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NOFX's "Fat" Mike Burkett Talks Performance Art and Capitalism

NOFX frontman "Fat" Mike Burkett has quite the reputation.  In 2010, while performing at Austin's South by Southwest Festival, Mike took the stage as "Cokie the Clown": sad-face paint, oversize Chuck Taylors, and a flower that squirts out "cocaine." He discussed his mother's assisted suicide and a troubled relationship with his father while doling out free tequila shots. At the end of the show, the band showed video revealing Fat Mike backstage urinating in a bottle of Patron. The incident cause a hazmat freakout, national headlines, and got NOFX banned from renowned Austin rock club Emo's.

Fat Mike did, in fact, piss in the Patron, but that's not what the crowd drank, as he switched the bottle with one containing untainted tequila before going on stage.

"A lot of people don't understand that it's all performance art. I had everything planned out, and it worked perfect. I was so surprised at how big it got nationally, in TMZ and stuff," Fat Mike says. "It was some idea I had, and a lot of people thought I was depressed and [had] lost my mind. I just put on a show, it was simple."

Cokie is no alter ego, Fat Mike insists; the clown simply is a caricature of himself. Though sometimes the line between fiction and reality gets blurred.

 "I keep our tours short because we're alcoholics. After two weeks of partying a lot, we need to dry out. In our 20s, it was easy to tour for six months. So after two weeks [now], I'm sick," the singer says.

Booze very well could be NOFX's secret to success. "I think our records have been pretty solid, but I think mostly it's just because we have a really good time, and, like I said before, being alcoholics keeps it fun," Fat Mike says, acknowledging that he drinks only while on the road. "All the time I spend with my daughter, I'm sober dad."

Responsibility isn't entirely new for Fat Mike. He was an outspoken critic of George W. Bush, spearheading the Rock Against Bush compilation and selling "Not my President" shirts on the website of record label Fat Wreck Chords. Things have been quieter on NOFX's political front since Dubya's departure, but Fat Mike recently started speaking about the Occupy Wall Street protests.  

"Americans are getting really screwed right now, and there's no regulations in government," he says. "They have to hold banks accountable for ripping off America. I think people should squat their houses and not leave when they get foreclosed on if they were issued the head of house in the first place."

Fat Mike himself identifies as a member of the 1 percent but supports the Occupy movement's return to smaller business practices. "You have other options," Fat Mike says. "It's not like voting against Bush or [trying to] stop the war in Iraq. It's small steps to achieve the goals of having a fair society."

"Capitalism doesn't have to be 'Fuck everybody else'; it became that in America," Mike says. "Capitalism can be fine, as long as you treat your employees well, and that's why there's so many rules put in place during Roosevelt's era — so that people were treated fairly. All those rules have been taken out. Clinton took out a lot of the regulations in banking. It wasn't Bush. It was Clinton, which sucks."

"[Tickets for NOFX's Phoenix show] are selling like shit. It's like the worst city in the country. It's got such a depressed economy . . . fuck."

Times are, indeed, tough — forcing notoriously anti-interview Fat Mike to take calls from media outlets such as New Times. "I see Phoenix as being the next Detroit. If you're a college student or retired, it's a pretty good city. "

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Melissa Fossum
Contact: Melissa Fossum