about backlash to make room for voices that diverge from woke orthodoxy. The age of #MeToo, after all, is also an age in which Jordan Peterson can climb the best-seller charts by commanding men to “toughen up” because other “men demand it and women want it,” his macho philosophizing framed as an “antidote to chaos.” When Simon and Schuster bought Milo Yiannopoulos’ memoir, the publisher tried to pitch the book as a defense of “free speech” before realizing this particular title was likely to cost more in reputational damage than it was worth in sales. On the whole, if you’re willing to dress up “toxic masculinity” as ideology, to position yourself within an intellectual movement, mainstream publishers will surely still embrace you.

Max wants to imagine his books as entirely detached from any cultural moment. “I was just having fun,” he said. He doesn’t like the word fratire, in part because it makes him feel like his writing was part of something bigger than himself. But back in 2006, Max’s editor Ruby-Strauss did an interview with the New York Times that now reads like an omen. He described the success of fratire as “a reaction against … an over-feminization of the culture” at a time when men were searching for “a model other than what they’re being told to do, something more rebellious, less cautious and less concerned with external approval.” Loath as Max may be to admit it, his books were not born in a vacuum, the product of one brave and solitary brain. They were always political; now it’s just impossible to pretend otherwise.

Maybe Tucker Max couldn’t get a major publishing deal for Beer in Hell in 2018. But for all his talk about the death of truth-telling and the tyranny of social justice warriors, he is very aware that getting snubbed by tastemakers wouldn’t really ding his career. So what would he do if he were just starting out now—if he were magically single and in his 20s again? He paused to contemplate, his daughter toddling at his feet. “I would be the Logan Paul of frat guys, even though I wasn’t even actually in a fraternity,” he laughed. He wouldn’t even try to secure a mainstream media platform. He’d pipe his antics straight into the eyes and ears of his fans—no middlemen, no literary douchebags. He envisions how it might go down. He would get a case of beer and hang out with his friends; they’d go out at night and Snapchat or Instagram snippets of debauchery. As he describes it, an imaginary 27-year-old Tucker Max seems to inflate inside his head. “Then the next day my friends and I would sit around and tell the full story,” he said, “and it’d be an awesome thing.” He grinned, visualizing a not-so-hypothetical world where Tucker Max could make it big without being Tiffany Haddish after all. “I would do that like four times a week on YouTube,” he said, “and I’d be a fucking massive star.”