Tucker Max on empathy, assholery and getting older
WW: It seems like you're a guy who appreciates the storytelling tradition, and the way your narratives are set up is almost as if you're relating the story to a listener. And in that tradition, there's always going to be some degree of embellishment, so I'm wondering, how much, would you say, of your stories are fact?
TM: That's a good question. That's a better question than "Is this story true or not?" Of course they're true. Something P.J. O'Rourke said, and I think this applies to me, is that a good story, by its nature, is always more truthful than factual. All my stories are truthful. All the major events I say happened, happened. All the people I talk to and talk about -- I mean, I'm not making anything up. But there's no doubt that I see my reality through my lens. I've written a lot of stories where the people who were there are like, "Okay, that's true, but that is not the way I remember it happening."
It seems like a contradiction, but it's not. It's like, have you ever been telling a story to your friends, and your friends stop you and they're like, "It didn't happen like that; it happened like this"? I mean, you guys aren't arguing about basic facts of the story, you guys are arguing about how you perceive them. So there's no doubt that my stories are kind of told through my lens and my way of perceiving them. But I don't intentionally embellish them. Like, embellishment would be like, in reality I'm five-foot-five, in the book I'm six foot or something. I tell the story, and I tell it from my perspective, which sometimes is a very skewed, messed-up, dysfunctional perspective. But I don't ever make anything up, like, "Oh, it would be so cool if this had happened, so I'm just going to write this instead.
Although, I'll tell you, I definitely have had a lot of situations where my buddies will be like, "Okay, dude, you did not say this," or "I said this." And I'm like "No, I thought I said it," and they're like "Dude, you are such a narcissist, you think everything funny anyone says, you said." [Laughs]. But that's just...whatever. I'm not writing police reports.
WW: On the subject of being a narcissist, which seems like a label you own, I think that's a pretty accurate label, and I think you do, too. Do you ever find that alienating, as far as having relationships with people? Does that ever get in the way?
TM: Yeah, of course. You can't have a healthy, functional relationship with someone who's a narcissist. It's just not possible. I mean, a pure narcissist, in its purest, clinical DSM-IV sense, is someone who essentially does not recognize the humanity of other people. That's the difference between a sociopath and a narcissist: A sociopath is somebody who recognizes that humanity and doesn't care and will violate anyway; a narcissist just kind of doesn't get it.
I actually took the NPI test, the Narcissist Personality Inventory, when I was on Dr. Drew's show, and I fall in the narcissist range, but not as high as I thought. I actually scored almost exactly the same as Dr. Drew, which kind of shocked me; I thought I'd be a lot higher.
There's no doubt I was much more narcissistic in my twenties than I am now. One of the things I've learned is that, if I want to have a healthy relationship, I really have to out-think my narcissism and kind of focus on empathy and understanding and caring about the world from other peoples' perspectives. Which is a great thing to do as a human, but the irony is, not doing that is part of what made my writing so funny. Like, "This guy's such a narcissist, and he kind of admits it but also kind of doesn't realize it," and as I become more empathetic and less narcissistic, the writing has kind of lost a little bit of that. So I want to hurry up and get all my books written before I get married or something, because I'm not going to be able to write the same stuff anymore, you know? [Laughs].