37: The Office Hours Interview - Shea Serrano

A brief conversation with the leader of the FOH Army

Image result for shea serrano

Shea Serrano is the American Dream.

In my opinion, his success is a direct and concrete example of why we need different voices in journalism and culture writing. By creating authentic content that speaks to his own viewpoint and upbringing, Serrano has created a solid fanbase that couldn’t be more diverse.

The San Antonio-native (and die-hard Spurs fan) is a 2-time New York Times Bestselling author. After building a culture-writing career while teaching middle-school science, he joined the staff at one of the last of the Big Blogs, ESPN’s Grantland.

When Bill Simmons left ESPN — essentially leading to Grantland’s demise, though the old bones still sit there, a promise of what could have been —  and founded The Ringer, Serrano joined the new publication. His work has been featured all over the fucking place, from GQ to ESPNRolling StoneMTV, and Vice. While doing that, he’s released 3 books and raised 3 kids with his wife. His third book, “Basketball (And Other Things)” was one of President Obama’s favorite books of the year, for chrissakes.

In a climate where Twitter has essentially weaponized emotions, his followers rally to raise money for disaster victims or regular Americans who are down on their luck. Whether it be lambasting the current President on his now-daily screwups, being relentlessly positive and how “making it” is just…working a lot, he’s unflinchingly transparent about the way things are. His fourth book Movies (And Other Things) is being released soon and I can’t believe he actually said yes when I asked him to do this!!!

When your book makes the NYT Bestseller list,  I feel like they should send you something cool like a championship ring. And you get one every time you do it so like Danielle Steele or the guy who wrote Who Moved My Cheese? both have the Bobby Bowden hands: 

Image result for bobby bowden rings

Do they send you anything nice when you become a NYT Bestseller?

They do not send you anything. I wish that they did though. I wish you got a championship ring or heavyweight belt or whatever.

You're now the second Grantland alum to do an interview with me, after Amos Barshad. In your opinion, what was the key takeaway from the success of that site for people who want to make good content?

I'll tell you what Grantland did for me, and what The Ringer (and Bill) has continued to do for me since then: Given me a sense of validation. And what I mean is: I have forever felt the way I feel today about music and movies and TV and sports and so on. I care about all of those things a great deal. That's never changed. The only thing that's changed between, say, five years ago and now is that Bill Simmons has been lifting me up into the sky telling everyone, "Hey. Look what this guy's doing. It's valuable." Right after I started working at Grantland, a buddy of mine named Evan Auerbach said to me something like, "You don't know it yet, but Bill Simmons gave you a golden parachute." I didn't know what it meant, but I do now. But so to get back to your question, my key takeaway was that you can get to where you want to go doing the stuff you want to do, so long as you catch a few breaks and have some people believe in you. 

You and your supporters, lovingly known as The FOH Army, might be the only online community that moves with universal positive momentum. Y'all are like the N.W.O but instead of beating people up and spray painting FOH on their backs, you're helping people out with bills and donating to national disasters. The thing I don’t think people realize about charity is that the main people who want to give the most often have the least to give, at least financially. Why is is important to you to focus time on helping others when you could easily just promote your stuff and keep it moving

I think that's all a holdover from when I was teaching. I was a middle school teacher for nine years. And the best part of the job was always whenever a thing would happen with a student where it became clear that you'd helped the student in some way; either you helped them become more confident or maybe allowed them to feel safe in your classroom or whatever. You had that daily interaction with students and there was always the opportunity for that. Writing it different. Writing is a very lonely job. Twitter makes it less lonely. And doing nice things on Twitter makes it feels at least a little bit worthwhile. My running line is: Writing is good for my ego. Teaching was good for my heart. I'm just trying to figure out ways to mush them together a little more. 

You're on record as loving Blood In, Blood Out and I want to say that I’m totally with you there. I just remembered the time somebody brought that shit to the barbershop I used to go to and nobody moved until it was over, including the old cat who used to pull up with lunch plates for sale. What's a movie that you love but don't think the larger population has seen? 

…Wait, am I not allowed to say Blood In, Blood Out? Because that's my pick. It's my favorite movie, and the movie I've seen the most amount of times, and also the movie that when I ask people if they've seen it they almost always say no. It means a great deal to me. It's literally the only time I've watched a movie and the main character had an internal struggle similar to what I've had inside of my brain and heart. (His whole thing is he doesn't know how to reconcile his existence within a world that simultaneously sees him as too much of a Mexican and not enough of a Mexican.) I remember rewatching the movie one night a few years and suddenly being struck by an idea like, "Whoa. Wait. The way this movie makes me feel... white people get to feel like this all the time?!"

Share one random fact you think Office Hours readers might not know.

A random fact not about me that Office Hours readers might not know: There's a scene in the movie Bloodsport where Jean-Claude Van Damme elbows a guy in the mouth during a fight. It looks really, really, really real, because it's really, really, really real. Van Damme wasn't supposed to hit him for real, but he accidentally did. If you watch that part (it's the end of his very first fight), you can tell he put some true hurt into that guy.

A random fact about me that Office Hours readers definitely don't know: I can't really hear out of my right ear. A couple years ago my youngest son put a recorder up to it and then blew into it as hard as he could and it exploded all the stuff in there. He was just a tiny guy at the time —maybe 3 or 4— so he didn't know any better. But all day long, every single moment of every single day, there's a loud ringing in my right ear. If I cover my left ear, I can't hear anything over the ringing. It sucks a lot. 

Where can readers who might be learning about you for the first time here find your work?

I have a new book coming out on October 8. It's about movies and other things. It's called Movies (And Other Things). My recommendation is that they get a copy. 

If you enjoyed this interview, I hope you’ll consider a paid subscription. Paid subscriptions allow for a better newsletter and more value for you lovely subscribers. Paid subscribers receive exclusive newsletters and early access to the live Office Hours hangs.

Your Homework for the Week:


If you enjoyed this story, forward to a friend and tell them to sign up for the newsletter!
Office Hours is written by Ernest Wilkins. Follow me everywhere @ErnestWilkins or email me here.