If the internet was a baby, Maddox was the one who kicked it out of its mom’s gut and told it to get a damn job…working for him. When he started his website The Best Page in the Universe at age sixteen, it was one of the earliest article-based sites of its kind. Over twenty years later and Maddox is still the King of the Internet. With dozens of outlets and projects under his belt, there’s almost nowhere you won’t see him. His work and voice are distinct, edgy yet sincere and always giving the most straight forward version of the truth. I’ve been a reader of his work for literally twenty years; I consider him a writing mentor. And when Maddox, known in real life as George Ouzounian, agreed to a PopLurker interview, you bet your ass we made that happen.
You can go ahead and just imagine a shit-eating grin on my face for the duration of this interview. Seriously, just do it.
Hi Maddox. Thank you so much for giving PopLurker an interview! All right, let’s talk about that shit show schedule of yours. What are you doing? What does a full day of destruction look like for you?
Oh man…so in addition to having finished my most recent book, I created a podcast network and two weekly shows, including a live news show back to back with my podcast. It’s a considerable time commitment because in addition to booking the guest, doing research, and figuring out the topic (plus edits and promo) I also do breaking news. It’s been a very busy schedule.
So, this is where I kiss your ass a little. You have continuously been a maverick in conquering New Media. You blogged/wrote satirical articles and columns at least ten years before everyone else. You’re a published author (three times over and the third book was definitely worth the wait). You’re a YouTuber, a Twitch streamer, and a successful podcast host. How do you strategize which medium to go after?
This is going to be kind of a lame answer because it’s the answer that pisses everyone off when I say it…but I do everything. I remember when I first came to LA I sat down with an agency, one of the top four agencies. They asked me “What do you want to do?” and I said “Everything.” And that annoyed the shit out of them because they wanted to hear someone focus on movies, TV, books, comics, whatever. And I said “I want to do it all”. And so far, I’ve pretty much done it all. I’m working on everything. And now the latest one, which goes back to your first question, is a video game. I’m working on that as well. So everything, yeah.
Clearly, you’re internet savvy. You ARE part of the birth of the internet, I don’t what you say. You’re as important as Lemon Party and Blue Waffle to me, albeit much more attractive. And because of your branding intelligence, you’ve managed to keep that ship at the forefront of the internet tidal wave as opposed to some of your early peers. Do you think being part of early internet culture has helped you know how to stay continuously successful?
Yeah, it’s the same formula that I’ve always used. Which is be consistent, be persistent, and work. That’s all it comes down to. People say “Oh, you’re lucky, you were one of the early ones.” Well, there were lots of websites that blew up early on. Lots of funny articles, funny GeoCities pages, funny people who started out. Where are they now? They didn’t continue to persist. In fact, when my website first blew up my Internet service provider helped me move my host, my website, to another server so it could handle the traffic. And they thought “Well this will be temporary, it will die down eventually.” It never did! It’s still going. And it’s because I had the foundation of work to back it up. And that’s the difference between a flash in the pan and the real deal.
Back when The Best Page in the Universe was the only business venture (save for the stickers and shirts you sold as supplemental material) did you make money from the website? In those early days of the internet, was there ad revenue or sponsorship opportunities? Or did you just do it to do it?
I never made any money because I didn’t have ads. I started doing my own T-shirts and fulfilments myself. So I was producing the shirts, selling the shirts, and shipping the shirts myself. And it’s funny because people always assumed I had help doing that and it’s like, No! I was doing that whole entire operation out of my apartment and shipping individual shirts. People would write notes to Maddox saying “Hey tell Maddox to sign this invoice” or whatever and I’d sign the invoice and I’m like “Maddox says he’ll sign it.”
So yeah, it was all me and I didn’t make any money early on, but eventually I did. I had a lot of offers for buyouts early on too, like people wanting to buy my website. And I always kind of curious why, because it didn’t make any money and I said “Why, what do you want to do with it?” They said “We want to put ads on it.” I’m like, “Well why wouldn’t I just put ads on it? I can do what you’re planning to do with my website because clearly, it’s profitable.” But I could have thrown ads on it myself, so that was kind of curious like why they would want to buy it? Idiots.
And then you’d have to work for someone. Fuck that.
What happened with the second book and why was it rebranded? I have the first edition copy of I Am Better Than Your Kids (like the article), but it’s been reprinted as Crappy Children’s Art. Is there a story behind that change?
When the publisher releases paperbacks sometimes what they like to do is change the cover or change the title, just to have A-B testing with two different copies. That one in particular, we had some back and forth but eventually the publisher said “This is what we want” and they just published it. They did that a lot with a lot of my books. My first book, Alphabet of Manliness, the publisher one day just released paperbacks and didn’t even tell me that they were coming out. So there were two different variants of the cover, there’s a yellow and a red and I think the red is more rare than the yellow. I don’t know, all I can find online is the yellow. In fact, I had to borrow a copy of the red cover from a friend who had it because I didn’t even have a copy of it myself. But yeah, the publishers just do that kind of stuff all the time. It’s at their whim. If I had to guess, it’s because they wanted a shorter title. I am Better than Your Kids is a mouthful and Crappy Children’s Artwork is three words. I think it sold pretty well either way, though.
What internet or social trend is the worst right now? What’s the ugly side of pop culture today versus when your website was your only outlet?
Oh my god, so much. There’s a chapter I wrote in my book called “Fuck Your Stupid Opinions”. The ability to broadcast yourself is the worst thing about the internet today. People’s ability to talk about their shitty, stupid, vapid, trite opinions that are worn out and boring and cliché…they’re moving the discourse in this country. And everybody thinks that they’re somebody. You know, because you have your small little anthill of followers. And this narcissism that it builds lends itself towards Filter Bubbles. And Filter Bubbles is not a concept I came up with, I forget who said it, I mentioned it in the book, but Filter Bubbles is the concept where you eliminate people who disagree with you and descend. And you only surround yourself with Yes Men and Yes Women, like people who are just going to bolster your case and agree with your point of view. That’s probably the worst trend online. Worse than clickbait, worse than memes, worse than anything is the Filter Bubbles. It’s causing us to be more divisive, and the discourse to be more raw, more coarse.
I love that you’re the owner of a Podcast Media Network. What goes into choosing the shows? What can your listeners expect coming from it?
Okay, so this is a huge topic that I like to talk about. What I listen for in podcasts, and this goes across the board. I’ve had friends who send me their podcast and they’re like “Hey Maddox, what’d you think of this podcast?” and I’ll be very blunt with them, sometimes I tell them that I hate it. And it sucks to tell friends that I hate their podcast, but what I listen for is a roadmap. Every good radio show back in the golden era of talk radio had a roadmap. You start off the show, “Hey, this is Love Line, I’m Adam, this is Doctor Drew, we’re going to take your phone calls, we’re going to help you out with whatever questions you have relating to sex and relationships.”
Great- I get the show. One sentence, right at the top, I understand what you’re talking about. And they get right into it. And they have a format. Same thing with Tom Leykis. “Hey, I’m not some right-wing whacko or a convicted felon. No, I’m Tom Leykis, this is who I am, and I’m going to talk about the center of the road.” And he had his opinions. You tell people right at the top of the show what your show is. That’s what I listen for. If I hear a podcast start out with “Hey, how’s it going?” I’m immediately turned off. I tune out, I’m listening to something else, I don’t want to listen anymore. If they ask each other about the weather or what they did that weekend, I’m out. I’m out! I don’t want to hear it.
First of all, how the fuck is your discussion about the weather going to be relevant to what I’m going to be listening in this episode? And I don’t know where you’re recording, necessarily. So, the roadmap is something I listen for and the other thing is no small talk. I hate small talk in podcasts. I don’t want to hear the hosts and the guest talking about what they did that weekend because that to me sounds like they didn’t do the legwork before the show to get to know each other. When you start recording, respect your audience’s time. That’s why I edit every single episode of my podcast. I take out dead air, I take out flubs, bad questions, wrong tangents, things like that to keep things on track and to keep it listenable.
I guess in a nutshell what I want to say is if I listen to a podcast and I get the feeling that I’m the first person in the world to have listened to it, I’m out. That’s a huge turnoff. I don’t want to feel like no one has quality checked the podcast I’m listening to. If they don’t care about my time and they don’t care enough to take out the ten minutes that it took to answer the door or respond to a text message, then fuck you! You don’t deserve my time.
I’ve always wanted to talk about music with you. In addition to your “Space Music” which is actually called “Ambient New-Age”…
No! It’s called Space Music! It’s music you listen to in Space.
Yes, I’m sure that’s exactly the music you listen to when the black hole is crushing your head in. But I know you’re a metal fan. What are some of your favorite bands? What flavor of metalhead is Maddox?
Well, I’ve got to start out with the best metal band of all time. This isn’t my opinion, I looked it up beforehand just to make sure, but it’s Pantera- southern thrash metal, it’s fucking awesome.
I’m more of a Manowar person, myself.
Yeah, well I mean, no one’s perfect.
But yeah, it’s Pantera. 110% of the time. It’s my ringtone, people always say “Don’t set your alarm tone to a song you like because you’ll stop liking it,” Fucking wrong. I have my alarm set to the Dallas Stars Fight Song. The hockey team in Dallas. Because Dimebag Darrell did it. And it’s so fucking awesome like every time I hear it it’s like fucking tits out, I’m ready to go, I kick the sheets off my bed and I’m like punching things because I’m so pumped every single time. And sometimes…this probably happens like once a day…I hear it and I listen to the entire thing. I love it that much. It’s so good. Thrash. I love thrash. If it doesn’t fucking rock my dick off, I don’t want it in my ears. I was just listening to Metallica again the other day I think they got a bad rap during of the whole Napster shit but they’re still fucking badass. The Black Album? It’s fucking tits. It’s awesome.
I like Sepultura. I started getting into hardcore recently, as of the last year, year and a half. I started listening to this band called Trapped Under Ice, TUI, and then Lionheart. And they’re so broey…it’s the broiest. I looked up their music videos to see what their fans looked like, and they’re the dumbest. It’s just like the dumbest fans, but I love the music. It’s so broey. And then I really like Puya, it’s a Puerto Rican metal band. It’s fucked. And I like Slayer. That was like the first metal concert I ever saw was Slayer. And for power metal, I’m into this band called Firewind. I’m curious if you’d like them. They have this music video that’s just a bunch of shitty 90s CG and it’s just the most metal music video. It’s awesome. I love it so much. It’s just really fucking cool.
What are some of your interests or fandoms that might surprise your fans?
On the note of music, I’m into elevator music. That’s a thing I’m into. I just posted this in my Facebook group “The Maddox University for Geniuses and Hot Babes who are Geniuses”. Check out the song by Les Hommes, Delores. Elevator music. I’m into it.
I like anime. I’m into anime but not anime culture. I love Ninja Scroll, I loved Battle Angel. I love Akira. Hayao Miyazaki. There’s a lot of good stuff there. What else…oh! I’m really into Monster Trucks! They’re fucking cool as shit- so fucking dope. I was trying to explain Monster Trucks to someone who had never seen it before and I was like, “Just big trucks go vroom”, I don’t know how to explain it. They just crush big things. It’s so fucking dope, it’s so cool. It just gets my blood pumping. I love it.
And this is so not Maddox, but I like Sex and the City. I like Space Ghost Coast to Coast, and the original Space Ghost. I love Humanoids. I love old school, crappy cartoons. I love that shit.
So, we’ve both written for Cracked.com. But you wrote for them around 2006-2007, after you were well established. How did that relationship happen?
They came to me. They originally reached out to me and they wanted me to write a few pieces for them. The website was just launching and there was still a magazine component at the time. And I was most interested in having my work published in a magazine so that’s why I agreed to do it, because the pay was nowhere near worth it for me at the time. It was something like $50 per article, which was really, really low. I was getting paid much more for other freelance projects, but I liked Cracked Magazine and I was a big fan of the old Cracked back in the day so I agreed to do it.
And I think I may have created their listicle format- the article I wrote for them was listicle because I knew that would get clicks. I wrote that for them and then received an email from one of their editor shortly thereafter copying all their other writers saying “This is what we want. We want this format.” Because it did really well on their website, it was one of the highest viewed articles. But that became their format thereafter. I’m not sure if it’s because I created it or someone else had done it and they just picked up on it that it was working, but it’s still there.
Are you still on the convention circuit or book tour? Where can your fans find you right now?
I do talks every few months. I do talks and workshops, but I don’t really publicize those. You kind of have to be in the know to know where those are. I do industry workshops and new media workshops. I sometimes do events at YouTube Space in Los Angeles. My next appearance I think is going to be at San Diego Comic Con. That’ll be in July and I have some big, big announcements, huge announcements coming then.
Speaking of books, can you remember that moment when you did your very first book tour for The Alphabet of Manliness? When you put on that crown and cape and looked your readers in the eye for the first time. Can you remember back to that and talk about what that felt like versus where you are today?
Oh yeah, absolutely. Back then I was very shy and it was the first time I’d done public speaking. Public speaking, they say, is the number one fear of most Americans. Worse than dying. And so that was the first time I ever had to do public speaking was in front of my audience of 70 or 80 people who showed up to do my first book signing. And I was very nervous. But everyone told me afterward that I did great. I didn’t seem nervous at all. So, where I’m at now as opposed to back then? I used to go to bookstores an hour before to practice and prepare. I started doing some improv in between and I worked on myself and tried to be more confident to the point where I would show up like five minutes before and be ready to go on stage and just improv and just roll with it. So, I’m much more confident now, much more comfortable with who I am now. I can take anything anyone throws at me.
One of the things you said that resonated most with me was the time you were talking about forcing yourself to do certain things that made you better no matter how hard it was. One of those things was not letting yourself just be an internet introvert shut in. It was learning to speak publicly. It was losing weight. It was pushing on and continuing to rise and be better, even if it’s out of spite.
Where is that taking you now?
It’s taken me on a huge upward trajectory. Just being more confident, I can communicate with people. To the point where it’s almost created a monster. If you send me to a bar or a party or something, you can point to anyone in that bar or party and I’ll go talk to them. With nothing to say. I’ll just walk up and talk to people. I’m not afraid of approaching people. I’m not afraid of talking with people. Losing weight has improved my confidence and made a lot of things possible that I never thought was possible. For example, in high school, I could never do a single pullup. Now I think I can do like fifteen in a row. It made me feel really good about that. It made me feel better about myself and improved my confidence and I have a better outlook on life, I think.
You know, it’s not very Maddox to say that I appreciate and look forward to every single day, but I do.
Well, shit. Is there anything you want to say or add or go off on?
Yeah, my fucking idiot fans who don’t think I’m doing any work! You dumb fucks. Because I don’t update my website people assume I’m not working. I’m constantly working. The podcast takes 12-13 hours per week to produce and I’m producing a YouTube version as well. Guess what, fuckfaces? That takes time to edit and upload. I have a multi-cam YouTube show and I produce an hour and a half of content every single week and I edit three hours of content. That’s a feature film’s worth of content I’m editing every fucking week. I’m basically making a feature movie every fucking week and these people are like “Hurrr, where’s your new articles, where’s your stuff?”
And also, the live news show which takes a lot of time to produce, it takes an entire day and a half to produce. Me, and I work with a news producer in Arkansas named Stan Morris. He’s fantastic, and we kick ass. And nobody is doing breaking news, live news, on YouTube. No one is doing that. I’m doing that- I’m filling a niche. And it’s very well produced. And I know even as Maddox I’m very self-aggrandizing and I love to blow sunshine up my own ass but even for me, it’s really good. And lots more coming. There’s so much stuff coming. No one is going to see it. It’s going to catch people off-guard. It’s going to catch people with their pants down.