If you’re into comedy, great writing, genuine people, funny things, the absurd, and wonderful aesthetics, then you will be into stand-up Mike Burns. Most of SO’s interviews are with super talented people, whether they are comedians, musicians, artists, or whatever, that not enough people know about. Mike Burns is someone you really should know about. He is sincere. Genuine. Hilarious. Totally inappropriate while also coming off as a really good guy. I hope, sincerely, you will give him a tiny bit of your time, subscribe for free to his podcast, follow him on Twitter, check out his site. Enjoy the interview below, and if you’re still not sold on Mike Burns after, email me personally and we will talk!
Serial Optimist: Hey Mike! How are you? I really appreciate you taking the time. Where are you exactly as you respond to this interview? Describe your surroundings, if you will.
Mike Burns: I’m in my apartment, eating Halloween candy for breakfast and watching Friday The 13th VI on AMC’s “Fear Fest.” I did yoga this morning so I earned it. The candy, not the movie. The movie is really, really bad, but “Fear Fest” stays on until The Walking Dead premiere on Sunday. A house rule I made up 15-minutes ago. Also, I just noticed that I don’t have any Take 5’s left in my plastic candy pumpkin, which is upsetting. Or maybe I never had any Take 5’s in the first place; it’s hard to be sure.
SO: When you are out of town, and you meet someone and they ask you “Where are you from?” do you just say where you currently live, or do you say that then follow it with “but I was born…” For some reason I always feel the need to answer that question with where I live now, and add the but, and sometimes even throw in a few other places I’ve lived. I have no idea why I do that. What I’m trying to ask is, where are you from? What were you like as a kid where you were from?
Mike: I can understand that. My stock answer is usually that I’m from outside of Detroit, Saginaw to be exact if people are familiar, but “outside of Detroit” paints a better picture for most. One would think that Detroit would be some sort of “upselling,” but Saginaw has been named the “most violent city” in the country for I believe the 8th year in a row. We did it! Then I lived in Chicago for about 7-years, a place I just adore because the Chicago years were basically my Comedy College. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to what I assume Harvard grads feel like towards their alma mater. Then I did 4 years of New York, which felt like a combination of some sort of lawless prison that I truly loved doing time in and comedy grad school. Now I live in Los Angeles, where I’ll stay until I completely realize my failures and move to Portland to eventually off myself.
I had the standard Midwestern, modern Little Rascals-style childhood. Roaming the streets on dirt bikes and 10-speeds, getting into mischief; snowball fights with rocks inside them, searching for hidden Hustler Magazines in overgrown abandoned lots, running from the local bullies or getting caught by them and having your teeth knocked out with an aluminum bat, going to church on Sunday, muddy pick-up tackle football in the fall, little league in the summer, street basketball year round, fist fights, shoplifting tobacco products, etc.
SO: I do know you went to Michigan State University. What’s the atmosphere like during football season? Good college town? I went to Oklahoma State University. So your Michigan was my Oklahoma. But MSU is beating everyone. Excited?
Mike: For Barry Sanders, I thank you.
MSU is a great college town. Most of my high school friends either went there, or to the local junior college, so for us it was just an extension of high school, but with even less supervision and one house for all of us to live in. Having a pre-set Fraternity saved me from having to endure an actual one.
Tailgating on Saturdays was a huge deal. A literal sea of people over indulging in food and drink from pre-dawn on for the better part of the day. Couches were burned. Riots ensued. One year a cop shot me in the back with a tear gas grenade. It hurt like the dickens, and was also hilarious.
I don’t have a lot of nostalgia for the actual school itself, but for the memories I made with my buddies who I don’t really see anymore. When I left Chicago, I threw my Advertising degree in the dumpster. It might as well have been a framed monthly bill. Which, I won’t be paying.
I’m not one for college football. I only like to watch grown men fight each other in uniform for money. My friend and comedian Mike Bridenstine asked who I was rooting for on Saturday when MSU plays his beloved Iowa. I told him Iowa, because he cares and I don’t. I love Brido, and I’d hate for him to be sad all day if they lost.
SO: What kind of comedian are you? How do you come up with your material, what can people who come watch you perform expect, besides huge smiles? Second, and I’m being serious, what kind of guy are you? What are you into? What makes you smile? What are your kicks in life?
Mike: Is “not for everyone’s taste” a kind of comedian?
Most of my material comes either from life experiences or from things that upset me. In a good way I suppose. But I guess that’s a pretty standard answer. Although I do prefer to present my targets in a mocking tone as opposed to calling things out directly. I’d rather just be the character instead of being me, chastising some archetype. While this doesn’t always work as well as I’d like it to, I get such a grand satisfaction from having a portion of meatheads in an audience cheer on a misogynistic comment, while the sane portion knows I’m obviously calling out the idiots. I HATE bullies, and it gives me a lot of pleasure to see them embarrass themselves, even if they aren’t aware of it.
I like performing, PSA graded baseball cards, cooking, trying new restaurants, Sunday night cable television, clothing, sneakers, Dewar’s Scotch, iced tea, having a fantastic girlfriend, shabby sheek home décor, ‘80’s sports memorabilia, and hanging out with my friends. I’m very, very lucky to be surrounded by a core group of pals that are intelligent, hilarious, generous, and kind. This lifestyle can be very difficult, and I can’t imagine what it would be like without them
SO: I Matt Braunger last month, and when I asked him who his favorite comedians were, who the people of this world should know about, he mentioned you. He said: “Mike Burns knows how dumb men are and why we do dumb things, and not from the perspective of someone who likes “According to Jim” or “Two and a Half Men”, but from someone who likes Big Daddy Kane and Bob Seger. Equally.” That last line was actually one of my favorites from that whole interview, about you. Do you really know why men do dumb things, and what do you think of Braunger’s overall description of you?your good friend and fellow comedian
Mike: Umm…this is a bit complicated so I’ll make a list:
1. Matt Braunger is an angel. I love him to death and I’ll take that description as a fine compliment.
2. I’m a dumb man, and I do dumb things, so I can’t know that much.
3. I think what Matt was getting at with that comment, is that Big Daddy Kane and Bob Seger, well, those are two good things that seem quite the opposite, but just because you like one, doesn’t mean you can’t like the other. I like going to Chik-fil-A as much as I like going to Church & State. Both good. I’ve never understood why people paint themselves into a corner with what they’re trying to be. “I only like hipster bands that record their vocals into a drum mic, so I could never like Eddie Money, at least not unironically!” What do you mean you don’t like Eddie fucking Money!? Your loss.
4. Shows like that almost give men an excuse to be idiots. In a way, so does Mad Men, but at least they do it in style instead of in a corny retro bowling shirt.
5. Eddie FUCKING Money.
SO: I’ve been following your blog for a while now: Midwestern Nightmares-The Enthusiastic Despair of Mike Burns. Killer header by the way on your site, did you do that? I recently read a post you wrote: . It was truly beautiful. Really just a great read, a poetic short, but vivid story. I loved it. Do you write things that often, or was that just a random post? It would be great to have a book of just those short posts, with different images like the collage/illustration header you have. I would totally want that.
Mike: Thanks! Yep, made it myself. I like homemade things. Like pickles. Why people buy pickles for outrageous prices is beyond me. They’re simple to make and insanely cheap. And better. And they’re YOURS. I make Sweet & Spicy Omar Brand Pickles. Did you know The Wire has his own brand of pickles? Well he does. They’re in my refrigerator. And it makes me so goddamn happy to see his beautiful mug on the jar when I open the door.from
My Blogspot blog was originally all stories in that fashion, with a David Sedaris type of book in mind, but when I moved over to Tumblr, it changed a bit. The kids today don’t like readin’ text, they like pictures of David Hasslehoff being raped by a baby kitten. And I need followers and attention because I’m a sad person so one has to adapt.
Of course, I would totally want that book to happen also, but, oh listen! That’s the sound of zero publishers knocking at my door or causing my Gmail alert to make the ding ding sound!
SO: If only publishers weren’t so busy giving out book deals to Jersey Shore cast members.
SO: WATCH OUT! Guest question from Openhouse Gallery PR guru Greg T. Spielberg: Growing up, I spent my summers in Belgium, which meant indulging in Nutella since the 1980s. You made a break-through with. What inspired that? When? How many chips did you go through before you got sick?
Mike: Dipping pretzels in Nutella is the gateway drug. Moving on to tortilla chips is the natural progression. My girlfriend goes hardcore, using Cheez-its as the vehicle. She has a real problem. In a good way.
I don’t get sick. I ain’t some pissy broad. (gray area)
SO: Tell us about Gentlemen Scumbags, the weekly talk show you host with comedian Mike Bridenstine (Brido). How did this come about? Where and how can people watch it or listen to it?
Mike: We were presented the idea of doing a podcast, which I never had any interest in doing and kind of dragged my heels about. But, I just LOVE it. The Gentlemen Scumbags has become my favorite part of the week. It’s like Braunger’s quote about “dumb men,” that’s pretty much the show, me and Brido trying to figure it out, just talking like we would over a 12-pack, except with a format to give us structure. And we’re sober.
After, we go have a lovely lunch at the Farmer’s Market.
You can watch the feed live on comedy.com, Fridays at Noon (we’re off on 11/5, as the studio is moving into some shiny new digs). Watch the backlogged uStream videos on gentlemenscumbags.tv or, subscribe on iTunes, which I prefer and probably most convenient. Please, ladies and gentlemen, if you’d take a second to subscribe, that’d make us feel good about ourselves. We’re very needy. And you might just learn something about dicks or whatever it is that we babble about.
SO: When did you first realize you were funny?
Mike: I guess my parents told me. My younger sister was the smart one. I always took “you’re so funny!” as “your sister is so much smarter than you!” I loved to wear underpants on my head and play “spaceman” in the living room when they would have guests over. Sarah was 4-years younger and shamed me at math.
Also, there’s this, which I think explains a lot:
SO: Do you have any stand-up shows coming up in the next couple of months? Any other projects or anything coming up throughout the rest of the year?
Mike: I have two lovely shows next week:
A new show, The Incubator, hosted by Kyle Kinane and Sean Conroy at UCB on Nov. 8th, 11pm.
And, BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! at R-Bar on Nov. 9th, 9pm. Demorge Brown and Matt Peters put this show on once a month, and it’s one of my absolute favorites to perform at.
Other that that, writing things, rewriting things, writing them over again, etc. Just like everybody else.
SO: What direction do you want your career to go in? What’s the dream, or are you already living the dream?
Mike: I’ve found that most of the time, when someone uses the term, “living the dream,” it’s in the context of, “you’re living the dream,” not, “I’m living the dream.” It’s a grass is greener sorta thing.
In the end, I’d either like to be a character actor, playing evil villains in films, or tour with ZZ Top as the frontman for a Bob Seger tribute band.
SO: Are you an optimist, pessimist, or a realist?
Mike: I’m a comedian. So all three.
SO: What is your favorite thing about being a stand-up comedian?
Mike: Being insanely wealthy and the endless amount of sweet young teens on my jock.
SO: You ARE living the dream!
SO: Any last words?
Mike: Eddie FUCKING Money.
SO: The truth. Thanks Mike!
*Photo of Mike by Robyn Von Swank