Tucker Max (A.B. ’98) is not listed on the U of C’s notable alumni web site, and with good reason. Potential donors are unlikely to be impressed with Max’s booze-swilling, sex-filled exploits at Duke Law School, the basis of his bestselling book,
I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, now a movie. But Max, a former Viewpoints editor, plugs the University almost every chance he gets, mentioning it more often than Barack Obama did on the campaign trail. Max spoke with the Maroon about how U of C classes led to dating Ms. Deaf Illinois and his penchant for genius.
Chicago Maroon: How did you get started writing for the Maroon?
Tucker Max: You have to realize something about why I decided to go to the U of C. I showed up, an 18-year-old freshman, and I was the most arrogant motherfucker out there. In high school, I legitimately thought I was the smartest person in the school, so I decided I was going to go to the hardest school I could find to test myself. But I don’t need to tell you how classes are.... I was in the middle of academia, full of sanctimonious little twits with their pet projects. So I was reading the Maroon, and all the columns were, “Let’s write about the Palestinian controversy.” Who gives a shit what a 19-year-old has to say about Palestine? So I wrote my own take on what was going on on campus.
CM: Your column, "Right or Wrong," dealt with pretty controversial issues, especially in the mid-90s: Gay rights, the AIDS epidemic, gender equality. What was the reaction on campus?
TM: I was a typical South Park Republican, and people lost their fucking minds. It was the biggest thing on campus because it was so divisive. I didn’t mean it to be, it was just what I thought about all these issues, but people went nuts over it.
CM: How long did you write the column for?
TM: I wrote it the first quarter of my freshman year, and then all of third year...I graduated in three years. Have you taken your language yet?
CM: Not yet. I was thinking of taking Egyptology. I’m terrible with languages, and this way I don’t have to say anything and just read pictures.
TM: That might be a good one. I took summer classes after my second year: American Sign Language with [Drucilla] “Drucy” [Ronchen]. It was great. It was the summer, so there were 10 of us and she would take us to all the deaf events in the city. That’s [how] I hooked up with Ms. Deaf Illinois, which is in the book. We had to change it to Ms. Deaf Australia or some shit because of my pussy publisher, but it was really Ms. Deaf Illinois.
CM: You said you came here to test yourself academically. Did it live up to your expectations?
TM: I have a fucking love/hate relationship with UChicago. I loved the life of the mind. [Economics lecturer] Allan Sanderson was the shit. Everything I know about economics came from Allan Sanderson. I had all these great teachers.... Learning Shakespeare from [David] Bevington, it’s almost as good as learning Shakespeare from Shakespeare. He was so sharp. People would ask really self-serving pretentious questions and he would shoot them down in such a cool way that didn’t make them feel bad. I may think I’m smart, but David Bevington is a genius. I really was into the life of the mind stuff. I would do all the suggested reading, not to write some paper for extra credit, but because I really liked what I was doing. But the school sucks in every other way. I was on campus a few years ago for a book signing. And the social life looks like it’s getting a little better. There used to be some Saturday nights where I sat in my room and studied because there was nothing going on. I missed a huge part of college and I traded it to get a truly first-class education.
CM: You have this appreciation for academics, but it doesn’t come through in your work. This movie, for example, makes you out to be a typical frat boy.
TM: Read the book. I drop Phineas Gage jokes in there. Obscure Macbeth references...There are multiple levels of humor in there. Yeah, of course there’s poop jokes, bathroom stuff. And there’s the story, which can be absurd. But all the fucking smart shit is at the bottom. I’m an entertainment writer; I’m not going to prance around telling you what happens to your frontal lobe when you take a shotgun blast in the face. Whether you see the smart stuff or not is up to you. But about being smart, you don’t create a new genre of literature without knowing what you’re doing. The chief culture writer for the New York Times said I created a new subgenre, "fratire," and I take him at his word.
Tucker Max is upfront about why he made I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, which he co-wrote and produced: He’s a narcissist on a power trip.
Max, semi-famous for his raunchy online stories about women and booze, has a bestselling book and millions of fans, so perhaps some of his cockiness is deserved. But only someone as self-absorbed as Max would release a movie as consistently cliché as Beer and claim it’s a comedic breakthrough.
The film, loosely based on a chapter from Max’s book of the same name, follows Max (Matt Czuchry), hell-bent on going to a bacchanalian strip club out of town. He drags his law school friends Dan (Geoff Stults) and Drew (Jesse Bradford) along, ostensibly for Drew’s bachelor party. Once there the three split up, leading to allegedly humorous late-night escapades involving—you guessed it—strippers and alcohol.
The premise is reminiscent of The Hangover—a bunch of party-loving dudes get wasted—but falls short in every comparison. Plot development is hardly more than a tipsy bachelorette calling out, “Let’s do shots!” and the laughs are by the books, with plenty of sex and poop jokes. Actually, there’s really just one long, explicit poop joke that’s the centerpiece of the film.
Before the screening, Max explained that Beer was unique in portraying relationships the way they play out in real life. He’s right with respect to himself: Max-the-character hardly changes over the film, just as Max-the-author probably hasn’t changed much over any three-day period.
On the other hand, there is Drew. For starters, he’s a sloppy writer’s idea of a nerd. He plays lots of Halo, owns Star Wars figurines, and wears a Star Trek T-shirt—nothing more than a collection of pop-culture references slapped together haphazardly.
Drew’s subplot only gets more ludicrous, as he meets the male fantasy “stripper with a heart of gold.” And of course she plays Halo too, so what’s not to love? Add in an adorable young kid who bonds with Drew over G.I. Joe flanking maneuvers, and there’s little doubt that Beer doesn’t know what real relationships look like.
There’s a trace effort of sophistication here, with some punch lines relying on knowledge of the Gordian Knot, Vichy France, and the Elysian Field. But just like Drew’s list of hobbies, they feel like shared elements on some Wikipedia list, rather than outlets for Max’s creative expression.
But Beer’s constant exposition—“This is how I met my mother-in-law, best bud of five years”—undoes any fleeting wit and unveils Max and co-writer Nils Parker as lazy hacks that every major studio passed up for a reason. Max, who plans on at least three more movies if Beer does well, told his fans to spread the word about the movie so he wouldn’t have to get a real job. Don’t finance his laziness.