Q&A: Joel Stein, Author of Man Made

May 16th, 2012  |  by  |  Published in Divorce 'n' Custody, Edumucation, Link Bait, Q & A

Joel Stein has done a lot of things. He’s made a career out of being Joel Stein in strange situations—having George Clooney over for dinner and light handyman work, eating placenta (not on the same evening), and so on. For his new book, Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity, the TIME columnist (and former colleague of mine) fought a UFC legend, spent three days in boot camp, worked a shift with firefighters and generally scurried around looking for barrelchested role models who could teach him how to be more of a man for his young son.

One thing Joel Stein has never done? Hold an interview by Google IM. Until now. This is going to be amazing:

DadWagon: Hey Joel

Joel Stein: Are we chatting now?

Oh hell yes

Seriously, this is it? I’m disappointed. It feels like AOL.

Ok. We can call it off.

Are you wearing pants?

I am a classy freelancer. I have the Late Late Show [Joel’s appearance with Craig Ferguson from late April] open in my other browser. You look nice.

I haven’t watched it yet. I figured I should wait for [my wife] Cassandra to watch it with later. And yes, I wore a tie. No one does that anymore. Wait… are you masturbating to me on your other browser screen???

That’s what a classy freelancer does… one browser for masturbating, one for interviewing

That way you never have to stop working. I’m learning so much.

So we’re gonna talk about your awesome book, but before that, let’s talk about me. Tell the readers how we know each other.

Okay, but I get confused here. We didn’t know each other at college, right? Because I’m too old for that to have happened. So I didn’t meet you until you showed up at Time. I’m guessing that was 2002? I knew you were Rome’s cool friend who went to international places.

Great. I just wanted to get the “cool” part across. K thx. Let’s move on.

Did I get all that right? Even the 2002 part?

No. But it’s like Mike Daisey. It was “true” even if it wasn’t true. Because of the “cool” thing.

The reader show know just how slowly you type. Do you use one finger? I’ve written three columns waiting for your responses.

The other browser, Joel, the other browser. OK: Professional question. You will write for anybody—you used to write for a cigarette magazine at one point, right?—and you are prolific. Why is this your first book?

I always thought books were different, since they’re not meant to be disposable. I’ve never thrown one away. It seemed like your permanent record. So I kept waiting for an idea. I had one in 2000, but all the editors I pitched it to didn’t like it. This maybe wasn’t the idea I was waiting for, but I liked it, and I got tired of waiting and I realized that we were getting to a point where books might not get made as easily anymore, so I had to do it soon. And it wasn’t just any cigarette magazine. It was Marlboro. I do have standards.

True flavor, no doubt. So at what point did you begin to see that Laszlo was not a mouth to feed, but a book to sell? (and are we even naming the kid?)

I just realized we both have photos of us holding guns as our Gmail photos. That is the move of Jews insecure about their masculinity.

Yeah, tho you may not remember that you actually shamed me into changing my Twitter profile pic, which was of the look-i’m-on-tv-ergo-important genre.

That’s right! You had one of those “I’m on TV” freeze frames! I saved your ass on that one. It’s such a blonde Fox commentator move.

Anyhow: Laszlo

I call him Laszlo throughout the book, and that is his name, so yes, he is going to hate me for the rest of his life since I might control his Google results for a long time. He’s actually not that huge a part of the book, since, after freaking out that I was having a boy, which, as you know, I am not at all equipped to raise, I went off on my own to do man stuff. It’s not like I brought Laszlo with me in the ring to fight Randy Couture. Though I did bring him to Vegas for that trip. But he stayed in the hotel while I got my ass kicked.

In rough outline: Army, firefighter, MMA… what else?

I did three days of boot camp at Ft. Knox with a troop. They let me fire a tank. In my first three hours, before doing any physical activity—mind you it was hot, and I had only gotten 3 hours of sleep, and I locked my knees—I fainted for the first time in my life. Into the arms of a soldier. Honestly, it was so much more stressful than I could have ever imagined. They scream at your face while you eat, while you piss, while you get dressed. There’s no break.

Other stuff I did: I got a day trader to give me $100,000 to trade with for a day. Hunted, fished, rebuilt a house, drank scotch. I start by trying to fix my first mistake by becoming a Boy Scout. I went camping with a troop and earned my first badge.

The day trading seems like it doesn’t fit with the rest, does it? Isn’t that something Jews can do naturally?

No. The rest was the traditional Scotch-Irish, Southern version of manhood that has come to mean manliness in our country. But there are other versions: The stiff-upper lip, drink-tea while the bombs are falling British one, for instance. So the day trading one was my attempt to try on a different version, but still one foreign to me. That taking-money-from-other-men, snort-coke-off-a-hooker, Boiler Room kind.

And yes, the Jewish kind. Though I kept meeting secret Jews on my manventures. The baseball player who taught me how to throw, catch, hit and coach was Shawn Green, a Stanford Jew. One of the sergeants in the Marines when I did some stuff in San Diego was Jewish. So was the CEO of Patron who races a car for their Le Mans team – and he had been a Navy Seal. And, of course, the day trader.

Secret Jews are the best kind. [Ed. note: see also Theodore’s upcoming book: Am I a Jew?]

We are everywhere!

You mentioned coke ‘n’ hookers (metaphorically, no doubt), and it reminds me that I had a conversation with my wife about your book a couple days ago. I was describing it as a rather awesome premise for a book. She seemed mystified, and just wanted to know whether Cassandra thought it was dumb/dangerous to do all those things.

Yes. Cassandra thought it was stupid, that a person doesn’t change by doing stupid stunts. But she was wrong. I think we only change by doing things. I can fix stuff in my house now. Not much stuff, but some. My parents, oddly, were more worried about the UFC fight than Cassandra was. Though she tried to get me to back out the night before, when I was really messed up from the training. Dana White had a guy choke me out, twice. That plus the pre-fight jujitsu training messed me up.

Glad you got some DIY skills. One of these days Clooney is gonna get too busy to come over and fix things in your house.

It’s much cheaper than having Clooney come over and handyman. That guy can drink. And not the cheap stuff.

So are you still tweaked from the fight or training? Any lasting injuries?

No! I’m really glad. My throat hurt for about 10 days after the choking out, but it went away. In fact, I was feeling pretty great when I finished the manventures, since I was in really good shape from training for the Army and UFC and some other stuff. But then I slacked after.

That is also manly. Or at least mannish. Or manlike.

Slacking on working out? It actually doesn’t feel manly at all. The less we work out, especially as we get older, the more androgynous we look and act.

Anyhow, Julia will be glad to hear about Cassandra’s reservations. Though something tells me we weren’t talking about your book so much as my upcoming trip to Libya. Thanks for being that foil.

When [former TIME Managing Editor] Jim Kelly made a joke to me about embedding me, before anyone knew what embedding was, Cassandra said she’d divorce me if I went to Iraq. And she was serious. Libya is a little more dangerous than a fight with a UFC guy who knows you’re writing about him.
But have fun!

I will. It’s just a big hummus party over there right now.

It is a nice time of year there! Though it’s the height of tourist season, so that can get annoying.

ROFLibya. Let’s get back to the book. I gotta go, and my slow typing has kept us from talking about the awesomeness of this thing. So I’ll say this: It was always a poorly kept secret at TIME that you were a pretty amazing writer when you weren’t doing the funny stuff too. Tell me there is pathos in Man Made.

Pathos aplenty! We had the book printed, at dear cost, on specially treated paper that is salt-water resistant since the test audiences cried so much when they read it.

Still gonna fry the insides of the Kindle, though

They hadn’t thought of that! Book publishers are stuck in 1960. Honestly, I had to make my final changes in colored pencil and mail it back to them. Seriously.

We’re all fucked. Final question: what can you tell us about Man Made, the movie?

I’m having lunch with Jake Kasdan today, who I think is going to direct it. It’s being produced by Shawn Levy through a deal at Fox. Like all movies, I’m sure it will never get made. But I get to write it. I can’t believe they’re letting me do that. They also must know it will never get made.

That’s where the guaranteed money is. Charge them a ransom for the screenplay then it won’t matter. Final item that is not a question, but rather a statement: I see that you actually drove somewhere to have waffles with a blog called Girl to Mom as PR for this book. That means your time is not worth as much as I thought, and that you will definitely have time to come read at one of our DadWagon readings. I am psyched to have figured that out. See you there!

Google ads, by the way, really seized on the day trading part of our conversation. Good luck in Libya. It would be tragic if this were your last piece of journalism.

There’s the pathos. Congratulations, Joel. Thanks for gchatting.

Thank you.

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