Scott Mebus is a songwriter, comic, former television producer for MTV’s The Real World and The Tom Green Show, and a novelist whose debut work, Booty Nomad (Miramax Books, 2004), was written after a particularly bad breakup. His second novel, The Big Happy, is being marketed as a resource for women curious over the mysterious inner workings of the male mind. Its narrator, a thirty-something named David, lives in New York City among friends he’s known since childhood. He is wisecracking yet sensitive, ambitious yet insecure, intelligent yet clueless about love: in a word, confounding—just like anybody else.
I recently met with Mebus in a café near his home in New York City, where our conversation touched on everything from the release of The Big Happy to marriage to the social implications of Dungeons and Dragons. People averse to rampant stereotyping—and/or former boyfriends of mine—may want to quit reading now.
Scene: Some of the guys in The Big Happy are what I would call squirrelly.
Mebus:Why shy away from it? It’s not that guys aren’t mature anymore, it’s that people aren’t mature anymore. We’re encouraged to be that way. [People think] “As long as I play video games, my opinion will matter, and when I stop playing video games I will cease to matter.” There’s an actual fear that if you become mature, you will cease to be involved in the world because the music’s young, the TV’s young, everything’s young, young, young. The minute you become old you’re out of the loop. You’re not going to get the Neilson box because no one cares what you’re watching.
Scene: You’re banished to suburbia.
Mebus:Yeah, you’re banished to be a dad. What’s funny is that the people who read about this the most seem to be the twenty-something people, and they’re all transient. My girlfriend’s sister is always asking [me], “Why won’t he do this? Why won’t he do that?” I tell her, “You’re going to go out for a year and get bored and not like him, just like you did the last three guys. It’s just because he’s not calling that you’re even interested.” No one gets married before 30 now anyway.
Scene: Have you been down South before?
Mebus:OK, I amend [that]. You do hit a certain age when you want different things. To all these women saying, ‘He won’t commit. He won’t commit. He won’t commit,’ I say, ‘Well how old is he?’ That’s question number one. A 25-, 26-year-old guy? You’ve just got to know what you’re working with and he’s just not going to commit as quick as a 32-year-old. That’s just the way of it.
Scene: Somehow I keep finding the survivors, the ones who have never committed.
Scene: I’m looking for a really nice nerd, a guy who was maybe funny in high school—a cool nerd.
Mebus: Who didn’t know he was attractive in high school and bloomed late.
Mebus:You see, women are usually still trying to be cool, at least here [in New York] they are. They’re still trying to date the guy they couldn’t date in high school. I think the root of the bad boy syndrome is the guy that you wanted to date in high school but couldn’t, and then you suddenly can when you’re out of school. The rules change a little bit. You know how to dress now. You got rid of the braces. You don’t realize that you don’t [really] want that guy because, as we know, the people who got everything in high school never developed and are dicks now. You need to be able to develop. You need to get kicked in the balls a few times in high school. Find the guy who played D&D.
Scene: No! No, no, no!
Mebus:The guy who still wears a little wizard’s cap.
Scene: I’m not comfortable with my boyfriend playing swords in the park.
Mebus:It’s what they did in ninth grade and then they grow past it. It’s like experimenting with lesbianism: it doesn’t stick. [pause] It’s nothing like experimenting with lesbianism.
Scene: I haven’t found any nerds yet at all.
Mebus:I would think in Tennessee it would be more about musicians.
Scene: Oh, we’ve had that problem.
Mebus:You can’t trust a musician?
Scene: They don’t date. They hang out, maybe put you on a guest list.
Mebus:And when you date, you don’t even get to talk about yourself. It’s all “Support me.”
Scene: You’re their cheerleader. Then you break up; they’re sad; they want more cheerleading.
Mebus:But then they write a song. They want to break up with you. They want to keep it painful. I tried that in my early 20s. I tried to keep it painful so I could write music from it, and it really worked.
Scene: Really, it’s just an excuse to be an asshole. But, OK, last question: With The Big Happy, were you aiming for Dr. Phil?
Mebus:It’s a novel. There’s a very big problem for guys right now with the whole issue of “Are you manly?” It’s not a how-to on what guys think, but it’s still a look you don’t normally get because guys don’t normally write like that. I don’t know why I wrote like that. It just happened.