This article originally appeared on VICE US.
Internet humorist and podcaster Asterios Kokkinos had no idea he’d wind up in the New York State Supreme Court embroiled in one of the pettiest cases to pass through the halls of justice when he entered into a mutually destructive flame war with George “Maddox” Ouzounian years ago. The somehow-still-ongoing legal saga, referred to by Kokkinos as “the LOLsuit,” has dissolved friendships and rendered Kokkinos unemployed and debt-ridden, despite winning victories in court. It’s an absurd legal epic but also a cautionary tale about how getting Mad Online can go horribly, horribly wrong.
Naturally, the whole thing revolves around the word “cuck.”
Maddox, best known as the creator of the bare-bones early-internet bro-humor site “The Best Page in the Universe," has spent his career opining about who and what sucks. Like Tucker Max, another popular machismo-focused web essayist of the era, Maddox matter-of-factly presented profanity-laden contrarian takes like "'Embrace diversity,' and other bullshit phrases that don't mean anything," with almost a scorn for his readership. This made him very successful and his work helped shape early internet culture and thus pop culture as a whole for years. His star has faded, but he's still creating content, which is what brought him together with Kokkinos. (Maddox, whose real name is George Ouzounian, turned down multiple requests to be interviewed for this article, which is based on court documents and Kokkinos's account.)
Both men performed at Upright Citizens Brigade in LA, sometimes together, with Kokkinos occasionally guesting on The Biggest Problem in the Universe*, a show Maddox co-hosted with his then friend Dick Masterson. After Masterson began dating one of Maddox's exes, creating an interpersonal rift that resulted in the duo cancelling their podcast in 2016, Masterson launched his own podcast, The Dick Show, on which Kokkinos was soon a frequent guest. As The Dick Show grew in popularity, Masterson and Maddox’s public rift widened, with each party’s respective fanbases joining in on the antagonism.
Maddox mocked Masterson's right-wing politics (he once wrote a book called Men Are Better Than Women) and Masterson and Kokkinos retaliated by challenging Maddox's feminist bona fides by pointing to misogynist passages in his own writing. The feud resulted in some mean-spirited content, even by the standards of this corner of the web: At one point, an anti-Maddox partisan made parody videos featuring a intellectually disabled version of Maddox called “Madcucks.” One of the more substantial salvos fired in this flame war was by Kokkinos: In a prank meant to dethrone Maddox’s new premium podcast from the top of the iTunes charts, recorded an album of low-brow, low-quality Christmas carol parodies, all calling Maddox a cuck. The attack was a response to a recent video in which he’d expressed his distaste for the insult.
“This Maddox guy puts out a video saying, ‘I don’t like the word cuck,’” recalled Kokkinos during a phone interview. “Well, I don’t like this Maddox guy, so you know what I got to do? I got to call the guy the word ‘cuck.’”
The album, titled Cuckmas Carols, and released nowhere near Christmas, did end up reaching the number-one slot in the iTunes and Google Play comedy charts. Maddox responded by emailing Kokkinos's employer, the PR firm Weber Shandwick, while posing as a Condé Nast reporter named “Heather S” who was doing “a piece about online trolls, bullying and harassment” and said that Kokkinos was “taking part in an online harassment and bullying campaign” and “using alt-right phraseology like ‘cuck.’” (Maddox later admitted to being behind the email in an affidavit.)
After Weber Shandwick failed to discipline Kokkinos in response to that email, Maddox went further. On November 15, 2017, Kokkinos received a court summons. He, along with Weber Shandwick, Weber Shandwick’s legal counsel, Masterson, Masterson’s ad agency and business partners, Patreon, and the guy behind Madcucks were being sued for $20 million for their role in a “harassment campaign” against Maddox and his girlfriend, Jessica Blum.
Included in the allegations were screenshots of message board comments that threatened Blum with rape. Thinking it might help get Maddox to drop the case, Masterson and his fans tracked down the guy behind the messages and convinced him to write a confession that was then submitted to the court and Maddox’s attorneys. But that didn't work; the suit was headed to court.
Kokkinos maintains that Maddox sued out of vindictiveness, not concern for his safety. “This whole case isn’t about these horrible threats,” Kokkinos wrote in a June 2018 Medium post chronicling his ordeal. “It’s about a forty year old [sic] troll who doesn’t like being made fun of himself. And he’ll use whatever it takes — be it the legal system, or the court of public opinion — to get his way.”
Maddox's problem was that as a public figure—his original complaint described him as “a highly successful author and internet personality”—he can't hold anyone liable just for mocking him, even if that mockery was as mean-spirited as an album of cuck songs. Kokkinos and Masterson had the right to to profit off said ridicule, much like “the way Saturday Night Live makes fun of President Trump,” said Charles Ramos*, the judge who presided over the case, during the proceedings.
There were other problems with the suit. Charles Star, an attorney and VICE contributor whose legal podcast covered the case last year, noted that libel requires a "provably false statement of fact." As cuckolding is an insult against both the man and his unfaithful woman, "Maddox's counsel alleged that Kokkinos's use of the word 'cuck' was libelous toward Blum as well," said Star. But Kokkinos's attorney responded with the argument in an affadavit that "Mr. Kokkinos intends to prove that Ouzounian is, by his own dictionary definition, a 'cuckold.' The genesis of [Masterson's] and Ouzounian’s falling-out... was that Ouzounian’s ex-girlfriend cheated on him with [Masterson]."
"Truth is an absolute defense," said Star. "Maddox had no way to win that one."
Ultimately, Ramos dismissed Maddox’s charges against Kokkinos, but did so without prejudice, so that Maddox’s legal counsel had the option to re-file with more explicitly stated charges. In September of 2018, on the evening of the deadline for re-filing the claim, Kokkinos says Maddox messaged him to offer half of his podcast’s worth—valued by Maddox at $45,000—in exchange for ending everything and preventing Kokkinos from counter-suing.
Kokkinos directed Maddox to communicate through their respective legal teams and, through his lawyers, suggested Maddox sell the podcast and just give him the money, rather than relying on that $90,000 valuation. The Maddox team went radio silent and the time limit on the re-filing eventually expired.
Though he says he felt vindicated by the ruling, Kokkinos regards it as a pyrrhic victory. He told VICE he racked up $30,000 in legal debt and got terminated by Weber Shandwick a week after the trial, which Kokkinos blames Maddox for. (The company declined to comment on the firing.) Kokkinos is relying on his various creative endeavors and a GoFundMe page to offset the burden. He is considering a malicious prosecution countersuit against Maddox, but he’s still hoping to settle and avoid further battles. It remains to be seen whether Maddox will agree to his demands: Kokkinos wants a public apology from Maddox, "$30,000 cash in a really cool briefcase," and a three-round boxing match. Kokkinos would also accept an appearance from Maddox on his podcast “wearing a lie detector, and every time he lies he has to pay [Kokkinos] another thousand dollars.”
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