Vice Co-Founder Gavin McInnes on Trolling Feminists: I'm Not Andy Kaufman; This Isn't a Joke
The writer, comedian, Vice co-founder and outspoken Fox News regular sounds off to The Hollywood Reporter about the truth behind his controversial persona, threats against his family, the Hollywood wage gap and how Vice was "100 percent" his baby (not Shane Smith's).
Gavin McInnes is not pulling anyone's leg — or so he wants the world to believe.
The writer, comedian, co-founder of Vice Media and conservative media pundit ruffled feathers last week with his most recent Fox News appearances, during which he called women "less ambitious" than men and said women earn less "because they choose to."
"Women would rather go to their daughter's piano recital than stay all night at work working on a proposal because they're less ambitious," McInnes said on Hannity. He called the wage gap nature's way of saying that women would be "happier" at home with their kids.
The appearances triggered a tsunami of liberal media backlash with headlines like "Gavin McInnes Might Be the Most Sexist Man on the Planet" and "Fox News Should Maybe Be Concerned About Gavin McInnes' Mental Stability" and "Fox News' Gavin McInnes Goes Off the Deep End."
McInnes — who left Vice in 2008 — disagrees with his characterization as a sexist, but he doesn't dispute the basis for these claims, telling The Hollywood Reporter in an interview, "I think that being a housewife is the most noble profession there is."
"I'm a feminist," he says. "I'm glorifying women."
McInnes' argument: Modern feminists are a vocal minority. According to him, a small subset of female careerists are forcefully attempting to represent the silent majority of women, who would actually prefer to be housewives with children than slog through tedious desk jobs. McInnes tells THR his position is supported by studies that show that women overall have become less happy since the inception of the feminist movement.
"No one is trying to ban women from the workforce," McInnes says. "This is where this argument always gets taken, and I've never brought it there. No one wants women out of the workforce. We're not in f—ing Iran. ... But you're shoving [feminism] down our throats and trivializing the women who do what comes naturally to them. And that's being a housewife."
McInnes says he's received all the validation he needs from housewives who've reached out to him to thank him for his message, writing emails like, "Finally, someone notices us!"
For the past few years, McInnes has not-so-quietly been building a career for himself as a hyperbolic conservative shock jock. Among myriad controversial interviews and op-eds, in which he rails against modern feminism and the "boomer liberal ethos," McInnes penned a Thought Catalog piece in 2014 entitled "Transphobia Is Perfectly Natural," which resulted in his being asked to take a leave of absence from the New York ad agency he founded in 2010.
The Thought Catalog article became the tipping point for many who long suspected, or hoped, that McInnes — a comedian who had already earned a reputation for pranking the media — was winking at them with a Colbert-esque satire on conservatism: His tone was simply too vitriolic to be real.
This theory would dovetail with a 2003 letter McInnes wrote to Gawker — a letter that reads eerily like a prewritten confession for his current behavior.
"It became irresistible to goad people and corner them into conversations about controversial politics because they were so hysterical and easy to anger," McInnes wrote, trying to explain how he had been misquoted as a white supremacist in a news article because of a prank he'd pulled. "Plus, incendiary political statements garnered endless publicity for us, and playing with mainstream media became a fun game."
In the letter, McInnes unraveled the web of lies he had spun — among them, pretending to be gay lovers with fellow Vice co-founder Shane Smith — and even referenced an article he wrote for The American Conservative "for a laugh." "I did it," he explained, "because I wanted to see what it would be like to flirt with Pat Buchanan."
Then, commenting on how easy it would be to manipulate the media in the other direction, McInnes wrote, "I will now be saying stuff to the press that is so left-wing, so Black Power, that it will make your ears burn off."
This would also dovetail nicely with the lovable, jokey father persona McInnes presents in his YouTube comedy sketches like "How to Fight," in which he demonstrates practical self-defense skills using his toddler daughter as a would-be attacker. In "Sophie Can Walk," a parody of a tearjerker documentary about overcoming adversity, McInnes refuses to accept that his newborn baby won't be able to walk "for at least a year." (This isn't to suggest that a genuinely conservative anti-feminist, in the modern sense, can't also be a lovable father. Just that the cooing dad persona fits with preconceived ideas that McInnes is secretly playing for the left.)
McInnes, now, suddenly insists he's for real — but instead of flirting with Pat Buchanan, he's flirting with the likes of Sean Hannity.
"I've done plenty of outright pranks, but this is me," he tells THR. "Maybe it's Larry David and this is a hyperbolic version of me. Maybe it's purposely crass, but that's what we're getting from liberals. 'Die Cis Scum' is the gender queer motto. So why do I have to pussyfoot around and use all this delicate wording?
"It's kind of like art," he says. "I've been [expressing my opinions] for a quarter-century now, and I want to have fun, but I'm not lying. This isn't some Andy Kaufman prank."
To illustrate where one might misinterpret his voice as satire, McInnes uses the example of another Thought Catalog piece he wrote called "Hey, Ladies! Short Hair Is Rape." The article was widely considered satire for its outlandish tone — just take a peek at the comments — but McInnes' explanation for the article undermines that theory.
"It was based on this time I had sex with this girl and I looked down and she had this short hair and she was kind of slight, not very curvy. So I looked like I was f—ing a 12-year-old boy," he says. "It looked like I was f—ing someone and someone put a picture of a 12-year-old boy in front of my face. So I felt violated and I was mad."
This is to say, McInnes has embraced his own unique brand of over-the-top expression: brashly asserting, for example, that the vast majority of women would be happier at home with children than at work. McInnes calls it a "stand-up dialogue," characterizing only his tone as comedic in nature, not the actual substance of his message.
"Language has become so loaded now. It's fun to just say stuff," McInnes says, explaining the fun lies primarily in riling people up. He calls them "hate facts," as in facts that people hate to hear, despite their veracity.
"Like with women being less ambitious," he explains. "Women put the family over work where men tend to put work over family. That's the definition of less ambitious."
The ambiguity of his politics prompted the obvious question: Where does McInnes lie on the political spectrum?
"I am a socially liberal libertarian who is not for open borders," he says. "That's my only problem with libertarians. I want almost no laws, I want the smallest government possible. I don't want anyone telling anyone what to do. But I also see the merit in tradition and I think that women and men are different."
When THR pointed out that this sounds more like a socially conservative position, McInnes laughed. "Yeah, I guess so."
Despite his strong personal feelings about feminism, McInnes still believes people are losing sight of the bigger picture: that what is perceived as his crusade against women is really just a crusade against censorship and political correctness.
"I'm like Ann Coulter in a way," he says. "I talk in public and on the record the same way I talk to my friends in bars. I don't censor myself. I try not to say f— on Fox, but I just did a segment on Fox the other night called 'I've Had Enough of This F—ing Shit.' ... The secret to getting to the truth is just to remain curious and keep talking. Censorship and trying to get people stifled is a one-way ticket to the Soviet Union."
But this commitment to unfiltered dialogue isn't without its risks. McInnes, who is currently taking a short break from New York City with his wife, was apprehensive about discussing his location because he now regularly gets threats against him and his family, primarily from what he deems "shrill," mascara-wearing college student gamers who are "politically active in the Batman community."
As for why he left Vice, the media company he co-founded alongside Shane Smith and Suroosh Alvi in 1994, McInnes says the reasons were less salacious than people believe. "We stopped liking each other, really. It happens. Me and the other founders. We just didn't respect each other. We didn't get along."
McInnes declined to discuss details of the split because of an NDA he signed when he sold his shares, but he still takes full credit for the company's editorial foundation.
"[Vice CEO Shane Smith] didn't handle any content when I was there," McInnes says. "He was the sales guy, the marketing guy. I was the editor. I did all the editing. I controlled the content. I used aliases to become women. I was a black guy. [Vice] was 100 percent my baby."
When the subject turned to gender equality in Hollywood, McInnes' detractors may be surprised to hear what side he's on. "If it's true that actresses are consistently getting paid less than actors with the same experience — even though they're just as wanted by the customers, the moviegoers — that's wrong," he says, despite his expectations that the free market should have corrected something like this.
McInnes continues to make tongue-in-cheek YouTube videos, but his repertoire is becoming increasingly political, especially as it targets Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. But where Stephen Colbert's punchline might aim to convey that Clinton's credentials are unrelated to her gender, McInnes' punch line is that Clinton's gender is her credential.
It would seem clear, then, that McInnes' persona is rooted in genuine conservative extremism, but it's still impossible to remove all doubt.
"This isn't some Andy Kaufman prank," after all, is exactly what Andy Kaufman would say.