Growing up, Time magazine’s Joel Stein played with his Easy Bake oven and dusted his glass animal collection. He wasn’t playing sports, or earning Boy Scout badges, and that was okay.
When Stein found out he and his wife were expecting a bouncing baby boy, he remembered that he knew nothing about being a manly-man Dad. So he embarked on a brutal journey to learn how to do all the stuff manly men should know, like wrestling half-naked with other men and killing animals. The result is his book Man Made, which he recently promoted (alongside a slew of food trucks and free wine) in Hyde Park Village. When we got on the phone for the interview, conference call connection problems left us both stuck in an endless loop of bad elevator music.
“I felt like I was trapped in Panera,” I said before greeting Stein.
“Do you guys pay for that?” Stein asked the publicist connecting our call. “Don’t pay extra for that music, seriously.”
How did your interview with Robert De Niro go this morning?
Joel Stein: Actually, it was with Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Kevin Kline and Morgan Freeman. They are promoting their new film Last Vegas.
Was Robert De Niro warm and friendly?
I am in the car with the film’s publicist now so I can’t really answer that…I was nervous but he was easier to talk to than I had thought.
Have you been to Tampa before?
I was there during the convention and have done all the important Tampa things like Bern’s Steakhouse and Venus Mons, I mean Mons Venus.
I guess steak and titty bars are the reader’s digest tour of Tampa for many.
I did get to see the University of Tampa, which is a beautiful campus.
I’m glad you found there is more to this place than just boobs and meat.
I know and I was shocked. I need to find out more. Where should I go for good Cuban?
The Columbia or Arco Iris. Arco Iris has Cuban food and Chinese food but Columbia is a classic Ybor Cuban spot.
Oh good, I really want to go there when I’m in town. I did come to Tampa another time during Spring Training and interviewed Alex Rodriguez. Also during the convention, I had a serious conversation with the Time editors about a possible story on the strip clubs there.
Well the lap dance was allegedly invented here.
I know, I had to explain what a lap dance was to a room full of editors. They were very curious about it.
So you are coming to Tampa to talk about your book, in which you go on a quest for manliness after discovering you were having a baby boy?
I thought I didn’t care about the gender, but then I saw a penis on the sonogram, and thought about how that penis needed to know how to play baseball and go camping. And I thought, I couldn’t do any of that stuff. I am a girly guy, I had a girly easy bake oven, I had a glass animal collection, and all my friends were girls. I wanted my son to learn boy stuff from me, instead of like a neighborhood Dad.
How old is your son now?
He is three and a half.
Are you the cook at home?
I am, I cook several nights a week.
What kind of foods do you cook?
I cook a really wide range, but I don’t cook Asian food. I cook continental food.
Is that the stuff they serve for free in the Howard Johnson lobby in the morning?(Laughs) My son and I like meat. I roast stuff, I prefer to eat more fish and vegetables and meat. If it were up to me I’d never make a chicken ever again.
Well I went turkey hunting in one of the chapters of the book...
Oh really? That’s my dream.
To go hunting or turkey hunting in particular?
Turkey hunting in particular.
Have you ever been hunting?
No, I’ve never killed anything in a hunting scenario.
I’ve been boar hunting and turkey hunting. The thing with turkey hunting is you hide behind the bushes with one or more people and make a sound that imitates what female turkey wanting to get laid sounds like and you draw the males to you.
And this is part of the quest for manliness? Luring male animals to their death by sounding as close as possible to horny female bird?
I had a crush on this girl growing up, and she married this extreme hunting dude later on. He’s like a manly god. He invited me to go hunting with him. I had no idea I’d be pretending to be a hot slutty turkey. It’s amazing how much you have to care about animals in order to kill them.
So part of your quest for manhood was getting your ass kicked by Randy Couture, which is the worst name for a manly-man athlete.
I know, the only name worse is Lynn Swann, seriously. It sounds like a ballerina.
Are you finding that many of the “manly” things you are doing aren’t really as manly as you thought?
There are very few things gayer than martial arts; you get a lot of balls in the face. It wasn’t my first time with MMA; I did a story on it with David Mamet. He said “I can tell you were freaked out with all that touching, you’re not used to guys touching you.” Well yeah, it’s super intimate. I’ve had sex with women with less touching than mixed martial arts.
What was it like having Randy Couture kick your ass?
I was trying to fight back, by the way. He was standing over me at the end of the round like Ali over Liston and asked me to go for a second round with his mouth guard still in. I was like “fuck no!” I’ve always regretted that.
So when does the quest for manhood end?
It doesn’t. I am taking my son camping in the backyard. I did go camping in my book with some boy scouts and it was my first time sleeping in a tent. The tent industry is scamming America; I was wet and cold the entire time.
What is your most feminine quality?
I don’t like conflict at all, I’m a people pleaser. I was talking to my wife about it recently and she said, “Thank god you weren’t born a girl, you’d have given men hundreds of blowjobs.” And she’s right; I’m surprised I don’t give them out all the time.
So what are you doing in Tampa on Dec. 12?
You have to come, I do a lot of stuff that is lame but this is something cool. There will be free food from local food trucks and free wine from Stark Raving Wines and me with my book. But it’s not a reading; I hate readings.
Can you tell me more about your interview with Robert De Niro yet?
He was not friendly and he was not warm.
I would have been terrified.
I was. I was truly terrified.
So this was really another part of your quest for manliness? Speaking to Robert de Niro?
I guess so, never thought about it like that, but yeah.
Final question: Nerds are cool now, are your responsible for this?
I know, it’s computers. I pitched a movie idea for Revenge of the Jocks. The thing about the revenge of the nerds, I am a nerd and when I was in high school I always thought that nerds would be nice to women and inclusive. No, nerds are misogynistic. They get their chance with women and get greedy. They seemed like the nice underdog but they are angry, unfriendly people. I want to see the rise of the jocks again.