"Mad Made" author Joel Stein, shown in New York City, says Chicago… (Getty Images )
Humorist and Time magazine columnist Joel Stein freaked out several years ago when he found out that his pregnant wife was having a boy. A self-proclaimed wuss, Stein decided to try to "man up" and study the ways of manly men so he could be a better father to his son. The result of his adventures in boot camping, fighting and sporting became a book called "Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity." On a recent stop of his book tour at the ARTango Center in Ravensood, Stein spoke with RedEye about his mission of manliness and how Chicago ranks on the stud scale.
How did you decide on which manly activities you'd try?
I made a list; the qualifications were that I wasn't going to do extreme stuff, just what your typical American man does for fun. There was no ice road trucking, nothing you'd see on the History Channel, just stuff that guys do like learn how to play sports, camp, hunt, fight. The one thing I did in Chicago was that I got a day trader who gave me $100,000 so I could day trade for one day. Everything else was about the kind of masculinity that comes from the American South. Not British masculinity, which is like stiff upper lip, drink tea while the bombs are falling. More like emotion and revenge and honor and violence--it's more aggressive. That's what America tends to think about with masculinity.
I went turkey hunting, did a shift with firefighters, helped rebuild a house with my wife's father, [did] roofing and plumbing, I fought UFC fighter Randy Couture for a round, did three days of boot camp at the Army. They let me be the first civilian ever to fire a tank. I loaded and fired three rounds of an [M1] Abrams.
Did you have to sign a ton of waivers to be able to do things like that?
It's funny but most things I had to sign waivers for [weren't] fighting Randy Couture or firing a tank. It was fostering a dog for two weeks ... Chicks in charge of dog adoptions hate dudes; they've been hurt by dudes. You usually think women damaged by men are strippers or porn stars, [but] no. That's true, too, but they're dog adoption people. It was hard for me to convince them to let me do that. I had to fill out all these forms, they visited my home.
When you have a baby, do you know what they do? They check to see if your nipples work, and send you on your way. I eventually got one from the lady that cut my hair. I ended up getting an English Spaniel, not that manly. My wife also insisted I get it groomed and put a yellow ribbon around the dog.
Maybe this will be a spoiler alert for people who haven't read your book, but did you become a real man?
I think I'm 13 percent manlier. I fix stuff around the house now. Not big stuff, but I go on YouTube and learn how to fix my toilet. My son wants to go camping and I'm totally cool with that. My son is crazy into cars and I got a Lamborghini for three days and I worked in the pit crew of an American Le Mans race. My son is really into it, so I've managed at least a 3-year-old's knowledge of cars. I think I'm a little better at confrontation after the MMA thing. But I think you can only move the dial so much on yourself. I can mostly just hang with guys, even though I'm not one yet.
The website America's Manliest Cities (americasmanliestcities.com) has Chicago ranked 37. Do you agree with that?
You're in the north. I would have put Chicago higher, but I bet you got killed by like Texas cities. I bet you got worked by some smaller cities and rural places that are inherently manlier as well as Texas places and southern places. If the Civil War had gone the other way, I think Chicago would be No. 1 or 2.
But Miami higher than Chicago?
I could see that, Cubans. You guys have a niceness problem. That's not that manly. It's a nice city. I lived in NYC for 11 years, and people are helpful, but they're not warm. This city is warmer.
Is there a masculine Chicagoan who stands out for you?
Michael Jordan. He doesn't even talk. He's in like 100 commercials in which he's never said a word--those Fruit of the Loom commercials where someone else talks and he just nods at them. The mustache and the hoop earring--it's like that's how manly he is that he can get away with the hoop earring. All the columnists like the Mike Roykos who just go to bar and talk to people, those guys are manly. Oprah [Winfrey] can be kind of manly. You don't think about it, but she's a badass on a personal level. Not her show, but her.
It seems like a lot of people respond to Nick Offerman's Ron Swanson character from "Parks and Recreation" because of his manliness.
Offerman, yeah. I was judging a beard and mustache competition at the Silverlake library, which apparently was right near Offerman's house. He heard about the contest, whittled a trophy and brought it by and gave it to them. He gave me advice on a Sirius radio show and said, "Go outside, make stuff with your hands." I'm like yeah, of course, get off your computer. Go check his Twitter account. His last tweet from like a year ago was like, "This was a mistake. I'm going outside." I love it.
Ryan Smith is a RedEye special contributor.
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