A conversation with Mike Burns, the man behind @DadBoner

mike-burns

While Karl Welzein is really looking forward to the weekend, Mike Burns, the man behind one of Twitter’s most beloved feeds, @DadBoner, is hustling. Currently, he’s engaged in promoting Karl’s debut on the literary scene, Power Moves: Livin’ the American Dream, USA Style and driving across the USA with fellow comedian Matt Braunger. The Power Moves American Tour involves an interesting mix of stand-up comedy and cold readings from Power Moves by local comedians, Braunger and Burns.

While some of @DadBoner’s followers haven’t fully embraced the feed since Burns stepped (was forced?) out from behind Karl’s online mask and into the public sphere, others have not only continued following Karl’s many misadventures online, but also bought the book and made it out to the shows.

Both I and my main man Dano are among the latter camp. We drove eight hours from Winnipeg to Minneapolis through the pissing, cold-ass rain on Thanksgiving to catch the show and meet the man behind Bad Boy City, USA. As Burns says on-stage in Minneapolis, it’s easy to laugh at Karl and to put your own fuck-ups in perspective through his failures. We caught up with Burns — who later pulled out a great karaoke version of “Sweet Home Chicago” in a nearby bar — right before the celebraish in Minneapolis for a quick chat about music, writing, Detroit sports and bringing the words of Karl Welzein to the hard-workin’ people of the USA from coast to coast, you guys.

Albatross: So how has the Power Moves American Tour been so far? What’s the response been like?

Mike Burns: It’s been great. The houses have been full, full-ish. They haven’t been jam packed, but they’re full. For the most part they’ve been great, and everyone who has come out have been super fun people. They’re just here to laugh at the shit they already like. So that’s an easy sell.

Albatross: What’s the trip been like for you since the book came out? I guess personally, and also as far as the writing goes?

Burns: Because of the attention I’ve gotten, it takes away from writing the feed and giving my whole brain to it. I still wrote television and things before the book came out. But now it’s frustrating that I can’t go home and work on the thing…. I don’t get to write as much as before. And certainly not now…. We’re in the car all day, and almost every show we get to the hotel, we throw our shit in the hotel, go to the show, do the show, then drink beers with people. Maybe go out to the bar. Wash, rinse and repeat. Yesterday we actually had the day off, and we got to have Boar & the Butcher here in Minneapolis, which was so fucking good. We ate a bunch of charcuteries and drank some local bourbons. That’s the real pay-off for getting to do this: going on a little cross country trip and seeing most of the country with one of my best friends. All because of some made-up guy who takes shits.

Albatross: You’ve said before that you started this as something just for yourself to have. What was the genesis of Karl? Like, when did you figure out that you had this guy in your brain?

Burns: I started doing improv and sketch in early 2000s, and I’ve always done different characters on stage. And I always thought that I could do it on Twitter also. So I just developed this character, who was an amalgamation of characters I’d always done. Because Twitter has such a great reach, once it took off, it really took off. And you get something out of it, you know?

Albatross: Have there been many points where your life and Karl’s life kind of come almost too close to each other or where they overlap?

Burns: There is a lot of it. There’s the fact that we’re both divorced. A lot of the petty differences when his marriage started to dissolve mapped a lot of the things that… I mean they didn’t necessary involve the same things – [my ex and I] didn’t have any kids, for one – but I think it was a very realistic portrayal of what it looks like when a relationship starts to turn to shit. It’s little things like “You ate the fucking Lunchables!” Which is really just a mask for “I’m starting to hate your guts and this is a reason I can yell at you. Even though I don’t know that I hate you, I just do.”

There are other parts, too. When Vernon got stabbed, that was because I’d gotten stabbed. I got car-jacked by two gang-bangers. I fought one of them, and they won by stabbing me in the back by my spine twice. When I wrote all that Vernon story line, I was laid up on painkillers, stapled up on a couch. The couch that I was living on, where I wrote the majority of the Twitter feed. It was almost method-written. I was living on a couch in Los Angeles, in a shitty apartment. It just kind of felt, and smelled, like you’d think Dave’s would. And I drank a good amount of what Karl drank. You think you couldn’t drink this much. But I did. And it was bad for me. And it probably took some years off my life. But I just didn’t fucking care.

Sometimes you go through a point in your life where I’d owned a home with my wife, and I’d had a decent career as a baby clothes designer for eight years. But I was always performing comedy, and I could never fully do that full time. So this was, either by my own mistakes that put myself in this position, or more of a case of self-sabotage, I’d ended up that way. I felt like I was writing my way out of the situation I was in. I know it was very cathartic for me to write a lot of that shit. A lot of the frustrations I had, with women, with break-ups, I’d put what he would do in that scenario, because it would make me laugh. You know, “Oh, Karl can handle this… because he’s a fucking moron!” Whereas for me it was just a living nightmare at the time.

Albatross: You’ve said that Karl’s strength is in being an “eternal optimist.” How much of that comes from your own perspective? Or is it just putting Karl into those particular situations?

Burns: Like, Karl is a friend of mine, and sometimes his positivity is catchy. But the optimist side comes from the idea that Karl is an embodiment of the United States as a whole. The United States are like “We’re the best.” Why? “Because we fuckin’ are!” Which is totally cool. We have Chili’s! ‘Merica! Which is the answer: It’s just ‘Merica. And I subscribe to that a little bit. America is the fucking best. No offense to the great land of Canada, which I’m a fan of. But I mean, for better or worse, it has caused problems, it’s put people out of jobs. But places like Chili’s, you can go get a two-for-twenty, like a fuck-load of fun, exciting food that might be terrible for your body, but does put a smile on your face for the night, and you don’t have to be rich to buy it. You can go sit in a nice restaurant…

Matt Braunger: Hey, they got salads there! Just take the bacon out, health it up a little.

Burns: [Laughing] “Take the bacon out.” Yeah.

 

Albatross: Stepping briefly away from Karl here, now, I’m a big fan of Todd Snider, and I know you’ve said that his music has really helped you out, personally, in your life. What is it about Todd Snider, Bob Seger, or just music in general that kind of provides that something extra…

Burns: I wrote most of the feed using certain soundtracks. Like, I’d listen to certain songs over and over and over again. When Karl found the Mötley Crüe tape, I was listening to certain deep cuts off Shout at the Devil over and over and over. People were like, “That’s stupid!” But I was trying to write words that would, without you knowing it, you could feel that soundtrack. Without ever saying he was listening to a certain song, I wanted to have the attitude of it. And like, having Mick Mars’ guitar tone be the inspiration for that whole story arc.

 

Todd Snider, I’ve always been a fan of his. East Nashville Skyline is such an important album. It’s such a perfect snapshot of the United States at that time. One song is just a court document that he recants, and the Marilyn Manson-Eminem references. Then there’s songs, like “Age Like When” is one where, when you start to get into your late 30s, it really resonates. Like, “Oh shit, if I don’t slow down I am not going to age like wine.” Todd Snider is essentially begging to do that, rather than burning out. When you’re young you’re like, “Fuck it, I’m gonna die when I’m 30.” When you’re 37, you’re like “Fuck, I hope I make it to my 60s, man. It’s too late to die and look cool, now it’s just pathetic.” But I love Todd Snider. “Looking For a Job When I Found This One” is a very Karl-esque song. He has that same fuckin’ attitude where he’s like, “Hey man, it’s not my fuckin’ fault I work for you!” Like, what the fuck? What fuckin’ sense does that make? But it’s an attitude that a lot of people have.

Albatross: You’ve mentioned “Play a Train Song” before, and the protagonist in that tune, Skip Litz, is a lot like Karl. He does whatever he wants, right? Drives that Cadillac “up on the sidewalk like he owns the whole damn town.”

Burns: The protagonist in “Play a Train Song” is essentially a Karl. He’s a Karl. He someone everyone just loves, and he’s kind of a shitty guy, but everyone loves him. He has to exist. He needs to be out there. That’s my second-favourite song, I’d say.

Albatross: And what’s your first?

Mike Burns: “Cowboy Song” by Thin Lizzy. “Play a Train Song” is my funeral song. It needs to be played at my funeral. My third could be, it goes back and forth, between “Purple Rain”…

Albatross: A Minneapolis boy!

Burns: Yeah. It’s exciting for me to play here because I love the scene with the door guy in Purple Rain, who wears the big fucking Detroit Tigers hat, with the two white bars on the side, and the big glasses. I’ve wanted that hat for so fucking long and I can’t find it. I love that movie so much.

Albatross: What’s your relationship with Detroit sports? Obviously Karl loves the Tigers and the Lions. Are you as passionate as Karl?

 

Burns: When Karl reacts to what happens with the Lions or the Tigers, that’s how I would react if I were that guy. I’m not going to smash my lamps, but I want to. I wanted to smash a lot of things last night [a late Boston Red Sox grand slam in the eighth erased the Tigers' lead]. I was so livid. I’d put it out of my mind until this morning; I was lifting weights at the hotel and I had ESPN on. They played that highlight, and I’d somehow blocked it out, was having a pretty decent morning, and I fucking threw two dumbbells on the ground – luckily nobody else was in the room – and started fucking screaming at the TV, giving middle fingers to the TV, screaming, “FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU!” Then I realized there was probably security cameras, there has to be, and someone was probably watching me lose my shit at the TV. But yeah, the book is dedicated to the 1984 Tigers for a reason.

Albatross: What do you like about this year’s Red Wings?

Burns: I love the Red Wings. I was so big into the season last year, and that was so heartbreaking [when they lost the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs to the Chicago Blackhawks]. I lived in Chicago for seven years, so I like the Blackhawks. But it took me two games to get over the fact that they had beaten the Red Wings, and I slowly shifted to be a fair-weather fan. But it’s Midwestern hockey. You gotta get past it.

Albatross: Shit, I don’t want to take up more of your time. I guess the last thing I would ask you is what’s next for Mike Burns, and what’s next for Karl Welzein?

Burns: I just want to keep doing the shit I was doing before. I do stand-up. I don’t do as much as I used to. I focus mostly on writing and trying to develop television shows. I’d like to write two more of these books; we’ll see what happens. It’s a huge time constraint. But I’d love to do two more, because I just want them to exist. I’d almost do them for free. It’s a really cool fucking thing to have a book written. And a hardcover book that you can pick it up and give it to my mom. I could tell my mom, “Hey, I’m on Comedy Central tonight!” And my mom won’t even watch it. But this book, she gets it. She can give it to their friends and they can laugh at it. To have something that your family can appreciate and be like, “Oh, you’re not fucking around, are you?” My mom doesn’t see me do stand-up, I live in Los Angeles. Nor does she want to. I say a lot of filthy things. So it’s been really, really great. We’re gonna try to do something else with this. We’re trying to. And that may or may not happen. We’ll see.

 

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