No one rants like Drew Magary. The caps lock key was sitting around waiting for a reason to exist before he started blogging in the mid-2000s.
He is arguably the most popular writer at Deadspin, one of the most widely read sports blogs on the Internet. (He has his own menu tab on the site). You probably know him as the guy who insults your favorite football team in a series called Why Your Team Sucks. His ability to fire off hilarious takes with conviction on just about anything, even the Williams-Sonoma catalog, is second to none. His voice is so distinct, you could probably read his first paragraph without seeing a byline and know just who wrote it.
As a correspondent for GQ Magazine, he’s profiled Justin Bieber, Kid Rock and that dude from Duck Dynasty who thinks gay people are weird!
Somehow, he’s also found the time to write four books, including Men With Balls, The Postmortal, Someone Could Get Hurt. His latest novel, The Hike – a fun, hilarious, suspenseful, terrifying, heartwarming, and thrilling tale – was just released in paperback. It’s also been optioned as a TV series, for which Magary is currently working on the pilot.
Drew was on hand last week at Capitol Hill’s East City Book Shop for a reading in front of a standing room crowd. Afterwards, he took questions from the audience, signed books, and drank with his fans at nearby Barrel.
I caught up with him the next day to talk about his experience writing The Hike, his Minnesota Vikings fandom, sports media, Kid Rock’s chances of winning a U.S. Senate seat, and the 1998 NFC Title game. Fun fact: between the two of us, our NFL teams are a combined 0-6 in the Super Bowl!
First thing’s first. Please give a description of what The Hike is about.
Basically, it’s a quest. It’s a simple quest book about a man who gets extremely lost in an alternate dimension and has to get home. I always found that the best stories are the simplest ones. The simple “a man gets lost and has to get home” appealed to me, and the point was to make it as batshit crazy and funny and exciting as humanly possible.
It certainly reminded me of The Odyssey, a man is off fighting a war. Obviously, your character [Ben] isn’t fighting a war, but what’s really driving him, what he really wants is to get back to his family. Was The Odyssey an influence?
Yeah, definitely, like The Odyssey with cursing. It’s always smart that if you’re going to be influenced, why not be influenced by the most successful, tried-and true stories? It’s a Wonderful Life, Castaway, The Wizard of Oz, all of those.
The two other big influences were 8-bit videogames from the 1980s like King’s Quest and stuff like that. And when I was a kid I read a lot of folktales by a woman named Ruth Manning Sanders. It’s princes and princesses and monsters, like the fairy tales you know but not Cinderella or Snow White or anything like that, but always with enchanted animals, and these sort of enchanted objects and trickster gods, and all that sort of stuff. That was all very much my thing as a kid.
One of the things I was struck by, and I think people who read a lot of your writing on the Internet will be struck by, is just how much heart this book has. There’s a lot of monsters and cursing, and Ben goes through absolute torture – physical, psychological torture – but what drives him is his desire to get back to his family. Was that a conscience effort to put a lot of heart in the story or is that naturally who you are as a writer?
To me, it can’t be strained. It can’t be sort of forced sentimentality. The heart has to be earned. And it can’t be sort of in your face. You just have to naturally intuit that this is a real person who really cares about his family and therefore you care about him getting back to the people that he cares about. Otherwise, it really doesn’t work.
And, you know, the main character is not necessarily likable in the beginning. He’s a bit dour. But it has to be a situation where you end up rooting for him nonetheless just because you sympathize with his plight, and he is so realistically determined to see it through.
There’s a lot to self-actualization that he goes through.
Yeah you gotta have that actualization. Very clutch.
Books with “girl” in the title are really selling. Did you ever think to call it The Girl on the Hike?
[Laughs] Right. “The Hike Girl.” Yeah!
No, it’s true, those do really well. You know it’s proven that women read more fiction. So, even though my job is to write a story not based on commerce or anything like that, just try to make it as best I can in a vacuum, publishers will ask you “Hey, is this going to appeal to women? Will women read this?” Because they’re the majority of people who buy books, and so that is certainly something that when you’re writing, you think about.
Your internet writing is what people probably know you best for. At the event last night, just talking to a couple of people, I asked “How long have you been a Drew Magary reader?” And I asked them “What was one of the first things you read?” And almost to a person, they said it was “Why Your Team Sucks.”
[Laughs] Which came out just now. Just came out today.
Perfect timing. Did you think this would be great because in being a sports fan, there’s a lot of commiseration? Did you think this will tap into that and people will send it around to their family and friends and be like, “Oh he gets our fan base?”
It was less about that and more about “OK, we have to do NFL previews. How are we gonna do them so they’re not boilerplate and stupid and boring?” You know, frankly, I remember it was ’98, it was Randy Moss’s rookie year. So, the Vikings went 15-1.
Yeah, and they lost to my Falcons in the NFC Title game. I will admit you guys were the better team and should have gone to the Super Bowl that year.
I know, go to hell. Well, God paid you back in spades.
Boy, did he. I was in the gym the other day, and NFL Network always runs replays of games, and the Super Bowl  came on, and I almost threw a dumbbell at the TV screen I was so angry. But yeah, continue.
So, it was ’98, and I was dicking around on message boards and stuff like that, and there was a Sporting News message board system [that] was for Vikings fans, and as a dickhead troll, I would go to the other teams’ message boards and write a post saying “Why the Vikings are Better Than Your Team” like a total dickhead. [Laughs] But it was the foundation of roasting each team in a fun and amusing way. That was sort of the prototype.
How did you get to GQ?
I think it was like 2011, 2012, where I was already writing at Deadspin and The Postmortal had come out so I was established as a novelist, and my current boss, Devin Gordon, emailed me out of the blue and asked me if I could rework an article that already existed and see what I could do with it. That was sort of my audition, and they liked that.
Then they gave me more stuff, and then they finally gave me a big boy assignment to go profile Justin Bieber, and that went well. That’s what essentially got me the contract that kept me on as correspondent after that.
Are you optimistic about the economics of journalism and writing even though the internet has kinda cannibalized everything?
It’s hard right now because Voactiv just laid everyone off. Vice laid everyone off. MTV laid everyone off. So, it’s easy to despair and say, “Look at all these really talented people, good people like David Roth and Tomas Rios who were laid off.”
But, at the same time, there’s still plenty of money out there, right? And I just think that there’s only so much shitty content that people are going to tolerate before they want stuff that’s good. So, I think there will always be a market for good writing. I think it’ll always be hard because companies don’t want to spend any more money than they already do, and it’ll just be a struggle.
And, frankly, it’s been a struggle for a long time anyway. Because the freelance economy sort of took over, and you know there are places like HuffPo that feel like they don’t have to fucking pay anybody anything, and they’re always people who try to exploit that. And so, essentially, writers like me are dependent upon the people that I work for being fair.
I have to hope that there are enough good people out there that run good, well-run fair places like Deadspin and GQ that frankly – I think their commitment to their writers shows up in the work. Those are the places I like to read and write for. I’m a company man in that regard.
But the ESPN layoffs show that even cable isn’t safe.
No! No, even cable’s not safe, and TV money is fucking stupid as hell. Right, just insane amounts of money. They make and they spend insane amounts of money. And even that’s sort of quivering.
But, that money is going somewhere. It’s like matter, you can’t destroy it completely. So, really it’s a constant and frantic adjustment to the realities of the economy that changes basically every day, especially now that there’s a lunatic in the fucking White House.
This kind of dovetails into my next question. But before I ask that question do you even agree with the premise that ESPN has made a leftward shift in their programming?
No, I don’t agree with that at all. They just hired fucking Hank Williams Jr. The guy who wrote a literal song “If the South Would Have Won” and they just hired him back.
So, no, because what were people getting upset about? Well, they were getting upset about, like, SportsCenter having two black anchors at six o’clock. That was leftward to them. It’s not even worth rebutting. It’s just fucking stupid.
And you know [Fox Sports] is trying to dine out on this idea, and they still suck anyway. To me, it’s just ridiculous. It’s really symptomatic of that quote about how “to the privileged, equality feels like oppression.” That’s what it smacks of to me.
I fully confess that I do love Pardon the Interruption–
Oh, yeah, I used to watch it all the fucking time.
Which, of course, is the lead-in to the SportsCenter, and I’ll watch the first 30 minutes of Michael and Jemelle sometimes, and I’m like, “This isn’t very political, but I do observe that it’s very black.” The vernacular, the slang they use, the pop culture references that they make. It does seem like that’s what people are complaining about.
Yeah, it’s the shit people complained about when Stuart Scott started back at ESPN.
You are in a very unique position as a man who has profiled Kid Rock and been on his cruise and also profiled Trump voters. Can you assess his chances at gaining a U.S. Senate seat in 2018?
Well, he just dropped out today. He said he wasn’t actually gonna to do it, although I’m telling you he probably would have won.
What, he dropped out?!
Yeah, there was some Fox News tweet saying that he was going to commit instead to voter registration drives. So, he’s gonna sign up rednecks to vote instead of having them vote for him. But if he’d stayed in, I would have said yeah, he could win with virtually no effort at all because that’s the new template. Just be famous and ignorant, and you’ll be fine.
I have to say that cruise profile is pretty amazing, and if people haven’t read it I would suggest clicking over to GQ and giving it read because it is amazing.