No More Mr Nice Guy
Martin Kihn was your average good guy, working hard but going nowhere fast, when he decided to become an asshole. A book and TV deal later, he is feeling much happier. He talks to Claire Sawers
A year ago, Martin Kihn was a textbook ‘nice guy’. He was polite, thoughtful and hard working, but his life was going nowhere. He lived in a poky apartment, had a dead-end job and everyone, including his dog, treated him like a bitch. When he hit 40, he decided to start behaving like an asshole to see if it might help him get rich and happy.
Looking around at guys with money, power, an adoring wife or an obedient Alsatian, he concluded that the path to success lay in acting like a jerk. He ditched his people pleasing ways and made up a ten-step ‘assholism’ programme which involved ignoring other peoples’ feelings, never saying sorry, dressing in black silk and only eating red meat. His extreme life overhaul paid off: one year on, he’s been promoted, has bought a holiday cabin in the mountains and raves about how much happier he feels. The experiment also attracted Warner movie bosses, who paid $500,000 for the film rights to his memoirs before he’d even written them.
A$$hole reads like a manual in how not to behave, but Kihn insists his original intentions were totally serious. ‘I really was very upset,’ he says. ‘The section about me getting bad feedback from my boss, and wondering what kind of man I was, that’s all true.’ His simpering personality and non-confrontational approach were losing him respect at the direct marketing agency where he still works now. To claw back some dignity and find ‘the eye of the tiger’, he summoned his inner warrior by hiring life coaches and perfecting his Power Stare. As his efforts became more full-on (soon he was eating garlic bagels and taking up two seats on the subway) he realised there had to be a tongue-in-cheek side to what he was doing. ‘There’s an element of honesty to the book, but also a strong ironic undercurrent,’ he says.
Many of the steps Kihn took to find his inner asshole are grounded in real self-help techniques like meditation or visualisation, but he takes the happy clappy edge off with a healthy dose of sarcasm. ‘I’d spent a lifetime seeing therapists and psychiatrists, and following things like The Warrior Diet. I guess I wanted to parody those types of books and move away from the whiny, self-centred, introspective stuff towards real action.’ It’s worth pointing out that although Kihn writes from the point of view of a downtrodden underdog who happens to get lucky one day, he has previously written a comedy exposé on the world of management consultancy called House of Lies, and received an Emmy Award nomination for his writing on MTV’s Pop-Up Video. But as he states plainly at the start of the book, ‘I have made a few changes to what really happened to make them funnier. If that makes me an asshole, then thank you.’
On his ten-step journey from zero to hero, Kihn worked with an acting coach who sent him out in Manhattan to behave like a first class dick, or take insults without flinching. Not surprisingly the crash course in humiliation forced him to be less sensitive about criticism. He says, ‘It definitely helped overcome my self-consciousness. Now I see you can be more assertive without needing to be obnoxious. I think that should be part of every person’s tool kit.’
The notion that ‘nice guys finish last’ remained a strong motivator throughout the experiment, and Kihn took a straw poll among his friends and wife of 15 years, Julia, to see where they stood. ‘Most men thought they were too nice, and believed women were attracted to assholes,’ he notes. ‘But I think that’s a myth. The answer I got from my wife is, of course, women don’t want to be mistreated. But they do like a decisive man who can take charge, without being abusive.’
Kihn, who, unlike his pompous asshole alter-ego, is softly spoken, funny and self-deprecating, thinks there’s a general movement away from mannerly, mother-pleasing types towards more ruthless, brutal honesty. He compares bygone heroes like Cary Grant with modern-day wide boys like Johnny Knoxville. ‘Even James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause is fairly polite,’ he laughs. His hunch seems accurate, as A$$hole comes hot on the heels of last month’s The Nice Factor: The Art of Saying No, a bible for doormats and pushovers everywhere written by American psychotherapist Jo Ellen Gryzb. Her anti-pleasantries manifesto states that over-apologising and unnecessary diplomacy often lead to unhappiness, or a feeling that you’re wrapped around someone else’s finger. ‘You just need to look around to see that we live in a culture of assholes,’ says Kihn with a smirk. ‘The most successful people are often the biggest divas or the most uncaring sociopaths.’ He reckons Americans searching for asshole role models should look no further than their current president, while Brits can take a leaf out of the book of Gordon Ramsay (‘classic asshole boss’), Heather Mills McCartney (‘bitch, not asshole, division’) and ‘that guy who’s married to the Queen.’
Kihn’s A$$hole memoirs are currently in development by Warner Bros. ‘I get another $500k when shooting begins. This whole asshole experiment has been very lucrative for me,’ he adds with a mock-smug chuckle.
While Kihn waits for Hollywood to unleash his asshole experiment on the world, he also daydreams about writing a training manual for dogs or a guide on how to raise an asshole child. ‘You really gotta start ‘em young,’ he says. Although Kihn still has problems disciplining his Bernese mountain dog Hola, overall the life of an asshole suits Kihn just fine. ‘The biggest change in my life is I have a lot more time. I’m not so hung up on other people, and what they’re thinking. It’s a waste of time. I have more focus on what I need. Not only did I get a pay rise and a book deal, I feel so much happier too.’ Spoken like a true asshole.
A$$HOLE, How I Got Rich and Happy by Not Giving a $!@* About Anyone! is published by Penguin on Thu 3 Apr.
Martin Kihn’s Ten Steps to Becoming An Asshole
Fake it ‘til you make it
Act confident, pushy and assertive, even if you’re not. Kihn hired an acting coach to help him lose his default ‘nice guy’ mannerisms. He learned to replace his smile with a thrust-out chin, a glare or a yawn.
Find asshole role models
Pay close attention to assholes at work, on TV or in the street and copy their behaviour. Kihn studied Tony ‘Scarface’ Montana’s body language and also drew inspiration from Donald Trump, a man in his building with a tattoo on his face and ‘people who attend NRA conventions’.
Hire a life coach
Fill your head with aggressive, asshole thoughts through ‘negative meditation’. Use visualisation techniques to imagine the new callous, powerful, asshole you.
Become the alpha dog
Learn dominant, intimidating behaviour by observing dogs and episodes of TV’s The Dog Whisperer.
Be a fighter, not a lover
Use pain, caffeine, energy drinks and a red meat only diet to hone your body into ‘a walking sphincter’. Take boxing lessons.
Show no interest in others
Be the centre of your own universe. Interrupt others when they speak. Always speak loudly – if it’s a phone call, put them on speakerphone.
Criticise in public, praise in private
Undermine others, particularly if it takes the heat off you. Use subtle mind games to manipulate others and keep them on-side. Total confusion will make victimisation easier.
Keep your eyes on the prize
Remain focused to the point where nothing else matters. Don’t waste time with people if they can’t help you on your way.
Never, ever admit a mistake
Lie if necessary, but always maintain an air of infallibility.
Leap before you look
Instead of whining and being introspective, take action. You can’t think your way into the right action; you have to act your way into the right thinking.