To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.Â âEcclesiastes 3:1-2
The autumn is the time to pluck up that which is planted, and, often, to arrange it in aesthetically pleasing centerpieces and porch displays. Thatâs right. Itâs Decorative Gourd Season, Motherfuckers.
That trumpeting proclamation is the title of an essay Colin Nissan wrote for McSweeneyâs Internet Tendency in 2009. The piece is an aggressively exuberant fist-pumping celebration of fall, and of the reason for the season: decorative gourds, of course. Ever since it was published, much like you can feel the wind changing outdoors as summer gives way to fall, you can tell when the weather is changing online, because eager tweeters with pumpkins in their eyes will start posting the essay once more. It is trotted out every fall, much like the âwicker fuckerâ Nissan dusts off in his opening paragraph in order to jam it full of âshellacked vegetables.â
Why? âBecause itâs not summer, itâs not winter, and itâs not spring,â he writes. âGrab a calendar and pull your fucking heads out of your asses; itâs fall, fuckers.â
The piece is the Catch-22 of online humor essays. Its title has become a shorthand for the thing it describes: autumn and the attendant mania some have for its trappings. It has shaped the very language the internet uses to talk about the season. If decorative gourds arenât your thing, here are some other seasonal descriptions Twitter has recently conjured up:
ITâS TRANSITIONAL JACKET SEASON, MOTHERFUCKERS https://t.co/bCybR6qvt6
â Andrew Beaujon (@abeaujon) October 5, 2017
Itâs Scorpio season, motherfuckers
â amil (@amil) October 23, 2017
Itâs David S Pumpkins season, motherfuckers.
â Dash (@dashlet) October 25, 2017
Itâs Rub Carmex on your Nostril Season motherfuckers
â Spooky Scary Skele J (@Starship_J) October 27, 2017
I would venture to say fall is the most polarizing season, and not just because itâs when American elections take place. It has the most enthusiastic fans, and thus attracts vehement haters. For every person excited for pumpkin-spice products to hit the shelves, there is a curmudgeon online calling them basic and bemoaning the inescapable flavor of nutmeg.
Nissan, though famous for his eloquence in describing gourd-love, is a jack of many trades. He writes humor pieces for various publications, works in advertising, and is a voice-over actor (I definitely recognize his voice from commercials, and you might too. Also heâs never done a Nissan car commercial, I asked.)
I spoke with Nissan about the origins and legacy of the piece. While he was largely unaware of the Fall Culture Wars, he gamely offered his opinion on some of fallâs most famous fixtures. An edited, condensed transcript of our conversation follows.
Julie Beck: Take me back to 2009. What inspired the piece? Was there a specific gourd display that touched you, personally?
Colin Nissan: I donât know if there was a singular moment or anything. I just love fall, and it all just came out in one giant spewing that was that piece.
Beck: Who was your editor at McSweeneyâs?
Nissan: Itâs a guy by the name of Christopher Monks. Heâs awesome; heâs been there for years. He works out of what he calls âMcSweeneyâs World Headquarters,â but itâs his home in Arlington, Massachusetts. They once did a Kickstarter where I actually signed like 270 gourds or something. I went to his house and sat at his dining-room table. It was quite a scene. There was this gigantic pile of gourds and we sat there all day and signed and boxed them up.
âIâm not totally sure how you feel about the word âmotherfucker,â but hereâs a piece for your consideration.â
Beck: Do you remember what his reaction was when you pitched the piece? What did you guys talk about in the editing stages?
Nissan: They did a thing recently where he put up on this patronsâ page, on the McSweeneyâs site, our email exchange from when I first submitted it to him. It started out with me saying, âIâm not totally sure how you feel about the word âmotherfucker,â but hereâs a piece for your consideration.â So then it just went back and forth with very funny detailed exchanges about specific swears and it became funnier than the piece, I think, the whole exchange.
Beck: Are there any good jokes that didnât make it in?
Nissan: One of his main contributions was, I think I [originally] had a wider range of swears in there, and he said very seriously: âI just like sticking with the word fuck. I think there’s just something more pleasing about [that].â So I ended up kind of limiting it to that word mostly.
And the ending, I canât remember exactly what it was …
Beck: Itâs just, âWelcome to autumn, fuckheads!â
Nissan: The original ending was one thing that [Monks] commented on. I canât remember what the original ending was. But Iâm so glad he did, because it got super dark. It was not a good ending. So I went back and reworked the ending and it ended up being what it is.
Beck: What was the reaction to the piece at the time? Did it immediately become really popular or was it more of a slow burn?
Nissan: It was pretty fast. I remember Chris emailing me. This thing very quickly went to the top spot on their page and I think he said within a few days it had a million hits. I think at the time it was fairly unusual for the site, so that was exciting.
Beck: Itâs become a perennial favorite. Every season thereâs tweets, youâll see like: âItâs âItâs Decorative Gourd Season, Motherfuckersâ Season, Motherfuckers.â Why do you think that is? How has it lasted the test of time?
Nissan: I really donât know. Itâs always really fun to see it come back, but Iâm always like, I canât believe itâs had the staying power that itâs had. I just think, as it was for me to write it, maybe itâs just a release for people.
Beck: You write for a lot of different places and do a lot of voice-over acting and all that. Do you feel like the gourd has cast a shadow over your life in any way?
Nissan: The only thing is the first couple years, people who had read the piece, if they met me I think they just thought I was like the piece. They were like, âWhy arenât you swearing? Why arenât you funnier?â I just got that feeling like I should be outrageous in person when Iâm talking, which Iâm not.
But writing-wise, when a piece does well like that, as a writer you just try to figure outâwas there some magical combination or something that I did that connected with people and worked? And can I repeat that somehow? I think the first five drafts of things I wrote afterward were in that exact similar swearing tone, which is obviously not the right thing to do. And I never did anything with them. My first instinct was maybe I can do that again. You really canât.
Beck: Do you think you have figured out what the magical combination was for that piece?
Nissan: I just think itâs tricky, because swearing like that in a piece nine times out of 10 will backfire. In most cases people would be like: âItâs cheap and easy to swear like that and canât you come up with jokes without swearing?â But there was something about this piece. I think possibly one of the reasons is that the guy in the piece was just pumped. He was swearing like crazy but he was never angry. I think if he was angry maybe it wouldnât have worked as well. But thereâs something about the excitement and the swearing that just seemed to work.
Beck: Do you feel like, writing this piece, the fact that it comes up again every fall, has that shaped your experience of autumn in any way?
Nissan: Itâs really fun to see people posting photos of their kids and quoting it. Iâve heard people say it randomly.
Beck: Just in the world?
Nissan: Yeah, I have a couple times. It definitely makes the season a little extra fun for me.
Beck: Thereâs now a culture war of sorts over fall. Thereâs been something of a backlash to peopleâs enjoyment of things like apple picking, or pumpkin-spice stuff.
Nissan: Oh, thatâs funny. This is the perfect example of whatâs happening in the world today, where Iâm in my little media silo, my bubble, and my world loves fall, so thatâs all I see. I honestly havenât seen much of the backlash.
Beck: What would you say to the haters of fall?
Nissan: I just donât know how you can hate it. Itâs cozy, thereâs delicious foods, the foliage is beautiful. There are built-in activities to fall. Maybe itâs the people who love summer so much and they feel like fall just means winterâs coming. But fall is itâs own beast. You just have to relish it.
Beck: I was hoping that you might be down, from your position as an authority on fall, to offer a verdict on various fall-related things. Can we do a lightning round?
Nissan: Yeah, sure.
Beck: Apple picking.
Nissan: Too humid. I remember as a kid it was amazing and crisp, and now I feel like the last four seasons Iâve just been sweating through my shirt while apple picking. Which kind of wrecks it. But other than that, I love it, it was one of my favorite things ever.
Beck: We got to climate change really quickly.
Nissan: I know.
Beck: Okay, corn mazes.
Nissan: Iâve only done one and it was, I would say, terrifying.
Beck: Hay rides.
Nissan: Bumpy. All of a sudden, I feel like everything Iâm saying is negative. How did I end up being negative about every fall thing youâre mentioning? I would say bumpy and itchy. But fun.
Nissan: Not a sweater guy, honestly. I end up looking like Paddington Bear whenever I wear sweaters.
Beck: What about scarves?
Nissan: No, I donât know how to tie a scarf. I canât do that either.
Beck: Iâm trying to find a positive one.
Nissan: I know. I guess I hate fall. Maybe we got to a deeper meaning here for the piece.
Beck: Oh my God, the internet is going to kill me. What about candy corn?
Nissan: Love candy corns.
Beck: Thatâs a real controversy.
Nissan: I thought the only controversy is if you eat each color, if you eat the white then eat the yellow then eat the orange. I do it that way, layer by layer.
Beck: âLeaf peeping?â Do you know this term?
Nissan: Oh yeah. I love foliage. Big fan. Love the colors.
Beck: The end of daylight-saving time?
Nissan: I just never know when it is. Iâve never gotten it right once in my life.
Beck: Pumpkin-spice lattes?
Nissan: Not a fan. Iâm not a hot milk kind of guy.
Beck: What about just things that are pumpkin-spice flavored? That you would find in grocery stores?
Nissan: I donât know about prepackaged stuff, but I love pumpkin bread, that type of stuff. What do they have thatâs pumpkin spice?
Beck: Oh, everything. Cereals, bagels, cookies. Just throw a stick in Trader Joeâs, youâll hit something.
Nissan: I donât think Iâve done much of that. Iâm the worst fall person ever to interview apparently.
Beck: You do seem very disconnected from many of the fall controversies online.
Nissan: Iâm just very gourd-focused.
Beck: How many gourds do you have in your house right now?
Nissan: Currently, let’s see. [Ed: At this point, I can hear him moving what sound like gourds in the background.] About … 12.
Beck: Are they all decorative or are they for eating?
Nissan: All decorative.
Nissan: Thank you.