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‘Hilarity Ensues’: the title doesn’t lie

By Gordy Stillman

Section: Arts

March 9, 2012

“Hilarity Ensues” is the third and final collection of short stories from the life of Tucker Max. Initially, I was concerned because the title seemed tame and I worried that this book would not be as ridiculous as the first two books: “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” and “Assholes Finish First.” I first came across a Tucker Max story back in high school at a youth group overnight event. I don’t remember which story was read, only that it was disgusting, intriguing, offensive and hilarious all at once.

While there was generally nothing significant to gain from reading the stories, Tucker’s way with words allows the reader to picture the scene clearly, giving important details but enabling the reader to imagine the rest. Two of my favorite stories from the older books, “The Famous ‘Sushi Pants’ Story” and “Tucker Goes to Campout, Owns Duke Nerds” set a high bar. The first was a story about a night he went out to dinner and brought along his recently purchased breathalyzer. The second was about the requirements to get season tickets to Duke basketball games as a law and graduate student. Neither story sounds particularly amazing on its face, and yet both follow—for the most part—a believable progression of events that is very entertaining to read. I picked up the latest book at the airport as something to start reading on my flight back from February break and, as the plane took off, I was pleasantly surprised that hilarity did indeed ensue.

Part of what is so well done about the book is the storytelling. It is made up of short stories that can easily enough be read in the time between classes or waiting for the BranVan. Within the limitations of a short story, the scenes are incredibly clear. Max, for the most part strikes the balance between being overly vague and adding too many extra details. In one section—the word chapter does not fit—consisting of stories about his friend Hate there is a story about a dinner party. The gist of the story is that “Hate ” had not eaten for hours and the restaurant was extremely slow. Eventually “Hate” explodes in anger as Max and “Credit” watch and find the whole situation hilarious. Broken down to the bare basics of the story, it’s nothing exceptional, but reading the detailed story in the book, it’s easy to imagine the scene in all its detail.

Another part of the stories that I particularly like are the small passages of wisdom that occasionally appear. One such example is in a story from the early 90s about where he grew up and how he liked southern rap. He describes a guy that used to play basketball at the same court as him, and discusses the guy’s car and speaker system. One day, the guy starts talking about how he was looking to sell his car, asking for $8,000 for the whole car or $3,000 sans-speakers. Max launches into a tirade about how the guy was living with his parents, and that if he had not bought the speakers in the first place he’d have been able to put a down-payment on a house of his own. I completely agreed with this for two reasons. Who in their right mind buys speakers worth almost double the value of their car, and who buys speakers with $5,000 at a time when that could get a house?

Max goes on to list three promises he made to himself, the important ones being that when he eventually would buy a nice sound-system, it not be worth more than the car, and that when he eventually would buy the car, to be able to pay in full without loans or financing.

An additional simple example comes from “The (Almost Banned, Now Complete) Miss Vermont Story,” where Max mentions the worst kind of idiot, who would say “I knew nothing, but thought I knew everything.” While philosophers have already been introduced to the idea of knowing nothing, it’s refreshing to have these elements injected into the stories. It makes them more enjoyable.

The book, however, is not without flaws. It is certainly not for the squeamish or those who do not want to read a book where the writer frequently talks about drinking and sex. Even if you can get past that, there are some details that are just unnecessary. One such example is the details about a time he was seasick, which was just uninteresting. It was funny to read how on a windy night at sea even that backfired, but it served no purpose and the story was interesting and funny enough without it. While Max is a self-admitted “asshole,” he does display a sense of personal morality through his loyalty to his friends, and his problem, in one story, with a guy cheating on his wife at a bachelor party. While freaking out that a guy would cheat on his wife doesn’t single-handedly mean that Max has a good sense of morals, it serves as an interesting contrast to the lifestyle otherwise described in his books.

“Hilarity Ensues” finishes with a bittersweet finale. Max ends the book with an epilogue explaining his retirement from writing these types of stories. While the tales had been entertaining, there’s an odd sense of satisfaction knowing that they have come to an end. Max’s first two books were both great and “Hilarity Ensues” is a fitting final collection.

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