The Author of Manhattan Beach Tuna Melt Shares His Secret Recipe for South Bay Satire
A good grilling.
- Interviewed byDarren Elms
- Photographed byJeff Berting
He never intended to make his identity a secret or to go public either, really. But as author of the popular social media news parody Manhattan Beach Tuna Melt, Zane Stoddard remained a mystery to his many fans. Without a name attached to the posts, many around town wondered, “Just who is the guy behind the spot-on satire send-ups of life in Manhattan Beach?” Enter Zane, who offered to tell us a little about himself, how he came to the South Bay and what inspires his humorous take on the town he loves.
Now that the word is out that you’re the man behind Manhattan Beach Tuna Melt, tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in an idyllic little town outside San Francisco called Danville—my first taste of perfect people with no problems. After graduating from college (the University of Arizona), I only made it halfway home. With friends in Los Angeles and my mom having grown up down here, I never left.
Years later, after getting married, my wife and I had sold our home in Culver City and were looking around L.A. for our next home. We’d had a few friends in the South Bay, so on a whim we told our Realtor to throw in a few listings from there—barely serious about actually living there.
Days later our Realtor sent us a listing in Hermosa. Looking at the map on the listing, we were shocked that it was four blocks from the water and in our price range. Racing over, we pulled up to a home with a car on blocks in the driveway, wet suits over the front balcony. During our tour, the homeowner was cutting a raw piece of steak directly on the countertop, shirtless. His teen son, also shirtless, was lying on the couch watching TV. These people hate shirts and don’t want to sell their home. Every door lock in the home was broken, windows cracked, holes punched in the drywall everywhere, and the carpet was sticky with cat pee.
Persuaded by my dad to look beyond the aesthetics (location, location, location)—and stunned we were able to get so close to the beach—we bought the home. Shortly thereafter, we learned the prior homeowners sold drugs out of the house, and one of the sons was on trial for attempted murder. Sweet. The neighbors all but threw us a ticker-tape parade when we moved in.
Renovations, additions and 11 years later, now with our first child and looking to knock a little time off my then Century City commute, we sold and moved to Manhattan Beach. A decade now in Manhattan, two kids, and we absolutely love the people and community.
What has been your professional life?
I’ve spent my 25+ year career in sports and entertainment at the NBA, Nike and NASCAR. I had the fortune of opening the NBA’s L.A. office, managing both it and the L.A. office for NASCAR for a couple decades. Over the last three years, I’ve been working on several start-up projects.
How did the idea of Manhattan Beach Tuna Melt come about, and how did you come up with the name?
Zero plan. I love to write (journalism degree). I’ve always been the quiet guy who stands on the side and observes. And humor is my favorite way to connect with people. I have a hard time connecting with people with no humor. I also feel like there’s so much pressure in places like this town—particularly with men—to look perfect, like we have it all together. The consequence is that people—particularly the men—often act so serious around each other. Too much time talking about the stock market and blockchain.
So a few months ago, I decided I’d throw up an Instagram account and lightheartedly take a pin to the balloon of the perfection mirage around here. Clearly painfully exaggerated in most cases, but the topics tend to have some truth. And most of the time, I’d include myself in the things I make fun of. I didn’t expect anyone to really care, but I thought it’d be fun to do it for myself—to get all these observations out of my head.
As far as the Tuna Melt name goes, nothing scientific about it. There are some food names that just sound funny to me. And a tuna melt is sloppy but tasty—and of course unhealthy—which based on the healthy-veggie-snack parent monsters around here, is kind of a great juxtaposition. Other than that, it’s just meant to be fun and a bit off the wall.
Manhattan Beach Tuna Melt is certainly a witty and satirical lens on the South Bay, but it always hits home with a good-natured wink. How do you strike that balance with your humor?
I think the formula for me is, and always has been with my personal humor, to find something with at least a kernel of truth to it, then blow it to smithereens with bone-dry exaggeration. The kernel of truth is what makes it relatable; the exaggeration softens the blow. The closer to the bone you get, without nicking the bone, the more people engage.
I’ve had some fun with East vs. West Manhattan Beach. I live on the west side of town, and most of my friends on the east side have nicer homes than I do (and a yard and parking), so I have fun picking a fight where one didn’t exist. You hope people get the ridiculousness of acting like East Manhattan is some third-world country. If they don’t, not sure I got anything for ya.
In terms of being good-natured, I work hard to keep things enjoyable. Nasty or personal isn’t enjoyable to me. I typically write the edgiest version I can think of, then my wife pulls it back from there. My plumb line has been “no victims.” Manhattan and the surrounding communities are some of the nicest in the world. People outside enjoy making fun of people like us (largely warranted), and people like us love the backhanded compliments (“Yes, as a matter of fact, I do drive a Tesla, wear Vuori to bed and vacation in the Maldives”).
Even as I try hard to be good-natured and mix things up, after 250 posts it’s clear what the red meat is for this crowd. Like a lion on a desert carcass, Tuna Melters devour (good-natured) class warfare—even if it’s fabricated. East Manhattan vs. West, Porto vs. Hill Section. I try to mix things up, but the mob cries out for the tri-tip.
What do you think it is about Manhattan Beach Tuna Melt that strikes a chord with your followers?
Going back to that kernel of truth in the posts, I think because it’s relatable and personal to this area we all personalize and love. It’s a connection point. As I mentioned, this is a culture around here where people work super hard at maintaining an image of perfection: “no problems here” (which doesn’t apply to any of us). So I think in some ways things like the Tuna Melt can help release the valve a little, letting some of the pressure out … or the facade down.
Do you have a favorite post?
There are quite a few of them, but I probably favor the ones about the dads here the most. I’m a dad. There are so many incredible, dedicated dads in this town. But I think there’s a tremendous amount of pressure to project stoicism and invulnerability here. Lots of frat-guy energy around here. I like pulling the rug out from under that with jokes about things like dad-naps (power dude doesn’t take naps!); dad-schemes (they think mom isn’t aware, but of course she is, like the Adventure Guides drinking racket); the emasculation of dad’s complete lack of handiness (getting lost trying to find Home Depot). A wink and a nod to the moms, and hopefully a little release for the dads from all the Sigma Chi guy ju. The reality is, whether they know it or not, we dads are a spectacularly hilarious species to observe.
What’s next for Manhattan Beach Tuna Melt?
I have no idea. Some days I have big ideas, and others I decide I’ll just do it until it’s no longer fun. Maybe I’ll be 92, drooling on my couch, still trying to come up with funny posts that no one thinks are funny anymore. Or maybe I’ll get bored tomorrow and never post again. We’ll see.