Beautiful Minds

Musings on the many paths to greatness.

Conversations on Creativity with Tucker Max

Interview with Tucker Max

Tucker Max is a blogger, writer, and self-proclaimed narcissist who has gained notoriety for writing about his drunken and sexual exploits as well as epic fails. His website, TuckerMax.com, has received millions of visitors since he launched it in 2002, and his two books I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell and Assholes Finish First have sold over 2 million copies between the two. His first book, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell was turned into a movie by the same name in 2009. In 2006, an article in The New York Times claimed Tucker is one of the founders of the "fratire" movement, even though Tucker Max was never actually in a fraternity.

I came across Tucker a few months ago when I was working on a cover story for Psychology Today about the allure of narcissists (see "The Peacock Paradox: How to Spot a Narcissist"). I was looking for a public narcissist to interview, and after being cursed out by Charlie Sheen from the stage of Radio City Music Hall, I was happy when Tucker Max agreed to chat with me. We ended up having a lengthy chat where he answered every single one of my questions (and I had amassed a lot of questions) about topics ranging from sex, attraction, and evolutionary psychology, to narcissism, creativity, and greatness. Below is an excerpt of our interview (see the complete, raw and uncut interview here). 

***WARNING: This material has explicit content. I recommend you go to TuckerMax.com and read some of his stories first. If they are not your cup of tea, then check out my other interviews instead, as they may interest you more.***

SCOTT: What traits do you think that you have in particular that attracts so many women?

TUCKER: All right, well, here's the thing. I'm a decent-looking guy, but I've never walked into a room and got a girl because of how I looked. Look, I'm never excluded because of my looks. I just don't stand out. When I walk in the room, when no one knows me, and I'm just a random Joe among a bar of people who are out, drinking or whatever, some sort of social event, just physically, I don't pull [women], which is fine. How you look is one of the least important things for guys. I learned that a long, long time ago, I guess kind of intuitively, and I sort of understood it and reverse engineered it.

There are two things that really matter. The most important thing is power. But how power is displayed in different societies or subgroups within societies, can always be different. For instance, in America in the 20th, 21st century, I think fame is the most important, or the most valued indicator of power. I know just in my experience, because I've been as anonymous as you are, as anyone is. And I'm now famous, and I can tell you the difference. It's profound, dude. I understand fundamentally what it's like to be the hottest girl in the bar now, because that's what it's like to be a famous dude.

That's the best comparison if you're a famous guy. It's like being the hottest girl in the bar. Girls know what it's like. A beautiful girl knows what it's like to be constantly pursued and to be viewed as an object and to always have your pick and to be able to do all kinds of s**t and get away with it because you're so hot, guys don't matter, or don't care.

Being a famous guy, it is the exact same thing. I think being famous in America is the best thing you can do if you want to get laid. It's more important than money and more important than power. If you think of political power or something like that, that sort of notion of power, it's more important than just pure status.

I mean, you put me in a room with a bunch of girls and put me with someone that has a lot of power and a lot of status but not really a lot of fame outside of his, niche, right? I'm going to pull 100 times more [women] than him in almost any room, in any situation that's not directly in his sort of like sphere of influence, because I'm famous. I'm more famous in more circles than he is.

SCOTT: Is it everything you ever wanted?

TUCKER: Oh, dude, are you kidding? This is awesome [laughs]. This is the brass ring for a guy. For a 19-year-old guy, the brass ring is, I can get any girl I want. Any guy who says I can get any girl I want is a f**ing idiot, not even a liar. That's stupid.

But I have what is, in effect, an unlimited supply of [women]; the same thing as a pretty girl. Even the mediocre girl has an unlimited supply of [men], but a pretty girl has an unlimited supply of high-quality [men]. As a dude, I don't have enough [time] to f** all the [women] that get thrown at me. I don't have time in the day. It would take three full-time jobs for me to hook up with every girl I could.

SCOTT: Do you find there are certain kinds of girls that you get more easily?

TUCKER: Oh, yeah, of course. Here's the thing. I don't even pursue girls anymore. I mean, I could obviously still pursue girls. It's not like I can't. But I don't have to pursue girls anymore. Girls come to me.

SCOTT: Do you notice a pattern amongst the kind of girls that come to you?

TUCKER: Yeah, of course, dude. Clearly it's going to be a self-selecting pool, you know. But it's not necessarily the same self-selecting pool as, say, the girls that go after like NBA players. You know, even big-time academics kind of have groupies. Anyone with any sort of fame. So like in your micro-world, or in your niche, you're kind of like a celebrity. You see the same. It's not a fundamentally different pattern.

But sometimes when you get a magnitude change in the scale, it becomes a qualitatively different thing. I'm sort of on the scale now where it's like qualitatively different, because I've been through all the stages. I've been completely anonymous, like not famous in any world at all except maybe, you know, among my friends [laughs].

And I've been a micro-celebrity. Now, I'm not Brad Pitt, but, I'm on TMZ, and I'm in the New York Post and New York Times does profiles about me and all that. So I fit under any reasonable definition of the word celebrity now. I get recognized every day when I'm out. That kind of stuff.

SCOTT: But how would you describe the kind of girls that--

TUCKER: You're talking about the self-selecting nature of the girls who pursue me, like a female me?

SCOTT: Yeah. How would you describe them?

TUCKER: That's one type of girl.

SCOTT: You said in "Assholes Finish First" that your wheelhouse are hot and emotionally unstable girls.

TUCKER: Okay, that's kind of tongue in cheek. I mean, it's funny because it's true, though. There's a truth to it. All right, that's the easiest type of girl I've found. I also get the girls who are smart. The smarter the girl, the more clever the girl, the better sense of humor the girl has, the wittier the girl, I always do better because they appreciate the subtlety of my type of humor much more than just some stupid girl who really likes Justin Bieber. You know, [chuckles] she's not going to get a lot of my jokes.

I mean, I can always model a lot of different behaviors if I want to and hook up with different types of girls, but I'm not 22 anymore, and I don't do that s**t anymore.

SCOTT: What do you think girls mean when they say "nice guys"?

TUCKER: [talking to a woman in his room] When your friends or when you describe a guy as a nice guy, what is that code for? What do you really mean? [woman responding in the background] Some kind of generic guy or whatever? Exactly. I think most girls use nice as a euphemism for, it's almost a polite way of saying [wimp]. Nondescript.

SCOTT: Unassertive.

TUCKER: Unassertive, just neutral. I titled the book "Assholes Finish First" basically for commercial reasons. The opposite of nice may be asshole but that's not in terms of effective mating strategy. I would say assertive or confident guys finish first.

SCOTT: That's right.

TUCKER: If you're trying to actually name a successful mating strategy, it's not asshole in the way most people use it. I use the word more as someone who's not going to take any s**t and going to do whatever. It's used in the media a slightly different way. But to turn the phrase in a more colloquial way that more people will engage, I would say confident or assertive or self-possessed guys.

SCOTT: Yeah, I completely agree. It's important to distinguish between dominance and assertiveness.

TUCKER: Yeah. They're different things, socially, no doubt.

SCOTT: I hate the phrase "nice guys" but do you have any advice to "nice guys" who want to be more successful with women?

TUCKER: It's stop being afraid. Guys who are unsuccessful with women, unless they're doing something fundamentally wrong, like they don't shower or something [laughs], like they're normal dudes and they feel like they're nice guys or whatever, chances are they're afraid. They're afraid of women. They're afraid of failing. They're afraid of something. And the difference between me and any of these guys is I'm just not afraid.

SCOTT:  Is that right that you've discussed the evolutionary psychology of mating with David Buss?

TUCKER: Yeah. I've hung out with David like four or five times, because I live in Austin. He e-mailed me like a year ago, and was a fan of my stuff. He was like, I'd love to meet you, so we met and hung out and got along. I know plenty about the literature, but we don't really talk about it because, what am I going to talk to David Buss about the literature about? He wrote most of the literature. I'm not like you. That's not what I studied at that level.

But we generally talk, because I have a non-academic perspective on this stuff, even though I know the academic literature. I mean, dude, I can go degree for degree with anybody. I can talk about any of that stuff, but that's just never how I've approached these issues. I approach them from a field perspective, an actual doer. The difference between like a theoretical biologist and a field biologist, you know? Like one models ecosystems and one actually picks up frogs and deals with them. That's more how I've gone through the world. And we talk more about that stuff.

SCOTT: You're very well known within the field of evolutionary psychology.

TUCKER: I've sold millions of books. I'm well known in a lot of fields.

SCOTT: Obviously you're well known in general, but I mean people specifically have academic discussions at conferences and bring up your name.

TUCKER: It makes sense because if you're talking about mating style, well, almost any discussion about evolutionary psychology and about evolution, sex is a dominant theme. There are only two types of real selection, natural selection and sexual selection. How many cultural iconic figures in America write openly and honestly and currently about sex and mating strategies in an intelligent, analytical way, but without being academic? I'm one of the only ones that does it. Writing about that stuff is never my goal. My goal is to entertain, but that's a secondary consequence. But yeah, there are not a lot of people that do it.

SCOTT: Do you know who Geoffrey Miller is?

TUCKER: Yeah, of course I know who Geoffrey Miller is. I read "The Mating Mind" when it came out, and I actually had Geoffrey Miller in the first draft of my book and I took it out. I forget which story it is but in Assholes Finish First I basically say the only reason that men do anything is because of pussy. There's a whole little intro about how you may not like it or believe it, but the fact is, without women, we'd all be like grunting apes living in caves. The first draft of the book actually had renowned intellectuals such as Geoffrey Miller who believes blah, blah, blah, but I took that out because while he's a megastar in the field, outside of the field no one knows the name so I just took it out. But yeah, I absolutely know Geoffrey Miller.

SCOTT: All right. Miller and I wrote a paper together on how humor is an important tool for mating.

TUCKER: And you know why, right?

SCOTT: Of course. We argue it's an indicator of intellectual fitness and creativity. What are you thinking?

TUCKER: Yeah, no. I mean, that's basically it.

SCOTT: It's a fitness display.

TUCKER: It's a display of wit. Well, I would just say in a different way exactly what you just said.

SCOTT: Humor is correlated with IQ, and we think that it is indicating your fitness, specifically verbal wit.

TUCKER: Oh, yeah, I know dude. I know

SCOTT: Are you aware of runaway sexual selection?

TUCKER: Of course.

SCOTT: Evolutionary biologist J. Brett Smith told me he thinks that's what's going on with you. Women see other women like you, so they like you. Do you think that's at play a little bit, the social proofing aspect? The fact that you are obviously very publicly desired by women has got to help. Is that why it is that so many women gravitate to you and you don't have to work for it?

TUCKER: Women always want the guy that other women want.

SCOTT: Exactly.

TUCKER: There are two very different things going on with me. Emotionally unhealthy people will replay their traumas over and over. If you don't fix that problem, if you don't deal with that trauma, you're just going to replay that trauma over and over in your life. That's one way to actually deal with it. There are other ways, drug addictions, you know, etc., etc. So a lot of girls who are f**ed up and have latent emotional issues see me as someone who will feed into that and basically abuse them.

I'm tired of these girls coming to me, asking me to treat them like s**t. That can be fun for a while, before you really understand what you're doing. But at 35, it's annoying and boring and just tedious, and you realize that there's a price to pay in your own soul. If you constantly treat people like s**t, it doesn't impact you in a good way. If you have a soul at all as a person that is, if you're not a sociopath.

That's one thing. The other thing that's going on is, dude, if you're smart and you read my books, you realize I'm really f**ing smart, too, because it's virtually impossible to be funny without being smart. I mean, we talked about this earlier. And if you're smart, you see that in my books. And if you're a girl and you're smart, you're like, man, this guy is f**ing smart, and that's very attractive.

So those are the two basic groups of girls that approach me. The dysfunctional ones or the smart ones, or a combination. [laughs], Because those two things often overlap.

SCOTT: Does it actually ever get boring having sex with so many girls?

TUCKER: It does. I could go on for hours about this. Dude, it's one of those things, man, if you complain about it people get mad at you. This is a problem that no one [cares] about except either someone like you who studies this issue or I can [complain] to like Paul Wall about this, or buddies of mine who understand this.

Think about it, man. I'm barely removed from being a dirt-poor nobody writer who is going to dollar-beer night seven years ago, dude, so it's not like I don't remember. At that point, I heard Ashton Kutcher or somebody complain about how annoying it is to have an unlimited amount of [women]. That pissed me off. So I try not to write about that or talk about that because it just sounds so stupid and petty and annoying and ridiculous to anyone who's never gone through it or dealt with it, you know what I'm saying?

SCOTT: Well, I don't know personally but I hear you man.

TUCKER: Right. Like if I'm starving, I don't want to hear about your indigestion, you know. Oh, I had so much at the Four Seasons tonight, f** you! [laughs]

SCOTT: You sound mature.

TUCKER : If I'm not mature at 35, God help me.

SCOTT: You know how you're portrayed...

TUCKER: Look, dude, here's the thing that annoyed me at the very beginning, and then I learned that, in the end, it benefits me a lot. If people think I'm stupid, and if people portray me negatively in modern media, basically any attention is good attention. You're not competing for good attention. You're competing for attention.

I don't want to get too deep into it, but because of various aspects of the way media works it's almost impossible for me to get positive attention from the current structure of media and who runs media and whatever. So, instead of running from negative attention, I embrace it. I took it and I ran with it, and it's fine with me [laughs]. I don't care.

SCOTT: What are your current mating goals? Are you looking for a long-term relationship?

TUCKER: There's no aspiration. It's what I'm going to do. [laughs] I'm not hoping for s**t. I know what's going to happen. Well, right now, I'm sort of in between two worlds. The last five or six or so years, the book came out in '06, and then '05, '06 is when I really started to get famous enough, like not as famous as I am now, but famous enough that I didn't have to go after girls. They would come to me. So, basically, I've spent the last five or so years, hooking up as much as I could [laughs]. I mean, the first time you ever go to a buffet, you eat until you throw up, you know? Especially if you've never seen a buffet before, you load your plate up so much, you eat so much you get sick, that's kind of like what happened to me [chuckles].

SCOTT: Do you have a specific code of morals that you live by?

TUCKER: Dude, I don't really think my code of morals is that different from anyone else's.

SCOTT: That's interesting.

TUCKER: I mean, I really don't. There's definitely places at the margin where I differ, but I would be shocked if you could somehow outline, well, it wouldn't be that hard, but if you outline what are the basic tenets of 21st-century Western morality, there are going to be very few of those tenets that I don't subscribe to in some form or another.

There's a lot about media I don't think you understand. Most media debates aren't debates. They're just people displaying, or people adopting positions that display some sort of status that they think they want. Like a pro-morality or a pro-family status or anti-sex stance or whatever, it's about displaying some sort of status. It has nothing to do with the discussion over the issues. It has nothing to do with a debate over it. It's irrelevant. I hope you as a psychologist understand that almost all of what humans say, do or display about themselves is either about status or hypocrisy or both.

SCOTT: Are you familiar with Robert Kurzban's new book "Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite"? It's an evolutionary psychology book about why everyone's a hypocrite except you. It's a really cool book.

TUCKER: You know Robin Hanson, right? He's an economist at George Mason. He writes a blog called Overcoming Bias. He writes a lot about this stuff, about like hypocrisy and status displays and stuff. He does it from a more Freakonomics perspective, and not an evolutionary biology or psychology perspective, but go look up Overcoming Bias. He writes a lot about it.

I love psychoanalysis as a discipline, and I love evolutionary psychology as a discipline, but I've always had a beef with both disciplines because they never talk to each other, and I feel like both disciplines explain a lot about the human condition and the human brain, the human thought process, but they both seem at odds because of stupid, petty academic turfs.

Modern, cutting-edge psychoanalysis is probably the best tool that exists for understanding granular, day-to-day individual people's actions. I think evolutionary psychology is the best tool to understand people at a meta-level and understand motivations and stuff like that.

The other blog you should read is called The Last Psychiatrist. This guy's brilliant, dude. I don't know who he is. He's anonymous. He just writes under a pseudonym. He's a real psychiatrist. By no means do I agree with everything he says, but he's one of the few people I read when I'm like, f**, man, I just learned something. I learn a lot from him.

But that's why you always have to, at least I do, when I always look at what someone's saying in anything, my first question is, what are their assumptions, you know? What are they trying to prove and why are they trying to prove this? What does it mean to them?

I basically survived three ways. I taught the Princeton Review LSAT, because I got a great LSAT score, and standardized tests are easy for me, so teaching that stuff is easy. And . . .

SCOTT: What’s your score?

TUCKER: I got a 170. But it was f**ing bullshit. I missed one stupid thing on one of the games, so that screwed my whole score. I should have gotten a seventy-seven or something. By the time I was teaching it, we used to do bets with each other. Within about a point or two I can get any score I wanted.

So me and a buddy would bet $50 and I’d go in and my score would be 159 and his would be like 171. Whoever got closest to whatever score we had, won the money. So yeah, dude, I can get a perfect score on that thing so easy now.

SCOTT: So you have a high IQ.

TUCKER: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Of course. But a standardized test only measures how well you take that standardized test. It’s f**ing b**. It’s so ridiculous. I mean, it’s like saying how well you shoot a free throw is indicative of how well you’re going to do in the NBA. No. A standardized test doesn’t mean s**except how well you take that test.

What learned early on it’s not about taking the test, but hacking the system of the test. I would try and learn what they’re looking for, not like what they think, what they tell you you’re supposed to learn. They’re never going to tell you the right thing. They’re lying. The way I made money in undergrad, or in, not undergrad, but after law school, before, you know, I started making money writing, was I taught Princeton Review. That pays like $20 an hour or something.

And then I would basically not make money doing this, but, I would have girls. I’ve always been good with girls, so we’d go out, oh, I didn’t bring my wallet, so they’d pay for everything or bring me food or whatever. And another way I made money was poker, and I’m terrible at math and I have no patience, so I’m a disaster at online poker, like the worst online poker player ever.

But I wouldn’t play online poker. I would play cash games in Chicago, and I would always play with the swing day traders or guys who worked for McKenzie, there are all these assholes who went to the same schools I did and thought they were real f** smart because, you know, they had all these indicators of status, right?

So I’d walk in and I would just watch them, and then in, maybe, 30 minutes was the most it would ever take, I would know. I would be able to see right through these guys. I mean right through them. I have to think if a straight beats a flush, but what I know sitting at a table is what that dude thinks about his cards. I couldn’t do like in Rounders, like at the hall, like what’s-his-face, like knows their cards based on what they’re playing. I can’t do that.

I can just tell you what he thinks in his soul about his cards. And it’s not like psychic ability. It’s just I can look at them and tell, like I can tell if this dude is lying or not. It’s so easy, and generally you can do it by talking. People, they don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t pay attention to themselves, and they’re all about tells. Most people’s tells are so obvious.

I can do this in cash games in Chicago with douche-bag day traders. I can’t do this with Johnny Chan, you know. I can’t do this with Phil Ivey. [laughs] I can’t do it to anyone like that. But with idiots like that, that’s how I made money, dude, until my writing started paying off.

SCOTT: You have intolerance for bulls**t.

TUCKER: Of course. Where do lies get you?

                                             PART II

SCOTT: Do you think narcissists are aware that they're narcissists?

TUCKER: It depends. The thing about narcissism, it's not one of those things where it's like, okay, either you're pregnant or you aren't. Narcissism is not binary like that. It's a scale.

SCOTT: You're absolutely right. It's on a bell curve.

 

TUCKER: Of course. So the question isn't, are you narcissistic or not? The question is, where do you fall on the scale and is it healthy and productive or is it not? If someone is not narcissistic at all, who doesn't have any sense of self or doesn't put themselves first in any way, that's real unhealthy. You're getting into issues. That's unhealthy. Whereas the pendulum swings the other way, malignant narcissists or pure narcissistic personalities, those people are not healthy either. So I think healthy narcissists understand that they're narcissistic and then maybe sort of handicap for it a little bit.

 

I think probably the most unhealthy narcissists are the ones who don't think they are. But, again, I don't want to come off as an expert on narcissism.

Someone who's an expert on frogs might not be an expert on evolution per se, you know. I live this and this is who I am, I would hesitate to call me any sort of expert in like a clinical, diagnostic, dealing with narcissists in a therapeutic sense. You know what I'm saying?

SCOTT: I do. The way you just phrased that-- it seems like there are many aspects of you that are quite modest.

TUCKER: Modest isn't the right word. I'm sure you understand that one of the burdens of being really smart is understanding that there's always going to be more that you don't know than you do, or at least it should be. There are plenty of smart people who don't understand this, unfortunately, and their expertise is very fragile.

I've always understood that it doesn't matter how smart I am compared to other people. There's always more that we don't know than we do know. Humble is not the right word. I'm just aware of my place in the universe in terms of what I understand.

Real confidence is earned. Where does real confidence come from, dude? Real confidence comes from proof of ability. I'm confident with women because I've done it a lot. I've failed a lot. I've succeeded a lot. I know the terrain. I know the ground. I know what I can do.

SCOTT: You don't sound like an asshole right now.

TUCKER: I'm not in that mode, dude. Anyone that goes through life just being a prick is counterproductive. You don't get [women] doing that. You have to understand, man, my stories, they're all true, but they're like a small slice, the funniest, most notable s**t that I've done in like 15 years. I don't write about taking my dog for a walk and having a nice conversation with some old lady because who gives a s**t [laughs]? I mean, what the f** is that? That's nothing. There's this girl over at my place right now who's really nice and I like her a lot and we have a good time together. I can't imagine I'm ever going to write a story about her, because who cares? There's nothing funny in that.

A lot of people don't understand that. A lot of people take the stories at face value, because I don't provide a lot of context. I just put in the best, funniest stuff. I get in late and get out early. They don't fill in the context on their own.

I'll run into somebody at Whole Foods, some 22-year-old, frat-guy douche bag will come up to me and be like, dude, are you Tucker ? I'm like, yeah, yeah, nice to meet you. He's like, I don't understand it, why aren't you drunk, screaming curses at people? I'm like, it's 11:00 a.m. on a Tuesday, dude, what the f** is wrong with you [laughs]? There are appropriate actions for all social situations, and the stuff I write about is the stuff that's funniest, not necessarily comprehensive. It's not an autobiography. It's stories.

SCOTT: It seems like people who have confidence in this world and have this sort of self-expression automatically get pegged as narcissists, right?

TUCKER: Narcissism is a very popular diagnosis. I think our culture is very narcissistic in a lot of ways, a lot more ways than it has been. There's no doubt, I was much more narcissistic at 27, when I first started writing, than I am now. I don't want to, like be, oh, I've changed or whatever, but I'm not the same dude I was when I was 25. I'm 35 now. I'm a different person in a lot of ways.

SCOTT: In what ways?

TUCKER: I was a lot more narcissistic then.

SCOTT: Do you think you've got more mature / more self-control?

TUCKER: Everything, dude. Look, I'm working on my third book right now, which is almost certainly going to be my last, because I just don't get real s**tfaced and drive my car into storefronts anymore and all the stupid s**t I did when I was so reckless and too young to know any better.

Clearly a lot of that was stupid but I'm not repudiating a fun, party lifestyle because that s**t's great. Getting drunk with your friends or talking to pretty girls or whatever will never be something I don't like doing. Ever. But there was just a certain recklessness and a certain kind of narcissism that I had at a certain point in my life, and by chance, I've started writing it down, and by chance, it got out, and people liked it. And I just picked up that ball and I carried it. I just let it take me where it went.

But yeah, dude, I promise you, my lifestyle, like the stuff I write about is no different than any of my friends did or any number of other people did. I'm just the first guy who ever wrote it down in a really funny, really honest, really compelling way. I'm famous for this s**t, you know.

I've always been the type that went with my gut. That's the way I feel and that's the way I'm going to act. If I want to act a fool and get drunk and do something stupid or whatever, then I just go do it. I just don't really feel that anymore.

I'm ready for a different phase in my life. Just like, I'm sure you probably liked to play with GI Joes when you were 12 and you didn't at 22. It's not a whole lot different. It's just different phases for you. All that kind of stuff is fun and it's great, and I'm glad I did it and I don't regret doing it, and there are, clearly, certain things I regret that I did, that I was like, oh, I got f**d up and I [laughs] maybe shouldn't have done it, but it was still funny. I'm still going to write about it.

But as a whole, I don't regret the phase at all. But I don't want to spend my whole life doing anything. I don't want to spend my whole life doing what I did when I was 12 or when I was 22 or when I was 32. That's life. Life is change and development. I'm not any different.

SCOTT: Did you find in those days that your narcissism got in the way of a long-term relationship ever?

TUCKER: [Laughs] Of course, yeah, yeah. It's like saying does laying here on the sofa get in your way of muscle development. Yeah, dude, no s**t, of course [laughs]. I mean, dude, I didn't have a girlfriend for a decade.

SCOTT: Oh, for a decade, really?

TUCKER : yeah. Okay. [sighs] there was no one seminal event, but around 23 or 24 is when I turned the corner, and that was kind of when I realized to stop living the life that everyone told me I was supposed to live. Stop living the life that I thought I was supposed to live, like check off all these boxes, check off the school box, the marriage box, the job box. But at about that age, I realized, no, I have a lot more fun going out and drinking and f**ing a bunch of chicks and trying all this stuff and just kind of being a wild man. That's what I like right now, so that's what I'm going to do right now. And I spent 10 years doing it, and it was  awesome.

It doesn't mean I don't want have a meaningful, committed, monogamous relationship someday. It just wasn't that day. There's this notion in America that you're going to have to be one thing or the other all the time. It doesn't make sense.

You go through different phases in your life. At that point in my life, I didn't want that. I was very narcissistic and in a lot of ways, dude, I was emotionally sterile. One doesn't do the things I did to the extreme that I did then without it indicating some sort of unresolved emotional issues, some sort of pathology, some sort of low-level issues. Those things just don't come from nowhere. Drinking and partying and having fun, you can be as sane as anyone and do that stuff. But I didn't just drink and party and have fun, dude. I took it to the f**ing extreme. On the scale of fun, party guys, I wasn't just an outlier. I was three or four standard deviations away from a normal fun dude. [laughs] Some of the s**t I did, I still don't know how I'm still alive. I don't know how I pulled this off. I'm not the only one who did that stuff, but I went to the extreme. But yeah, of course narcissism fed into it.

Dude, I took the NPI like five years ago. And I scored, not off the charts, but I scored actually not as high as I thought. I thought I would like be 99th percentile or whatever. I wasn't that high. I was high but not as high as I thought I would be. And I'd guarantee, if I took it now, I'd be way lower. Like I just am not the same person. Part of it is because, at some point, that started to become un-fun.

At some point, there are consequences of that lifestyle. You can ignore it, or don't care about it, but eventually they start to get old, and they start to catch up to you, and you decide to make changes. Okay, I had fun doing X for a while, I don't like the consequences of X anymore, so I'm going to stop doing X now.

SCOTT: You've lived the fast life. Are you aware of life history strategy?

TUCKER: Life history strategy?

SCOTT: Oh, my, if you're not aware of life history strategy, you would find it fascinating, because it really does explain a lot of your life, and I think it would give you a lot of insight into yourself if you looked into this. So, in other species, we have R and K selected species. Some species tend to live more of a fast life, and certain species live more of a slower life. Like elephants, for instance, live a slower life and rabbits live a fast life.

 

But recently, psychologists have been looking at the variations within humans (see "Life in the Fast Lane" series). Humans are both R and K selected, but it seems like a very strong factor that determines whether or not someone's going to live a fast life or slow life has to do with the unpredictability of their early environment and family discord and stressors in the environment. So that kind of creates this sort of mindset of not trusting the world. If I want to get anything out of this world, I need to do it myself, that sort of mentality. And I see a lot of that in you.

TUCKER: Yeah, it's true. I had, I don't want to say emotionally abusive parents, they didn't hit me. They just sucked as parents. But the irony is, in one way, I feel like they actually helped me a lot, but not on purpose. They were extremely neglectful as parents. I was never without food or clothes or nothing remotely like that, but they were always more concerned with other s**t, and I learned early on there's two ways to take that. Either you become reclusive or depressed, living in an inner world, or you just realize, oh, hey, I can't trust these people, the ones who were supposed to be here for me aren't, so, I pick up this ball and run with it or I don't.

Dude, it was weird. It never occurred to me that this wasn't the way until I realized later on, oh, my God, look at these people's parents, they do all this stuff for them and they're so sweet and they're there and they can call. I'm like, wow, that must be really f**ng cool [laughs]. I don't have any of that s**t. I had to do all this s**t on my own.

The other side of that coin, though, is like all of a sudden, you can do anything, because you've had to do it forever. I never had like a f**-the-world mindset. It was more like, I'm going to have to go get mine if I want it, like it's never going to come to me. I'm going to have to go get it. I'm that way with the entertainment business. No, I've never heard of life history strategy.

SCOTT: It explains you to a T. It seems like there are some people who, based on their life experiences, see the world in a sort of way.

TUCKER: The question to me isn't like why did I succeed. The question is, why don't all of these other people, you know? Because I know what I can do, and I know so many other people who can do what I can do and more. The question to me is like this isn't that hard, why aren't more people doing it?

I've seen a lot of people who do great things or even just a noteworthy thing, it's not that they think what they did was that great. They're confused that everyone else can't do this, too.

One of my favorite aphorisms is this Buddhist one that says, when you reach the top of your mountain, don't curse the paths that you followed to get there. You might not be happy about it, but don't curse it. That's what got you to the top of the mountain.

SCOTT: Why do you want to be great? Do you think it's due to your early life experiences?

TUCKER: Yes.

SCOTT: So, it seems your message at the end of the day is about self-expression and being yourself, right? I mean, you're not saying everyone should be an asshole or a narcissist. You're just saying own yourself, whoever that self is.

TUCKER: The last thing I'm trying to say is do any of the things I do. I mean, if it makes sense, then do it. If you don't, don't. Dude, let's be clear. When I started writing this stuff, I didn't write it with this idea in mind. It was just an emergent property of who I was. So it came through in my writing because it's who I am. But the basic idea is have the courage to be who you are, figure out who you are and then have the courage to go do it, whatever it is.

SCOTT: So do you think that's what true creativity is then, completely self-expressing yourself without acting like the way you think the world wants you to act?

TUCKER: That's what art is. Ultimately all art is about reflecting our humanity back on ourselves. What mirrors do you want to look in? Do you want to look in a muddy mirror, or do you want to look in a clear mirror? A clear mirror. So the best art is the best reflection, and what we think as a society in general, what people think about themselves or the rules or whatever is usually bulls**t, and that's why art is so amazing and so popular, because it cuts through the bulls**t in an indirect way.

That's why political cartoons work so well. That's humor. Humor short-circuits your logical, analytical sort of process and gets to the truth in a different way. That's been the whole point of satiristics and humor, to attack the powerful and to get to truth that you can get to indirectly, that you can't get to directly.

SCOTT: If you had to come up with a concise definition of creativity, would the self-expression aspect definitely be a part of it?

TUCKER: Creativity. I don't know. That's hard for me to say. I think the best definition of genius is someone who sees connections that other people don't see. Creativity, I think, maybe is the effectuation of those connections. And that can be artistic, it can be entrepreneurial, it can be technological. There's any number of ways. But I don't really limit creativity to art. I think there are a lot of creative geniuses in a lot of fields, engineering, medicine, business, academia, science, whatever, you know.

SCOTT: Yeah.

TUCKER: My broadest definition, without really thinking about it, would be bringing something of value into existence that wasn't before, or, rearranging parts in such a way that it creates something new. It doesn't have to be like bringing something out of whole cloth. You can put two things together. Remixes can be sometimes more creative than the originals. Like the Grey Album was just as good as the Black Album or the White Album.

SCOTT: Do you have a definition of greatness?

TUCKER: When I was younger, I think I might have said greatness is something like conquering the highest mountain or building the biggest bridge or blah, blah, blah, whatever. If I end my life, if I die at an old age, surrounded by tons of people who all love me and that I love and whose lives I made better, then I'll consider my life great.

Whether that means that I was nothing more than a really good father and husband and neighbor, or that could mean that I ran several business empires and changed the world for the better or something in between. At the end of the day, the only thing really that matters to me at all are the quality of the relationships you have with the people that you love and who love you, and the things that you do. If you get those two things right, I think on some level or another, you're great. You can be a great janitor or you can be a great builder or anything in between.

SCOTT: Thanks for the chat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2011 by Scott Barry Kaufman

Follow Scott on Twitter or Facebook. Contact him here!

Scott Barry Kaufman is Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

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