Christian Lander is a Toronto born writer who started the blog "Stuff White People Like." The blog has since been optioned into a New York Times Best Selling Book.
How did Stuff White People Like get started?
So, it was year ago, January 18th, 2008. My friend Myles; Myles is Filipino. We were talking about The Wire. We love the show, and Myles said he didn’t trust a white person who didn’t watch The Wire. And we said, “Well what are they doing instead of watching The Wire?” So we said things like, ”oh, they are going to therapy, going to yoga, getting divorced,” and we said, “that’s too funny, let’s start writing.” This sort of writing, comedy writing, has always been my passion, and I never expected it to get big. I do this stuff for fun because I really enjoy it. I wrote this site to make Myles laugh, and maybe five or six friends,that was it. There wasn’t even anything that was in the back of my head like, “Oh my God this is going to get big,” it was just like, I’m going to make Myles laugh and I am going to have some fun with it. And that’s it.
So I just started writing and I had so much pent up stuff. From dropping out of grad school, to moving here, it all just came out. And then I said, all right, this is actually pretty funny, and I am going to send this to all my friends, like twenty of them, I don’t really have a lot of friends. And they sent it to all their friends, and then it got picked up by Comedy Central “Insider,” and then everyone who read that was like “oh my God, this is funny, or poignant, or I hate this,” and they forwarded it on to their friends and it just kept growing every single day until the agents started calling.
Seriously, there is no false modesty in that. I really didn’t expect this to happen. It didn’t even cross my mind.
So, it was just an inside joke that kind of blew up?
Yeah, exactly. I went to a conference last year called “ROFLCon” where they brought all the funny people from the Internet together, they all told the same story. Everyone who is successful at this stuff is like, “No, I did this to make my friends laugh, this is what I actually enjoy, this is what actually makes me laugh” and it catches on because people can see through it. Which is why so many things like “Funny or Die” sucks. You can tell. You are like “you are trying really hard to get noticed aren’t you?” And it just doesn’t work.
When you started getting noticed for Stuff White People Like, were you like “Oh, I am an internet celebrity?” Because when I found it, I just thought of it as writing online. But then, by definition, it is famous because of the Internet.
Yeah, that definitely keeps my head on straight.
Now that you have the book, you are like “real famous.”
No, no. I am Internet famous. I use this as an example. One of the nicest guys I have ever met was at ROFLCon, and we both got invited to Bravo’s A List Awards last year for “Internet Celebrity of the Year,” and that was Tron Guy, Jay Maynard, he is like the nicest guy you will ever meet. He’s awesome. If you ever get a chance to hear him talk, or watch him talk, he’s like, “You know what, I’m a nerd, I love Tron, I’m a little overweight, what are you really going to say to me? What more can you say that I don’t already know?” He just gets it. This is what he likes, and he is not going to apologize for anything. He’s internet famous too, and he just gets it, you know what I mean? Yeah, I’m internet famous, I’ll put it that way.
Do you sleep easier admitting that?
Yeah. It is really weird, in that, you can meet almost anybody, and they are like, “What do you do?” and for the most part, when you meet them they are like, “Are you serious?” And they already kind of know who I am which is a weird feeling in itself, but it’s like, I am just really, really lucky and I don’t ever forget that.
I never turn down any interview request for the site ever, podcasts, anything, I’ll do it all. I am really lucky to
It’s not that complicated, just don’t be a dick and enjoy it while its hear, so that when it’s all gone, nobody will be cheering happily when it’s over. They will be like, “Aw, that was a good run man, but best of luck in the future” as opposed to like “Finally” which is the way they are looking at Perez Hilton.
How weird is it to go from starting a blog based on something that came about from watching The Wire to being a New York Times Best Selling Author?
It is really weird. It is awesome, it’s my dream come true. My entire life I wanted to be a writer, and I failed on so many attempts. Thought I was going to be a journalist, that didn’t work. Tried to be an academic writer, that didn’t work. I tried and failed at every form of writing. So here it is, this dream that just falls in my lap. Not to sound like a dick, but it was amazingly easy. You know what I mean? It was just amazingly easy. It all just happened. It is weird, and it is all going so fast. Everything sort of normalizes. You know what I mean? “Oh yeah, it is just the New York Times Best Sellers list.” Because you are in this super small world for a second. And then some days I wake up in the morning and I am like “What the fuck has happened?” And I still can’t believe it. Did this really happen in the last year? And the book just went back on the list last week. It seems really normal at times, and then it just hits you, and you can’t believe that all this just happened. It still hasn’t set in yet. The one thing that is really nice about it, is now that it has made the list. No matter what happens in the future no one can take that away from me. Me and José Canseco, no one can take it away from us.
Bet you thought you’d never be on the same list as that guy.
I did not. Actually, I have a funny story about him. I was at USC last week, and Canseco was coming later. So I was doing a journalism internship in high school in Toronto, where I grew up, and I was working for this sports radio station and they let me go to the Jays games to do reports and stuff like that. So one game Canseco was playing for the Jays, and he was juicing, he was huge. He struck out four times in the game, and I am in the locker room at the end of the game, and the guys were like, “Ask him why he struck out four times.” I take two steps forward towards Canseco, I look back at them and they are all dying with laughter. I wasn’t going to do it. He [Canseco] just looked so pissed. Yeah I didn’t think I’d be on any lists with him other than a list of people who have been in the Sky Dome.
As journalism kind of has started to die out, and blogging is getting bigger and bigger, do you think we will see more bloggers become book authors?
It is irresponsible and wrong to let people think that this is common. I didn’t expect I, and it certainly isn’t common. The ratio of the number of blogs to published books is worse than rejected query letters to publish books. But for publishers, it just makes sense. You are able to find new talent as writers, and you are able to find talent that has an audience already. So it is one of the safest bets a publisher can make—when they do it right. “Gawker” was a huge failure. So the blogs based on temporality and breaking news like gadget blogs and video games blogs, news blogs, etcetera do not make very good books. Because you want the immediate information. Not to say that is a bad thing. What they have is constant traffic, people going back every ten minutes to see what the new stuff there is. They have ad revenue so they will be fine. It is the ones that are based on a really great concept, or stories, or writing that turn into good books. For the publishing industry it is the cheapest, easiest way to find new writers. Literary agencies too. Because you know and can see the traffic and the buzz that is around it. I think it is a good way to get discovered, but it is a horrible, horrible idea to start a blog thinking “this is my book deal, hear it comes.” It is the equivalent of thinking your home movie is going to become the Blair Witch Project. It is that kind of level.
One of the things about blogs, is that they are really reader friendly. Most people wouldn’t read ten pages of anything, but they will read ten pages of your blog because of how it is broken down.
It has to be short, and you want to break it up with photos and you want to keep people reading it. Long, long, lots and lots of text, nobody reads that right? You need a good photo, a good concept, and it has to be really concise and straightforward. You have to make sure that your level of text and your idea are on the right level. The blogs that are just people spewing their thoughts, their random thoughts, that’s never gonna be a book. Nobody cares. Even if you are a celebrity, people barely care about that.
Did you always want to do the “field guide” format you use for describing white people?
Kind of. That is where it came from. My high school back home, right in the middle of the city, was super, super multi cultural. The first floor was all ESL students. So it was really funny for me to sort of write the book for them. Myles is second generation Filipino, and he thought it was really funny too. Also, from the “Lonely Planet” stuff. I have this huge, enormous grudge against travel. I’ve done it and stuff. But it is the people who do it in this quest to become interesting and you just read these Lonely Planet guides, they are like “Here is how you can make the locals like you. Here is how you can appear more local.” Step 1: Lose the f-ing backpack and the white skin. So I thought it would be really funny to write that from the other perspective. Here is how you can get them [white people] to like you. It is written for the first floor of my high school.
When you think of your target audience, you are thinking of your first floor of the high school?
Jokingly, yeah, “Here is how you can exploit these white people.” It was really fun, so lots of my friends from back home are second or third generation and they love it. They think it is so funny because it is the stuff they have figured out along the way and it is just funny for them to see it in words. One hundred percent of that comes straight from growing up in Toronto.
What is your favorite entry for Stuff White People Like?
“Knowing what’s best for poor people.” When I did that one, I was like “I’m just going to attack myself,” I am just going to trash myself. It was one of the most pretentious things that I believed for a long time. So I just figured I’d do it and just trash how pretentious I was, and it felt great to write it. That was my favorite one. Like if poor people had money and education they would be just like me? That is the most B.S. thing. So it’s like, “Oh, so I’m perfect? That’s good to know.” That is probably my favorite one because it was the most personal. I trash myself on a lot of other stuff, but that one was the hardest.
What is the strangest one?
“Making you feel guilty for not going outside,” white people love that one. The idea that somehow hiking is the best possible way to spend your day, that is definitely the strangest, but very accurate.
What do white people hate?
Other white people. Number one on the list. The wrong kind of white people. For two reasons. One, people ask me to define “the wrong kind of white person.” They are whoever you blame for everything that is wrong in America. Those are the wrong kinds of white people. Not only are they destroying the country, but they can take stuff you like and make you hate it. Once they start liking that stuff, it’s over. Chinese character tattoos? Done. Blur, “Song 2”? Done. You know what I mean? These are the kinds of things that are eliminated because of “the wrong kind of white people.” The absolute worst. You have to stay one step ahead of those people.
So eventually your blog will be turned into a white exploitation film?
Yeah, I hope so. That’d be fantastic. Because, man, white people love being exploited.
Who would star in this?
Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Leonardo Dicaprio, Al Franken.
He’d be good. Who else would be good? Sean Penn. And of course, the lead would be Philip Seymour Hoffman. He is an entry coming up soon. I have to write one on him.
You can’t pick up a movie without his name attached to it.
That’s how you know it’s good. His name is like the organic free trade label. You know it is going to be good when you see that. You can trust it.
I noticed that you rode up on a fixie [fix geared bicycle]. Fixie riding is a very image based trend.
Oh yeah, of course. What I love about it, on the non-pretentious side is that it is very simple. I literally took it apart and built it myself.
I just finished building mine a few weeks ago.
It is so easy, I love it. On the other hand, when people really start pressing me, ultimately the answer comes down to, it fucking looks cool. Do I need those rims? No. I don’t need those rims. Did I need to pay $200 for those rims? No I didn’t. But it completes the bike! It is image based, but so are cars. And in L.A. it is this rejection of car culture … I don’t deny it, I mean, look at me. I am the biggest stereotype of my blog possible, yeah that is my bike, I live the life. I am not a studio gangsta.
One of the best things about reading your blog is going through it and being like, “Damn it, that’s true. Damn it, THAT’s true too.”
I know, I know. The best reaction I get from people is when they are like, “I laughed at half, and I cringed at the other half.” When I put it up, it is just like all the pretentious shit I do and I think that there may be no way that some of this connects with other people. But then immediately they are like, “Oh my god you asshole. You got me again.” The success of the blog is a constant remind about how not special I am. Every time it gets forwarded along, it is one more person who is exactly like me.
Are you starting to kind of get tired of Stuff White People Like?
My ideas are slowing down a bit for it. It has been an amazing year. I wouldn’t change a thing that has happened in the last year. But it is hard. Whenever I take a break, it’s like, “I need to update this.” But then again, it’s like, why? The book is done, it has already reached its peak. I have this weird responsibility to keep it going. You feel like you can’t take a break from it, and I do interviews all the time for it. I do get a little tired of it. But really, if this is the price to pay for all that has happened in the last year, then it is nothing.
People who work retail are always analyzing clothes that people are wearing, are you haunted by analyzing white people?
Kind of. A little bit. These are always the best kinds of places to go. Independent coffee shops are the best places to do research. Inteligencia is the best. Last time I was there, Moleskin notebook, which is coming soon by the way [as he points to my Moleskin], on top of his MacBook. And the joke there is like, are the ideas in the notebook, too important for the MacBook? The other joke I have with it is that Moleskin notebooks contain all the original thoughts of a white person. So fortunately they only have to buy one a lifetime.
I saw another dude, he was like 23, had a beard, looked exactly like me except that he had an old man pipe, and I was just like “You are trying sooo hard. You are trying so hard. You are at CVS buying the things that people aren’t buying.”
I am fascinated by stereotypes. Not race based stereotypes but of types of people. So like, L.A. I am fascinated by the different types of people here. Like the Melrose guys that are into the Affliction shirts and they also aspire to date porn stars and they love Ed Hardy. Then there are the dudes that always look dusty. Where like, Dane Cook is their hero. Their jeans look dusty, their shirt looks dusty, but their hair is perfect. I am always trying to find what the quality is of this person that I can boil down to one hilarious observation that just cuts right to it. Like the dusty guys. You could describe them by like, “Their jeans are faded, their shirts are faded”—no, dusty. And then people get it. Those are the kinds of observations my friends and I always found the funniest. When you can just call out somebody … and just boil them down to those basic tastes and completely put them down.
Do you have any ideas for what you want to do next?
Well, the book has been optioned by Imagine, so I am in the early stages of development of turning it into a television show, and that is what I’d really love to do next. But I am super realistic about this, and that this is just step one of like eight billion before it makes it to air. So, I am going to have fun with it and give it 100% and everything I’ve got. I’ve been paired up with some really awesome people who know what they’re doing and have great experience and can help me through the structure part and I can handle the jokes. So, I’d love to be doing that. I want to write comedy, be a part of comedy, as a job, as a dream. If that doesn’t happen than it means two things. One, I clearly don’t have the talent to do this because you can not have this much attention and an agent, and all these meetings and connections and if you can’t make it from that, then you weren’t talented straight up. There is no conspiracy to keep me out, I just couldn’t do it. That means I can give it up, and I got as close as I could, I tried my best, and I couldn’t do it. I can live with that. The other thing is, everything fails miserably and nobody wants to talk to me or hire me again, I’ll go back to advertising, and move back to Canada. No one can take away the Best Seller title. Comedy as a career is what I’d really like to do, and because the book has done so well, I have time to make that happen. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I had my shot, and there is no bitterness in that.
Christian Lander (Stuff White People Like) Interview