Hilarity Ensues is far and away the worst installment in the Tucker Max canon. It is the Phantom Menace of Fratire.
This is a difficult review for me to write. I’ve been following Max and his work for almost a decade now. I really wanted to like his latest. Tucker Max’s earlier books (I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell and Assholes Finish First) were both excellent, and I’ve been following his career since he was nothing more than a guy with a few stories on his website. I might not have even started writing if it weren’t for Max’s influence on my teen-age self (readers can decide for themselves is this is a good or a bad thing).
So I was really hoping to be impressed with Hilarity Ensues. Instead, reading it was like the first Christmas you realized Mom and Dad used the same wrapping paper as Santa Claus: Disillusioning, and disappointing.
The first section in Hilarity Ensues is a collection of stories from a month Max spent in Cancun during law school. Most of them are pretty funny, and would have held their own next to the material in his earlier works. Hilarity Ensues also contains a re-telling of IHTSBIH’s Miss Vermont story, with details that he previously had to omit for legal reasons. Parts of the revised story are absolutely beyond the pale of believability – until you see the pictures. This book had me laughing out loud in a few places, which is more than can be said for most attempts at literary humour.
Beyond that though, the book drags:
– Tucker goes to the bachelor parties and weddings of his friends, most of which are completely pedestrian
– Tucker’s friend ‘Hate’ gets disproportionately angry because Jimmy John’s put mayo on his sandwih
– Tucker goes out with the cast of Deadliest Catch and has a good time, despite getting seasick
Most painful of all, about a tenth of the book consists of text message exchanges between Tucker and random girls. Perhaps there were some gems later on in these sections, but I didn’t make it far before I started mashing my next-page button like it owed me money.
The downfall of Hilarity Ensues is not just the quality of the stories, though. Some of Tucker Max’s best work in earlier books recounts nights and events that really aren’t all that crazy. The infamous Sushi Pants Story, for example, can be fairly summarized as: Tucker buys a breathalyser, gets really drunk, eats sushi, and throws up in a bush. Eminently believable? Yes. but good luck reading it in public without making a scene.
Years ago, someone told me that the most important characteristic of good writing is honesty. An author must do his best to portray himself, his characters, and the world as he sees it, as authentically as possible. Readers may not agree, or even relate – but they will empathize. And that’s what makes for good storytelling.
Hilarity Ensues fails because it’s a dishonest book.
I don’t mean that the stories themselves are fake. Rather, the perspective from which Max writes about them is contrived. He has forced himself to write Hilarity Ensues with enthusiasm that he just doesn’t feel anymore. As he makes clear in this interview with Forbes, Tucker Max is living a very different life than he was a decade ago. More importantly, he sees his early debaucherous escapades in a different light:
“I know some of the stuff I did is, um, beyond the pale or f***-up sometimes, or mean to other people or destructive to myself. But I still did it anyway.”
“I understood intellectually in my twenties that this had something to do with unresolved parental, emotional issues. But I didn’t process it. I could look at other people and see these kinds of issues playing out in them, but I didn’t apply it to myself, because that’s the hardest thing to do for anybody. I couldn’t do that then.”
“I was a ridiculous narcissist in my twenties. It’s not even that I didn’t care about other people. It’s way beyond that. I just didn’t even understand that other people even existed or mattered. I do not believe I was a true NPD [narcissistic personality disorder] in the clinical sense. But, dude, I was close.”
“I ended up hurting a lot of people and not even realizing it. Because of that narcissism, I didn’t connect well to other people. I used a lot of people a lot of times, in ways I didn’t understand.”
“Listen I’m 35 now, I can look back on my writing and I can say this. This is something I’ve never really said before in public or admitted on the record, and I’ll admit it now: I didn’t realize this when I was writing it, but I think if you read between the lines a little bit, in between all the bravado, you can see a lot of self-loathing.
“I knew it was inevitable that I would have to look into this stuff eventually. In some vague sense, I understood the whole time that a lot of my extreme acting out came from unresolved emotional issues. And I knew deep down at some point I was going to have to face them.
“So many people describe my book as just pure id. What I’m trying to do now is to connect my ego and my superego to my id. I’m trying to understand, why was I doing all this stuff? Why was I acting this way? Through understanding all of that, you start to resolve the underlying problems that you’re acting out, in a healthier, more productive way.
“And I’ve found that, what I now want the most in a woman is—I want a partner. I want someone who is my partner in life. Who supports me, and I support her. I can share all my experiences in life with her, and she can share hers back with me. Not only do we love each other, but we accept, embrace, nurture, and care for each other.”
So Tucker Max has come to realize that his old lifestyle wasn’t quite as awesome as he thought it was while he was living it.
Which is fine. We all grow, adapt, and change throughout life. Hell, I’m only twenty-six and I’m already passing on some big nights out so I can wake up at 06:30, throw a wheatgrass shot in with my protein shake, and hit the pads for an hour before work. Good on Tucker, for making changes to his lifestyle that he felt were necessary.
But in terms of how these changes affected the quality of his writing:
Grown-up Tucker Max can no longer write the character he created based on himself, because he no longer understands him.
The end product is the inauthentic and uninteresting Hilarity Ensues. Buy it if (like me) you’ve been following Max’s work long enough that you have to. Otherwise, just pick up new copies of I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell and Assholes Finish First, and pretend the series ended there.
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If you haven’t already, check out the rest of the series:
And who knows? There may be a part 4 and 5 somewhere down the line as well. Tucker Max’s Blog has just launched, with this as its mission statement:
“From here, this blog will go onto other issues and I will write about a ton of other things, but I’m going to keep coming back to this again and again:
How does someone who has a little bit of talent and a lot of motivation succeed in life?
It’s the question I faced and answered in my life, I think it’s the question that a lot of other people want answered, and I have some perspective on that issue that can help other people.”
Which sounds interesting as fuck to me.
So the unfortunate Hilarity Ensues is headed straight to page 20 of my Kindle library, and there it will linger. IHTSBIH and AFF will retain their status as classics. As for the future – Tucker Max will determine the direction his career takes from here.
I’m hoping for the best.
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(Want to follow MY career an hope for the best?)