Mac Lethal on turning his Texts from Bennett Tumblr into a novel
When indie rapper Mac Lethal launched a Tumblr blog to share the profanity laced, English-challenged, semi-delusional text messages that his cousin Bennett sent him, he had no idea it would become such a phenomenon. Now, three years and several million pageviews later, the site has evolved into Texts from Bennett, a semi-autobiographical novel that chronicles the year his dysfunctional extended family moved in with him and changed his life forever. The book uses the grammatically nightmarish and hilariously off the wall texts as a launching point and framing device to tell a down to earth story about family, friendship and falling in love. And like Bennett and the texts that launched it all, he insists it's all drawn from real life.
Before Mac Lethal's appearance at the Tattered Cover LoDo Tuesday, September 3 at 7:30 p.m. to read from and sign the book (he's also playing a show that night at the Marquis Theater), we caught up with the Internet phenomenon and Midwest rapper to talk about the road from website to novel, how much of the story is true and what comes next.
Westword: How did all this get started? What was the process of going from indie rapper to Tumblr superstar to novelist?
Mac Lethal: At first, what I would do was post on my Facebook, for a couple months before I started the blog. I would just post these quotes on Facebook for my fans to read. I'd say, "Look at this text I got" or "Look at what my cousin said." People liked them so much, but the problem with Facebook is after a certain amount of time, you can't see the posts any more. I wanted to save them, so I started a Twitter account, which worked at first but I there weren't enough characters. There's only 140 characters, so I'd run out of room.
I turned it into a Tumblr page and I just collected them there. I would link people to it here and there. Whenever there'd be a new one I'd just say, "My cousin just sent me this." For a while it was just for a very small group of people, like a thousand followers for a couple months. No one was even paying attention to it. Then one day I do this video where I'm making pancakes and rapping fast in the kitchen at the same time and I uploaded it to YouTube and it just exploded out of nowhere. Of all the things I've tried to make get popular, all the things I hoped would do really well, this was one where I was like, "Well, let's see." I uploaded it and it just annihilated, I mean fucking annihilated.
I can't remember the exact sequence of events, but I might have uploaded one recently, a text from Bennett, or linked to the page recently, and it was getting so much traffic on my Facebook from the pancake video -- two or three million a day at one point, it was the top of the front page on Reddit. Then, in like two days, the Bennett site just started getting thousands of subscribers. Every couple minutes it would jump up. Seven thousand, twelve thousand, sixteen thousand in a number of hours. Then I went back to Reddit and it was the No. 1 on Reddit and my pancake video was the No. 2 So there was a time, about a day, maybe two day period, where I had the No. 1 and No. 2 rated things on Reddit. I'm not sure anyone has ever done that before. I'm not even patting myself on the back, or acting like I deliberately did it, I'm just saying I don't know if anybody, in a 24 hour period, has ever launched two insanely hot viral projects. It was just an amazing time, to watch how crazy it was. In like three days the pancake video got a million views in 24 hours, then the Bennett thing got a million hits in 24 hours and had a 100,000 subscribers in a 24 hour period. That was November 2011 and that's when it all started.
How did it develop into a novel from there?
I got with William Morris, my agency, and they were just talking about ideas and there were obviously certain things I wasn't comfortable with and certain things I was comfortable with. We were just throwing around ideas of what we could do that would be within good taste. One of the agents suggested, "Why don't we do a book? Like a memoir on your family, or talk about your life and your cousin. Make it a funny story and incorporate the texts." And I said, "I'd love to do that, that would be great."
Without giving too much away, the book is an ode to how I met my wife and it's a love story. It was just a cool thing to be a part of. One thing I'll say, just to be clear, is this was never a thing I intended on doing. It just kind of fell in my lap. I wish that I could take credit and be like, "Oh yeah, I had a vision for this and I'm a genius." It was nothing like that at all. It was really a matter of, out of nowhere, the Tumblr page exploded and all of the sudden I had this book deal.
It would be some supervillain-level skills if you could plan something like that, like "Well, I want to write a memoir-ish novel, so let's start with a Tumblr of funny texts..."
[Laughs] Yeah, yeah. I think that there's always a wish that that's going to happen, but to sit there and act like I had some password to the universe and hacked into it. It's just not true. A lot of this was just luck and a really cool experience. I was like, "Wow, this is awesome that this is happening."