I was reading Above The Law a while back, and Duke (an obscure Southern school I briefly attended) was on the verge of being crowned the nation’s douchiest law school. Further investigation revealed that Duke’s remarkable triumph was largely predicated on the strength of a single alumnus named Tucker Max. Intrigued by this apparent vortex of douchebaggery, my friends and I visited tuckermax.com, only to be confronted with funny, intelligently written stories.
This Tucker Max character also had a book out (we were too cheap to buy it), and a movie. Something called “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell,” with a badass trailer. Unfortunately, we were stuck in the middle of Mississippi, ten hours from the nearest stop on the premiere tour. Which was sold out anyway.
But then, a second showing was miraculously added in Austin.
Egon: Dude, we should totally go.
Jesus*: I want to go to the Ole Miss game.
Harding*: And it’s ten hours.
Big Daddy*: And we probably can’t get tickets anyway. And we have class tomorrow.
(*Names changed to protect the guilty.)
Egon: What if I can guarantee us tickets?
Big Daddy and Harding: Sure.
Egon: Here — let me play up the U. Chicago connection, both Tucker and I went there for undergrad [emails Tucker].
Email from Tucker: [Did not happen].
Egon: Okay, let me talk to Natalia. She edits GlobalComment, and she’ll get me press tickets.
Natalia: [Tells Tucker’s PR guy that Egon will review the movie, gets Egon four press tickets].
Now, this brings us to the morning of the show:
Big Daddy: God, I’m hung over [groans].
Harding: This girl’s coming to see me from Alabama. Tucker’s a funny guy, but I’m not giving up six hours of hot, sweaty fornication for him.
Egon: Tell her to come in later. You’re not going to be having sex all night.
Harding: You don’t know this girl.
Egon: Fine, what about you, Jesus?
Jesus: Ole Miss v. Southeastern Louisiana. Game of the century!
Undeterred, I got on my motorcycle and proceeded to drive ten hours through all manner of rain, wind, dirt, and a few weather conditions known only to Louisiana and southern Texas. I arrived at my crappy Austin motel with twenty minutes to spare, clinging to consciousness by the tenuous threads of Red Bull and Jolt. I took off my boots and removed my water-logged socks, washed my face and changed into a black button down with, I must point out, some seriously subtle crimson piping. I barely made it to the theater.
After the film, I found my way, along with the other press folks, onto the tour bus for the interview. Co-writer Nils Parker and his lovely wife Jennifer were supremely gracious. They fished beers out of the cooler for the press, and even rustled up some Grey Goose and orange juice when I asked for a screwdriver.
The first thing we discovered that night was that Tucker Max is a self-proclaimed narcissist, emphasis on the “proclaimed” bit. He mentioned the word at least a dozen times during the interview. According to Tucker, “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” is a story about a narcissist “learning to model appropriate behavior.” Tucker even veered into Jack Handey territory for a moment: “narcissism comes from having the ego fill what the family should have.” Mommy didn’t love him enough.
Ultimately, I’m not sure I buy that, though. The Tucker I observed was caring toward his friends and downright tender to his dog (a grey beagle mix). Tucker seems quite aware of how people perceive him (for both good and ill). And, if he was a true narcissist, he’d care. He’d need the love. Or at least the affirmation.
A true narcissist wouldn’t have alienated countless Hollywood powerbrokers to maintain creative control over his art. He’d have done anything for stardom. Instead, he passed up a lot of money to deliver a better product to his fans. This is, I believe, the fascinating part about Tucker Max. He certainly started out as a narcissist, but somewhere along the way he found a twisted form of enlightenment. He cares about other people, he merely refuses to let them decide how he lives his life.
Clarity came when I questioned whether the film’s caustic wedding speech would have gone over so well in real life. He informed me that the speech was taken nearly verbatim from two of his actual wedding toasts. “That’s the thing, the more you push and the further you go, the more room people give you … If you walk in like you own the place, you will.” I nodded, taking a swig of my screwdriver, and looking around the bus at all the real journalists.
Tucker’s macho and I’m a nerd. I like riding Harleys, he likes riding midget strippers. He’s offensive, I’m weird. All this time, I’d been asking myself what we had in common. And there it was. We do what we please, we live in the moment, and we’re shameless when it comes to pursuing our own happiness. We just happen to find said happiness in different places.
And this is where so many of both the fans and the haters get it wrong. The fans often seem to measure success by who can act the most like Tucker Max, while the haters label Tucker a failure for disregarding their social norms. Tucker, though, seems to measure success by what makes him happy (which, oddly enough, often involves acting like Tucker Max). And if Tucker didn’t constantly mention how essential his friends are to his success, to his happiness, I might still believe he was a narcissist.
But if you’re getting tired of my narcissism and want to know what the movie was like, picture “American Pie” (the original), “Superbad,” and “The Hangover,” neatly rolled into one. While this ground has been tread (and retread) before, the visceral realism, grit, and occasional whiff of soul make Tucker’s film unique. Even the two-minute toilet scene — the most outrageous I’ve encountered absent girls or cups — didn’t feel gratuitous.
“I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell” is not, as its protagonist honestly believes, the best comedy of the decade. “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” among others, has a better claim to that title. But, when it comes to intelligent, laugh-until-your-ulcers-burst raunch, Tucker Max is king. And, as the philosopher Bruce Campbell once said, “hail to the king, baby.”