If you're like most people, it's probably been quite a while since you've thought about Tucker Max. His fame peaked in the mid-2000s, back when MySpace ruled the Internet and people still needed an invitation to sign up for Gmail. His popularity — or notoriety, depending on your point of view — came at the crest of “fratire,” a genre celebrating the oft-drunken, largely carnal antics of men with more sex drive than empathy and blood alcohol levels that frequently seemed higher than their IQs.
That Tucker Max reached The New York Times best-seller list and sold an estimated 2 million to 3 million copies of his work belies the fact that the testosterone-centered comedy of that era would almost certainly not fly today. With society's growing consciousness of issues such as campus rape, to say nothing of the recent, fervent backlash against perpetrators of sexual assault, the kind of boastful misadventures that populated Max's previous work — consensual though they may have been — seem as dated as a minstrel show.
Given all that, what is Tucker Max doing now … and what's more, why does it matter?
In November, native Angeleno Tiffany Haddish made history by becoming the first black female stand-up to host Saturday Night Live. It's amazing to consider that it took 43 seasons to reach such a milestone, but it did. Equally amazing is that her new memoir, The Last Black Unicorn — released this month and already sitting at No. 1 on Amazon's list of most popular biographies — would not have been possible without the help of a man who, only a decade ago, seemed to be a candidate for the least woke person on the planet.
“When you're in your mid-20s or even late 20s, being a drunken, partying fool is sort of fun,” Max said in a recent interview. “But you reach a certain point — and I probably reached it later than most — where that just isn't rewarding anymore.”
After reeling off a string of books celebrating his own crapulence, Max tired of the lifestyle and persona he'd crafted. He retired from his postcollegiate bro life and began to settle down; he pursued meditation and therapy, married and started a family, and began to look for a more satisfying professional calling.
“I was at an entrepreneur dinner, and a woman approached me and said that she'd been trying to write a book for a decade. Everyone had been asking her to write a book about what she knew, but she just didn't have time and she hated the writing process, and she asked me, 'How do I get this book out of my head without having to go through the whole process of writing a book?' ”
Max's first response was to shrug her off. “I was coming from the idea that the world of writing is blood and sweat and tears and pain and opening your wrist on the keyboard,” he said. “Being the obnoxious elitist that I was, I started making fun of her. 'You can't write without writing,' I said, 'it's literally in the name!' But she stopped me and asked, 'Tucker, are you an entrepreneur or aren't you? Are you going to help me solve my problem, or just lecture me about hard work?' ”
Max was stunned. Until that point, not many people — be they women or men — had succeeded in taking him down a peg and forcing him to re-evaluate. This woman was right, however, and Max became, in his own words, “obsessed with the idea of how could she get a book out of her head without her having to sit down and spend a year at a computer typing it out.”
With that, Book in a Box was born.
“The point of the company is truly to unlock the world's voice,” says Max, and Book in a Box aims to do that in a highly counterintuitive way: by removing the author from as much of the book development process as possible.
“Jesus never wrote anything down, but we have the Bible. Socrates never wrote anything down, Buddha never wrote anything down … Malcolm X didn't write his own autobiography,” Max says. “Some of the greatest minds in Western history used scribes to transcribe and get their ideas into books.”
It's a seeming paradox, but if you consider the countless steps to getting a book created and published, the truth is that the author is often the least knowledgeable person about every aspect except the content. And if the author has a good story to tell but neither the time nor skills to put it to paper, how else will they get it out to the world?
“There's a lot of really smart people out there who are doing really cool things, and they just don't have the time to write a book because they're too busy doing stuff,” Max says.
Haddish can count herself among that group. Her memoir, authored with the help of Book in a Box, joined Max's work by hitting The New York Times best-seller list itself, rocketing it to prominence (and likely, a spot under many people's Christmas trees.)
As Max tells it, “The books I'm most proud of are the books that would have never got out of the person's head if it wasn't for us — and because it did, it's helped thousands or tens of thousands of other people.”