Monday, January 23, 2012

On The Bro'd

(This is a profile I wrote of funny person Mike Lacher for my Cultural Affairs class at Columbia back in December. You can check out the tumblr account/book that it focuses on here and read the profile directly below these parenthetical remarks.)

In 1957, The New York Times boldly proclaimed that the publication of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road was “a historic occasion.” The nation’s paper of record praised his tale of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty—the alter egos for Kerouac and Neal Cassady, respectfully—traveling back and forth across the American landscape as “the most beautifully executed, the clearest and the most important utterance yet made by the generation Kerouac himself named years ago as ‘beat,’ and whose principal avatar he is.” The prophet of the twentysomethings had spoken, and it turned out that what he had to say was intelligent, poetic, and inspiring.

Blogger turned author Mike Lacher sees it a bit differently.

“A lot of the stuff they do in that book is just bro stuff,” he said, referring to the characters’ frequent bouts of drinking, partying, and hooking up. “It just happened to be that they wrote really well and were crazy. So then they were able to be beats instead of bros.”

Although a precise definition of bros is difficult to pin down (Urban Dictionary currently has 220 options), most people can agree on the following: they emerged on America’s cultural scene sometime in the past decade; they are extremely and vocally fond of indulging in alcohol, revelry and sex; they tend to be males in their late teens or twenties; and they enjoy the music of Dave Matthews, the writings of Tucker Max, and the humor of Dane Cook.

Late in 2010, Lacher decided to combine the latent bro tendencies in Kerouac’s seminal work with the blatant bro ethos of today. The end result was On The Bro’d, a parody of On The Road written in bro-speak that started as a tumblr account and will be published as a book this coming spring. Dean is now a Beta Phi Omega brother from Arizona State, and although the only ones for Sal in the 1950s were those who “burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars,” he is now more intrigued by those who “chug, chug, chug like fucking awesome players exploding like spiders across an Ed Hardy shirt.”

“That’s the part that makes it most appealing,” said Lacher. “Hearing that contrast between what’s sort of accepted as higher literary culture interacting with the lowest form of slang.”
 * * *
Lacher himself does not give off the appearance of a bro. He is tall, fair-skinned, thin, and unassuming, making him a much better fit for an NBC sitcom than an MTV reality show. Nevertheless, he has been informally learning about the social group since his college years at the University of Michigan.

“I went to a Big Ten school,” he said. “As soon as you’re at that first fraternity party, it’s like, ‘Oh, this is really just a type of human being.’”

Lacher moved to Chicago after graduating in 2007, where he planned to work at his friend’s restaurant while performing improv in his spare time. The restaurant wouldn’t hire him, though, and he was forced to fall back on a skill he had learned earlier as a favor for his mom: flash development.

“The previous year, my mom needed me to build her a flash website, so I learned flash for that purpose,” he said. “Pretty much every job that I’ve had has depended upon that skill.”

Shortly after his failed attempt at gaining employment in the food service industry, Lacher got hired at NogginLabs, a company that builds custom e-learning software. He still made time to perform improv on the side and continued doing so until moving to New York with his girlfriend “for fun” in October 2010. Around the end of 2009, however, he started growing less interested in the comedic potential of improv and more interested in the comedic potential of the Internet.

“It feels like unconquered territory,” he said. “Everyone has already done plenty of good improv shows…but people are still figuring out what you can do that’s funny on the Internet.”

Lacher took it upon himself to try figuring this out and has so far come up with a variety of answers. An application that could transform any website into a Geocities page straight out of the mid-90s was funny enough to receive over 600,000 visits in its first week and merit a mention in The New York Times Magazine. A tumblr account featuring images of Michael Bublé getting stalked by a velociraptor made it into GQ. And the equally self-explanatory Muppets with People Eyes got written up by Time.

The one thing most of these projects had in common, according to Lacher, was that their time in the spotlight didn’t last long.

“People have a short attention span on the Internet,” he said, “and also, those single serving websites…I think they’re just not that funny after a while.”

These were Lacher’s initial expectations for On The Bro’d. Born out of his simple observation that “road” and “bro’d” rhyme, he thought it would entertain both him and the Internet for a brief period of time before they each moved onto something else.

Thus, approximately one year ago, Lacher launched On The Bro’d as another one of what he calls his “one-joke tumblr things.” By the initial post—a parody of, appropriately enough, On The Road’s first paragraph—he had already firmly established the tone: Sal’s “serious illness” was replaced with “a wicked fucking hangover,” while Dean was shrouded in Axe Body Spray instead of mystery.

This strong, humorous voice was enough to convince Hannah Gordon, a literary agent with Foundry, that Lacher’s most recent project had more potential than a series of photoshopped Muppets. She first heard about the fledgling tumblr account from one of her colleagues, and unlike Lacher himself, she did not see it as just a one-joke tumblr thing. She saw it as a book.

“You kind of have to go with your gut on these things,” Gordon said. “If you’re really enjoying it, and you want to keep reading it, you can’t think, ‘Oh, I’m the only person out there who would like this.’ You have to imagine there are pockets of people who think like you do.”

The Internet has recently become a great resource for literary agents trying to find new clients, said Gordon, especially in the wake of fruitful blog-to-book deals such as Stuff White People Like and Awkward Family Photos. However, both Gordon and Brendan O’Neill, Lacher’s editor, acknowledged that these past success stories do not automatically mean a blog that turns into a book will be a hit.

O’Neill, who works at Adams Media and has previously edited book versions of popular blogs, said the biggest factor regarding the ability of these projects to sell effectively boils down to whether or not the author has the ability “to write and write funny.

“I think Mike’s able to do that,” he added.
 * * *
Although Lacher had not considered turning On The Bro’d into a book before Gordon contacted him, he was very receptive to the idea. The two put a proposal together, and Adams Media—a publishing company that has previously printed literary parodies such as The Stoned Family Robinson and Bad Austen: The Worst Stories Jane Never Wrote—decided to buy it during the winter of 2011. Now, all Lacher had to do was write the thing, a process he said went “pretty well.

“It had its ups and downs,” he continued. “Getting to try to use that Kerouac-y poetic cadence but with bro stuff is fun. But there’s other parts where it can reach a certain tedious level where every day it’s like, ‘How do I rephrase this?’”

Lacher frequently referred to numbers when describing how he wrote On The Bro’d. There were 240 pages in total; he tried to write at least two pages per day; and it took him approximately 40 minutes per page. This mechanistic update of Kerouac’s three-week typing binge enabled him to finish his first draft in August, which he is currently waiting to get back from Adams Media.

“I’d usually try to wake up at six and get some done, and then try to get whatever else done at night,” Lacher said. “That was the part where it just got exhausting because it’s like you wake up and work, then go and actually work, like in an office, and then come home and work more. I know there definitely were times where people from work would be like, ‘Hey, we’re going out!’ and then I’d be like, ‘I can’t. And I also can’t begin to explain to you why.’”

Lacher currently works at Google doing rich media banner advertising, having left NogginLabs this past January. Although he is happy in his current position, he does wonder if having a good job at one of the world’s most highly valued companies has prevented him from developing the same drive as other writers.

“I don’t feel like I’m a struggling bohemian artist,” he said, “which I guess on one hand would maybe make me claw and scratch my way to the top harder. But on the other hand, it doesn’t make me feel like I’ve got to achieve ‘x’ goal right now.”
 * * *
The fact that a version of On The Road retold for bros is now viewed as a viable commercial product is a clear indication that bros have become an established part of American life, as is the popularity of TV shows like Entourage and How I Met Your Mother, movies like The Hangover and Old School, and websites like BroBible and My Life Is Bro. At this point, it seems, the bro has been around for long enough to fully infiltrate the mainstream. Recently, however, Lacher believes a relatively new element has found its way into bro culture: pride.

“I think there’s definitely more of a self-identification now that’s made it cooler to be that sort of dude who loves to party and loves to be concerned with his appearance as well,” he said.

Streeter Seidell, Editor-in-Chief of CollegeHumor—a company he describes as “implicit in the brosplosion”—agrees.

“I feel like bros are aware that they’re obnoxious and dumb and annoying, but they kind of take pride in that a little bit,” he said. “They’ve become self-aware.”

On The Bro’d seems far too tongue-in-cheek to contribute to the nascent bro pride movement, a reflection of Lacher’s overall attitude toward bros as harmless sources of amusement. However, that did not stop BroBible—the Internet’s self-proclaimed “ultimate destination for bros”—from referring to it as “a fantastic and hilarious read.” It was a move that startled Lacher and suggested that the emergence of bro pride does not necessarily mean bros have started taking themselves seriously. Otherwise, it seems difficult to understand how they could be complimentary of a book about them filled with passages like, “But the way I picked cotton was sorta retarded. I took like forever trying to pick the white shit off the other shit; everybody else did it way faster.”

Before getting praise from BroBible, Lacher said, he had always assumed that bro was an exclusively disparaging expression. Now, he recognizes the word as “something that’s taken both as a positive and a negative. People who are labeled bros will happily accept it, and other people will use it as a derogatory term.”

Seidell thinks this incongruous combination of bros being simultaneously proud and mocking of their identity is a sign that the archetype may not be prominent for much longer. As evidence, he points to one of the hallmarks of bro culture: an episode of Jersey Shore.

“There’s a point where Pauly D and Vinny are doing characters of guidos,” he said, “and they’re heightened, but they recognize that they’re also guidos. But they’re like, ‘We’re the good kind.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, man. It’s become meta now, and people kind of hate meta after a little while.’”

Still, Seidell said, he may just feel this way about bros because of the large role they’ve played in his job for years.

“I’ve been so immersed in it for so long that I’m…sick of it,” he said. “Bro humor could just be hitting in other places.

“So who knows, man? It could stick around forever,” he continued. “You want to do shots?”

1 comment:

Big Game Hunter said...

Bro humor will never die. Keep the girls authentic and amateur, start banging chicks left and right, eat pizza, experiment with drugs, start a band.. geezzzz write it all down.

I'd like to do all this and put it in my videos, but you just can't beat off to that shit.