Fat Mike talks for the first time about his controversial Cokie The Clown performance at SXSW

April 15, 2010 by Scott Heisel

Fat Mike talks for the first time about his controversial Cokie The Clown performance at SXSW

The night of March 20, 2010, is one that will live in infamy for NOFX fans: It was the day their idol, FAT MIKE, made them drink his own urine. Of course, that wasn't all that happened on that night in Austin, Texas; Mike, performing as his alter-ego COKIE THE CLOWN, delivered a 40-minute set at Fat Wreck Chords' South By Southwest showcase filled with sobering stories, acoustic songs and a little bit of juggling--all done in full clown makeup. Since video of the controversial performance is hard to come by for reasons detailed below, we can't show you exactly what went down. Instead, we did one better and got Mike to explain his actions in this exclusive interview.

INTERVIEW: Scott Heisel

”Cokie The Clown” was originally a B-side from NOFX's last album, Coaster. When did you know you would bring the character to life?
Everyone knows the funny, drunk Fat Mike. Cokie is just the opposite: sad and half-sober. Cokie The Clown is damaged. Cokie is... ”Not everything is going to be okay.” Cokie is Lady Macbeth. After Cokie revels in guilt and shame, he juggles fruit... When did he come to life? When I was gently holding the pillow over her face.

When Cokie was first announced as performing at this year's South By Southwest festival, there was plenty of speculation as to what exactly your performance would be. How early on in the process did you know what you'd be doing?
Unlike NOFX, who have no fucking idea what we are going to do every night, the Cokie show was insidiously orchestrated. I had the exact performance down and rehearsed about a week ahead of time. Seeing everyone’s reaction to the show was the best part. Half the people thought I lost my mind. My plan worked perfectly. Muah-hahaha!

You rehearsed in front of Fat Wreck Chords staff the week prior. Did any of them try to talk you out of any part of your set?
No, but most of them were stunned. They told me that after I left, they were talking about it for hours and debating whether my stories were too much. The “witnessing a rape” story was the one that really got heated. That’s the one that has had the most chatter online. The crazy thing was how angry people got. Everyone was calling me an asshole because I didn’t try to stop this rape. In the early ‘80s, the Los Angeles punk scene was the most violent in the world. Beatings and stabbings and rapes happened all the time. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t cool, but it was our reality. A lot of fucked up shit happened... You can’t always do the right thing in a war zone. Do I feel guilt? Yes. Do I regret my actions? Not a bit.

Your SXSW set has been described by many as "Andy Kaufman-esque.” Is that a comparison you were aiming for?
Actually, it was kind of Andy Kaufman-esque. The difference is Andy Kaufman cried onstage. I made others cry... and drink my pee.

A huge debate has raged online since your performance regarding the authenticity of the stories you told, with many accusing you of making up or heavily embellishing them. Were you telling the truth the whole time?
I didn’t go out there to entertain the crowd. I wanted to do something that these people hadn’t seen before. I wanted to do the exact opposite of what everyone expected. I wanted to touch people and super-bum them out. I wanted to be brutally honest and sincere. Listen to the stories and tell me I wasn’t telling the truth.

Topics during your set ranged from smothering your dying mother to how you didn’t help a suicidal roommate. Obviously, the content of these stories was intensely personal and at times hard to listen to--what made you feel compelled to share this side of you?
I just wanted to do something different. After I signed up for the show, I had no idea what I was gonna do. Just play acoustic guitar? Too many people are doing that. So I just opened the vault and shared some of the most horrible and personal experiences of my life.

Were there any stories you considered telling but scrapped because they were too graphic?
Yeah, there were a few. There was the acid story in South Carolina, the skinhead story in Minnesota, and the S&M club in Fukuoka, Japan, where we all swore to secrecy.

A number of audience members took it upon themselves to heckle you during your stories, occasionally getting you to snap back. Why do you think they responded the way they did to your performance?
Because they felt super-uncomfortable and awkward and couldn’t deal with the subject matter. It seemed like most of the crowd just stood there in a daze. It was awesome to see from the stage... I guess they were expecting a good time at a NOFX-type show and instead they got the stoke extinguisher.

Toward the end of your performance, you mentioned wanting to end your set on "a nice note," before an audience member interrupted you by asking you to make them a mixed drink called a White Russian, which caused you to launch into a different story. What story were you originally going to tell?
I did want to end on a nice note. Drinking milk from a cow is way grosser than drinking human mothers’ milk... and I do have a penchant for vodka. I fucking drank a human mother’s breast milk-filled White Russian and told the whole graphic story. How is that not ending on a nice note? My only regret was there was no ice [in the drink].

In the days immediately following the performance, videos of your set were deleted from YouTube as quickly as they were uploaded. Given that this was an outdoor performance open to the public and not a private or invite-only event, why the desire to suppress it?
This was a personal show between the audience and myself. I don’t want my intimate stories and songs epitomized by some kid’s crappy cell-phone recording. Not everything should be accessible.

Obviously, the biggest buzz about your performance was the pee-in-the-Patrón trick you pulled on some unsuspecting audience members. What probably seemed like a blackhearted prank at the time landed you on TMZ.com and reportedly got yourself banned from Emo's Annex. Level with us: Was the urine real?
Yes. The urine was real.

It's been said that this was a one-time-only performance, but given the amount of press you received after the fact, it would be easy to reconsider. So the million-dollar question is this: Will Cokie The Clown ever return to the stage?
It’s not a million-dollar question. I’m not greedy. I would definitely consider whoring Cokie out for five figures. I don’t need seven. There is a problem though: The element of surprise is gone. Now everyone knows what to expect. Cokie might just have to retire at his sub-prime. alt

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