Are you a swell guy, everyone's sunken-chested doormat? Maybe you're a pushover of a gal, a tad overeager to please at the expense of your own tepid desires? Saps of the world, rejoice: Martin Kihn has written the book just for you.
"I was the nicest guy in the world—and it was killing me," he writes in "A$$hole: How I Got Rich and Happy by Not Giving a Damn About Anyone and How You Can Too," his new mock-help masterpiece. "My life was a dictionary without the word 'no.' If you asked me for a favor—even the kind of favor that required me to go so far out of my way that I needed a map, a translator and an oxygen tank—even if I didn't know you that well, I might hesitate a second, but I'd always say yes."
Until, that is, he realized that he was competing for a promotion with a colleague he refers to as the Nemesis (a text-book a-word). Kihn resolved to "blowtorch away [his] old personality and uncover the rock-hard warrior within." Toward that end he devised a "10-step program to [anus]ism" for anyone wanting to acquaint himself with his inner über-alpha. Kihn, who has written for Spy, the New York Times Magazine and VH1's beloved "Pop-Up Video," calls his hilarious send-up of business culture "office-based satire." Think Dogbert on steroids, munching garlic bagels in public while closing deals on his Bluetooth ear thingy. Kihn recently discussed his new life as a walking, talking sphincter with NEWSWEEK's Brian Braiker. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: Your book seems to be a hit in the U.K., where it came out first.
Martin Kihn: It was No. 33 at one point. There's been quite a lot of press.
Well, there are a lot of them in England.
[Laughs] I can't figure it out. They really seem to get it. It's doing well in Germany, also. I think there's a slightly anti-American flavor in Europe. Maybe this is helping the situation for me: "He's an [fill in family-unfriendly word that NEWSWEEK generally avoids]; he's American. This makes sense."
In this book you hire an acting coach and a dog whisperer; you have a nemesis competing for a big client. How much is true?
I would say everything in there happened. It certainly didn't happen in that order. The biggest challenge was the acting coach. He wasn't one person; multiple people were made into one. Also, I have a thing about reimagining. It's not malicious intent, it's just that I can't remember what people say. I'm trying to make it funny, too.
But you actively went out into the world and tried to be an, uh, aggressively un-nice person?
Oh sure, absolutely. It started from a really real place where I was actually very serious in the beginning. I had a performance review and it was implied that I was too nice to ever be in charge. It sort of made me sad, to be honest. So I thought, "Why don't I try this experiment." But the original idea was that this would be a serious book: you have to be an [curse word synonymous with "unbelievable jerk" that begins with the letter A] in America, because it came out of being really bitter and enraged. And then it turned funny. I started doing it, and it became ridiculous.
What did you do out of character that you wouldn't normally have done?
It's amazing what you can do in New York and not get much of a reaction, like giving people a dollar to insult me right outside Rockefeller Center. Thinking about it ahead of time was a lot more painful than doing it. I cut in line at a hot dog stand. I threw it down and I demanded my money back. There was somebody I had offended in line. The guy wasn't saying anything, but there was a look about him that made me back down immediately. I did return things without a receipt.
What's the difference between being an [epithet that begins with the first letter of the alphabet] and just a jerk? Where's the line?
The alpha male is someone like Donald Trump. They're simply decisive, commanding. But they have empathy. And if somebody appeals to them on a human level they'll respond, probably. The [buttocks personified] takes it to the next step: he or she is somebody who literally has no empathy. What I was trying to do in this book was press the point and ask, "How far is too far?" What direction are we going in when we try to out-alpha each other to the extreme? It almost becomes a comical character. It's no longer simple dominance, it's ridiculousness.
It becomes a caricature.
Yeah. And the big insight of the whole thing for me is that I was able to adopt a kind of persona that I didn't have. It wasn't really me, but it was a character. And it let me off the hook, because it wasn't really me. We all do that to a certain extent, we do that at the office.
If Donald Trump is just an alpha male, who are the famous [human derrieres] throughout history?
There are [scatological body part] philosophers. Everyone says Nietzsche, Machiavelli. But my favorite is Ayn Rand. Everyone really likes her, but if you look at her books it's like an [rectal] manifesto. It's a big ego trip: either you're the special person and you can do literally whatever you want—that is the definition of an [a-hole]—or you're not, in which case you're the victim of one of these people. It's a pretty clear [orifice] worldview. She even had a book called "The Virtue of Selfishness." But my perfect role model is a fictional character, Tony Montana [in "Scarface"]. He was over the top; he was not quite real.
But now you have a
where you cite examples of such behavior in the real world.
Women can be [disagreeable people] too. Heather Mills is a classic. She seems a little unhinged. Everyone thinks of Simon Cowell. Some people have said Rupert Murdoch, but I was on Fox News, so I wouldn't call him an [excretory opening]. There are some timeless [proctological] maneuvers: interrupting, taking credit for everything, claiming every idea you've ever heard as your own—that's the one I like.
I like interrupting the person talking to you just to assert something that makes absolutely no sense.
[Laughs] People do that. Neil Cavuto did that on his [Fox News] show! It was pretty funny. He took out his BlackBerry and started looking and he wasn't listening to me. He said, "Oh, uh, I wasn't listening." He didn't say, "Sorry." He was being an [posterior portal]. See?
What's your take on alternate words, like "a--hat" or "douchebag"?
[Laughs] I like "d---head," because apparently you can say that on the radio.
That's what I've heard. You can't say [the word we have refrained from printing thus far in this interview] in America, but you can say d---head.
Yeah, I'm still not sure how we're going to print this interview, to be honest.
On TV I can say masspole, so I just say masspole the whole time. Or a-hole is all right, or jerk. By the way, the BBC made a new rule for me. I was allowed to say the word [begins with A, you figure it out] after 10 p.m. So I changed history. Me. I'm so proud.