An interview with NOFX’s Fat Mike, punk rock’s notorious punk

For the first time, the NOFX frontman opens up about the fallout of his tasteless mass-shooting jokes in Las Vegas and how it influenced his new album, You’re Welcome, by alter-ego Cokie the Clown.

May 02, 2019
An interview with NOFX’s Fat Mike, punk rock’s notorious punk Alan Snodgrass

Fat Mike is sitting across from me at his newly purchased property in Van Nuys, California, sporting a deflated pink mohawk and a striped dress that’s too small for his body. Lately, the 52-year-old NOFX frontman has taken to donning short skirts and lingerie. Later tonight, he’ll perform for a room full of people while dressed as a coked-up clown. This is a man who, for his entire career, has thrived on attention. Last May, though, he got more of it than he bargained for.

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While NOFX was performing at Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival in Las Vegas, he and his bandmate Eric Melvin made some off-color jokes about the shooting at Route 91 Harvest Festival that killed 58 people and wounded over 400. It was the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States, and it had happened just eight miles away, eight months prior.

“I guess you don’t get shot in Vegas unless you’re in a country band,” Melvin said, instantly eliciting some groans from the audience.

“That sucked,” Mike added, “but at least they were country fans and not punk rock fans.”

For those who haven’t been following NOFX over their 36-year existence, they’ve made a career out of crude jokes. The cover of one of their most famous albums, 1996’s Heavy Petting Zoo, features a man sexually pleasuring a sheep. A documentary was once made about them touring the world, doing the things they’re best known for: namely, snorting copious amounts of drugs and visiting S&M clubs. On any other day, this likely would’ve passed as another example of NOFX being punk’s boorish jesters, but the news cycle was in a particularly weird place that week in 2018.

That same week, Roseanne Barr was facing public blowback for a tweet in which she likened Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett to an ape, resulting in ABC canceling her TV show. In turn, right-wingers were clapping back at comedian Samantha Bee for calling Ivanka Trump a “feckless cunt,” for which she ultimately issued an apology. The outrage pendulum swung back and forth like this until it eventually struck, of all people, four idiots in a punk band.

Video footage of NOFX’s Vegas show wound up on TMZ three days after their performance. The band soon found itself trending on social media and facing real-life consequences. Fox News quickly picked up the story, grinding the event into outrage gruel for their conservative viewers who demanded repercussions for the injustice. The band’s beer sponsor, Stone Brewing Co., announced that it would be “severing all our ties with NOFX, including festival sponsorship and the production of our collaboration beer.” Additionally, NOFX was reportedly kicked off their own music festival, the Ohio-based Camp Punk in Drublic, by its organizers, who issued a statement saying “the festival producers of Camp Punk in Drublic are shocked and disappointed by the band’s recent statements.” The band was scheduled to perform that weekend but was replaced last-minute by Descendents. The following week, the band issued an apology via Facebook, saying they “crossed the line of civility.” Mike later griped via Instagram that the band was “not welcome to play ANY big venue in the United States,” further galvanizing his loyal fanbase.

Mike had found himself in situations like this before. In 2010, TMZ reported that he was banned from an Austin venue for telling an audience he tricked them into drinking his urine. In 2014, the website posted footage of him kicking a fan in the face. But the reaction to the Vegas incident felt heavier than any pushback they’d ever received. It appeared as though the days of NOFX’s consequence-free shock humor might have finally expired in the age of smartphones and social media. It seemed like the uncancelable had been canceled.

Mike has been uncharacteristically quiet since then. This month, though, he’s returned with You’re Welcome, a solo record by his sporadically revived sad circus alter-ego Cokie the Clown. The record is filled with maudlin songs about death, depression, and betrayal. There are also traces of lingering resentment over the Vegas incident peeking through: “So fuck you all, who like to watch me fall / For those who need to step on someone to feel tall.”

I met up with Mike at the spacious compound in Van Nuys where he is currently renovating the grounds and their hollowed-out house, drained pool, and unkempt tennis court. His publicist has kept interview requests at bay for the last year, but in his first interview about the incident, he seems remorseful to the Vegas residents he hurt. In true Fat Mike fashion, though, he is still brazenly outspoken about it the reaction to it.

When did you first realize people were angry about the Vegas incident?

Fat Mike: Wednesday. I said it Sunday night in Vegas. Really, Eric Melvin said it, and I was just trying to save him. It’s funny how you don’t hear that part where I say, “That was a terrible tragedy about those country fans.” It was insensitive, yet funny. But I was in Vegas; I hung out the next day at the pool, and the next day too. No one said anything. In fact, [Punk Rock Bowling organizer] Shawn Stern asked if I could write an apology letter to some Muslim professor that was upset.

About that comment?

No. I said way worse things that night. But I didn’t say anything about Muslims. It was just our song, “72 Hookers,” which is about sending prostitutes instead of troops. So he thought it was against Muslims. It’s not. So I wrote him a letter, and then Wednesday, Shawn was like, “Yeah… there’s something bigger now.” [Laughs] But I said, “Ah, whatever. TMZ — I’ve been on there a few times before. No big deal.” I took a nap, woke up, and [SGE founder] John Reese was like, “We’re cancelling Punk in Drublic.”

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NOFX has had a long career of saying outlandish things, and any backlash has seemed to bounce off you. This seems to be the first thing that really stuck. Why do you think that is?

I know why it is. It’s because the Republican Party went after us. The day before, Roseanne said that thing about black people. They needed someone. I out-trended Trump and Roseanne on Facebook. We looked up all the people who were saying shit and they were all bots — all accounts with no friends. That’s why that happened.

But the repercussions of it were real.

The repercussions came from Stone Beer and from John Reese at SGE. They’re the ones who canceled everything. There were no other repercussions. We had our shows canceled but it was our partner that [made the decision to cancel].

So do you believe that most people — music fans and people who follow NOFX — weren’t actually offended?

No way. Some people may have been offended by it, but so what? We got death threats. I didn’t look at the internet; I told everyone not to. But Eric and [guitarist El] Hefe did and they were so fucked up because of the death threats. Like, we didn’t shoot anybody, you fucking assholes! We just made a comment on who the members of the NRA are. I betcha there’s more country people in the NRA than punk rockers.

Do you think—

We’re making a banter record, by the way, of stuff we’ve said on stage. It’s called You Think Vegas Was Bad?. [Laughs]

Is that something you really want to do?

I’m doing it. Yeah.

What else is on there that you think would incense people more than that?

Well, that night in Vegas, I said, “Hey everyone, this is Hefe. He’s a rapist, also known as a Mexican, but people aren’t scared of him because he has no upper body strength.” That’s way worse! That’s way more offensive. We’re comedians. NOFX are comedians.

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You guys have been around since the 80s. Do you think your style of comedy can still work now?

Yeah, sure. I don’t know about the U.S. The U.S. is turning into some Puritan-Quaker country where everyone gets offended.

Do you think a band like NOFX could start up now?

I don’t know. The people defending me when I said that, it wasn’t very many people. The only two I can think of were Laura Jane [Grace] and Sick of It All. No one wanted to get on my side. No one wanted to touch us, which was why I wrote on the internet that we got banned in the U.S.

You said in that post that you were “effectively banned” from playing big venues the U.S. What prompted that?

Well, we had 10 shows cancelled.

The venues canceled?

No, our promoter canceled — my partner. I didn’t say who canceled it. I just said we were effectively banned in the U.S., which Fox News picked up, [saying], “Fat Mike responds to being banned in the US.” That was so fucking great. That’s how fake news they are. I wrote [about] it on Instagram, and Fox News picked it up as news, and then everyone bought it. We weren’t gonna play any shows for a year anyway.

But the people watching Fox News don’t give a shit about NOFX. They just care about the outcome — that their outrage led to negative consequences for this band. Do you feel like you were giving them [fuel]?

I never thought about that. But it’s like, you’re gonna cancel our shows? I’m gonna make some kickass lemonade out of this. Our first show in Europe next week, we sold over 10,000 tickets. That’s more than we’ve ever fucking sold. All our shows are selling out in crazy big venues in Europe, and it’s because we’re banned in the U.S.

But this is such a revealing microcosm of what’s happening in this country. You effectively used this to rile up your fanbase and have them back you even harder, whereas the right used Fox News to smear these punks, these bad liberals, these Trump haters or whatever. Everything is getting more divided, and you’re a part of that, in the same way someone like Kathy Griffin was.

And I’m happy to be part of that. The day Kathy Griffin got busted, I knocked Trump’s head off with a baseball bat — a Trump statue. That was all over the internet. She took it that day, Kathy Griffin. But fuck her for apologizing. What the fuck? You’re gonna make a political statement and apologize for it, you fucking pussy?

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Aside from the business repercussions, did getting that blowback—

I like that — “that blow back.” Yeah, they took my blow; I got it back. [Laughs]

Did it affect you on a personal level, either when your friends were not standing up for you or looking at the comments?

I didn’t look at the comments, but it was the worst week of my life.

Why?

Because a few people called me — Fletcher [Dragge] from Pennywise called me, Kevin Lyman called me, Jello Biafra, Jack [Grisham] from T.S.O.L.

What were those conversations about?

How to help me out of it. Fletcher gave me the best advice. It took me three days to write an apology. Everyone was like, “Why’d you take so long?” Because we had to think about it! We weren’t doing some “Ah, I’m on drugs, I’m going to rehab” bullshit that Billie Joe would give. I wanted to really think about what we did. Fletcher said he’d been through this before. He said, “Don’t say [the word] ‘but’; don’t say ‘We’re comedians but we’re artists.’ Think of the eight-year-old kid whose mother didn’t come home.” And I honestly think it was a really lame thing [for us] to say, considering where we were. Anyone else in the country that has a problem with it, fuck them. But I feel bad for the security guards and anyone else who may have been there, because that would’ve been the most horrible night of their life.

The new Cokie album seems to have a few songs that point to this.

“Fuck You All.”

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Yeah. It seems like you were trying to get across that you felt betrayed?

Yeah, I’d never been betrayed before like this. Not just people not standing up for me, but how my business partners bailed on me. Like, do you know who you got in bed with? What’s happening now is Punk in Drublic is back [now Camp Anarchy Fest], and I have a new partner, a way better partner. I was just gonna wait it out a little bit. Like I said, our ticket sales are bigger than ever. But the Cokie thing is a different beast.

The lyric I wanted to ask about was “I see Switzerland in reverse Nazis.” Is that a reference to the people who didn’t take a side in defending you?

No. I was writing a NOFX song about neutrality, because Switzerland claimed neutrality during World War II. They shot down a couple of German planes, but they took all the Jew gold, all the teeth, and made private bank accounts so the Nazis could have wealth. I just looked at it and thought, “Oh ‘Nazis’ is in the word ‘Switzerland, backwards.’” It’s in the word.

Someone gets killed or dies in almost every song on this record. Where did that come from?

I’ve had a lot of tragedies in my life. Not many people have had to take down their hanging roommate.

There’s one song about killing your mother. Where’d that come from?

Well, I did. She was dying of cancer and she asked me to kill her. It was terrible. I wrote that song a month after I did it, 12 years ago. I was never gonna release it, but I had to get it out. They’re all true stories. That’s why when I’m on stage, it’s really difficult. The first song is about my ex- wife Soma, and she [attempted suicide] in a bathtub and I found her just in time, in Costa Rica. She was floating there with water in her mouth.

You were with Soma for so long.

Eight years.

But then you got married, and it quickly didn’t work out. What happened there?

She just had the most damaging childhood I could ever imagine. The more she loved me, the less she tried to back away. Just sabotage, because she couldn’t trust anybody. It’s really so sad. The second song on that record is called “Fair Leather Friends.” When I moved to San Francisco with her, my best friends Eric Melvin and [manager] Kent [Jamieson], their wives and all my other friends treated her like a fucking whore. I mean, worse. I stopped getting invited out. I didn’t get invited to Tony Sly’s annual bonfire. I didn’t know about it until this year, when I got invited.

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What about her rubbed them the wrong way?

They were threatened by her. And the other thing is, my first wife told them that I cheated on her. And I didn’t even meet Soma until I left her. I don’t lie or embellish, ever. I don’t. I’ve only slept with two women in 30 years.

How is that so?

I was with Erin for 22 years, and I was with Soma for eight. I saw a lot of dominatrixes, but never had sex with another woman. Because I believe in honor. That’s why you can ask any band on Fat Wreck Chords — after 27 years, not one band will say we ripped them off in any way.

Do you like being single?

It’s fun, kind of. But Soma was the love of my life. It’s horribly sad to know we’ll never be together again.

Are you on speaking terms?

Yeah, I mean, we have the musical together.

Do you use the Cokie persona to exorcise this kind of stuff?

These Cokie songs were about three years in the making. [Recording the songs] wasn’t cathartic or therapeutic. It was horrible the whole time.

I imagine it’s difficult to perform.

Yeah, I didn’t consider that when we booked shows.

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Since the Vegas incident, are you more conscientious of people having phones out at your shows?

No. I’m not slowing down. I’m still gonna say whatever the fuck I want. I know I was taken down for a reason. It was politically motivated. Nobody fucking cared Monday or Tuesday in Vegas. Some kid sold it to TMZ, and some country radio station got ahold of it, and then the Republican Party got ahold of it. That’s all it is. Punk rockers, you think they fucking care?

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

An interview with NOFX’s Fat Mike, punk rock’s notorious punk