Q&A with Stephen A. Burroughs

Amanda Seale

His face is famous. His beard is iconic. Hovering above Knoxville on countless billboards, personal injury attorney Stephen A. Burroughs has caused quite a stir on the Internet. Burroughs has been on billboards in Knoxville for almost five years now, but his popularity spiked when a memes page was posted in his honor by a UT freshman, Ryan Clark. Few people can describe why they are fascinated by this man, but when The Bark Online editor-in-chief Jack Evans and I had the opportunity to meet with this Knoxville icon Thursday in anticipation of next week’s Swagfest, we were nothing but thrilled. The Bark: How do you feel about the publicity that the memes page has generated? Stephen A. Burroughs: I think it’s fantastic. The whole memes page has been a great experience from the very beginning. I’ve laughed, I’ve made tons of new friends, and it’s been good publicity for me and my practice and just an awesome time to connect with the community so it’s been great. TB: How has it affected your business? SAB: Well, in my business you don’t need a personal injury lawyer until you’re in an accident. So, yes, it seems like there’s a small increase in my business right now, but it’s not off the charts. If you look at he number of fans we have on the page – a little over 13,500 – that’s only a tiny fraction of the population of the entire county. So, somebody within that tiny fraction would have to have an accident with injury at somebody else’s fault and have a need right then. It’s having an effect, but it’s really small at this point. TB: Before the page was created, did you know how your advertisements came across to some people? SAB: I think it’s just intensified something that was already there. It’s not like I had no presence in the community before it, but it did take an existing presence and put who I am with it because people have had a chance to see that although I have a mean stare on the billboard and although I’m tough when it comes to the courtroom, I’m actually an approachable guy who has a sense of humor and I think that’s what has really been the most surprising to everybody. TB: Are you planning any changes to your advertisements now that they’ve become so popular? SAB: Not really. The advertisements I’ve had over the years have been really effective for me I’ve been fortunate to have many people in this community I’ve represented and they seem to be happy with that service, and I’ve been happy with how things have been going. I may be reaching out more through social networking, though. TB: Have you ever considered running for a public office here in Knoxville? SAB: Absolutely not. I can assure anybody who’s mentioned that or thinking about that that that will never happen. TB: What about the Presidency of the United States? SAB: Although I’m sure I could easily get a write-in from the fans, I’m not interested. TB: If you were involved in a personal injury lawsuit, who would you want to defend you? SAB: I would probably defend myself to be honest. TB: How do you celebrate when you win a case? SAB: It’s just another day at the office. TB: Are you a UT football fan? SAB: I am. TB: Would you ever consider being head coach? SAB: I would not. But I would consider going back to school and trying to walk on and trying to play. TB: Where do you buy your suits? SAB: I’ve bought some of them from other states – we do a lot of travelling – I’ve bought some of them from Men’s Warehouse, from Coachman Clothiers, John H. Daniels; I don’t have any one store. TB: Do you ever ride on the bus just because your face is on it? SAB: Never. TB: What do you think about starting a theme park like Dollywood? It’s obviously been very effective for Dolly Parton. Maybe Burroughswood? SAB: Hmm, I like the way you’re thinking. I’m going to sleep on that one. TB: Do you speak any other languages? SAB: I am not fluent in any other languages besides English, but I know a decent amount of Spanish and Russian. I couldn’t possibly sit down and have a full-blown conversation with someone from one of those countries, but I could get by. TB: What song most describes you? SAB: That would be a very tough question and I’m afraid that off-the-cuff I couldn’t provide a very good answer to you. TB: What’s your favorite color? SAB: Blue. TB: Favorite food? SAB: That’s hard, I love food. I try to work out enough so that it doesn’t show up on me too much, but my favorite kinds are Mexican and Italian. TB: Do you have a favorite local restaurant? SAB: Yes, I do. It is Altruda’s, right across the street. TB: Do you have a favorite book? SAB: I would have to say that the most pleasure I’ve gotten out of reading was reading the entire seven-book series of Harry Potter to my daughter snuggled up next to me. TB: Favorite movie? SAB: Way, way, way back when before you were born, the original Rocky ‘s were coming out; I really liked the first four Rocky ’s. TB: Did you have anything to do with the design and development of the next iPhone? SAB: Well, actually, I came up with the entire idea of the computer system. I sort of started branching off into the Apple products more in the last 10 years and the entire idea of the iPhone including the color, the design, the layout, the touch screen was completely mine. I also came up with the iPad, and I think it’s really cool that you’re using it. TB: Who are some of your role models? SAB: Well, when you’re Stephen A. Burroughs, it’s hard to say that you have a role model because I fathered myself, I created myself, I developed myself. I would have to say, to be honest with you, that Stephen A. Burroughs is the only role model for me. TB: I think many people agree with that. Do you have any other interesting skills besides personal injury defense? SAB: Well, just so we have the term right, I don’t do personal injury defense, I represent the little guy against insurance companies. The insurance companies hire people to defend against me. But, of course, I have many other skills. I’m a black belt to the third degree, an airplane pilot, scuba diver, mountain climber, the list goes on and on. We don’t have time in this interview for it. TB: Are the five boroughs of New York named after you? SAB: Yes. TB: If you could be any animal, what would you be? SAB: Probably a T-Rex except for the extinction part. TB: So like The Last T-Rex? SAB: Yes, that would most closely describe me. TB: What tips do you have for Bearden students thinking of growing a Burroughs-quality beard? SAB: Get a little older, eat healthy, take all your vegetables, take your vitamins, drink some milk, and pray. TB: Who is your greatest rival? SAB: My greatest rival would be myself because I’m harder on myself, and more judgmental of myself, and more demanding of myself that anyone else. TB: Tell us a little bit about your childhood, where did you grow up? SAB: I grew up in a little town called Laurel in Mississippi. There were about 20,000 people there at the time, and it really hasn’t grown much. My father was an auto mechanic and owned a shop, and I was the baby of five children. We had very limited means and had a very close family, though, that lived out in the middle of nowhere in the woods, basically. TB: Did you show any early signs of greatness? SAB: I would say yes. Whenever I put my mind to something I was able to accomplish it and that lead me to the greatness I have today. TB: Did you always want to be a lawyer? Because I used to want to be an astronaut and a cowboy and stuff, and now I want to be Stephen A. Burroughs. SAB: Well, after trying and being very successful at being a cowboy and an astronaut and a lot of other things, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer so it kind of evolved into it. I thought I might go to medical school and go that route since I certainly had the brains for it and I even worked in an emergency room for a year so I got to see what that was like, but the lawyer choice was always there and that’s what I did. TB: How would you have dealt with the national debt crisis? SAB: If it was me, I would have simply loaned myself the money and then paid it off and it would have been fine. But, if I was running the country and wasn’t going to interject my own huge cash supply into it, I simply would have spent less. It seems pretty simple to me; if you don’t have any money, you don’t spend any money. TB: How many push-ups can you do? SAB: Virtually unlimited. I would get bored, and we would run out of time. TB: What are some of your hobbies? SAB: I like to exercise, I’ve got a little garden out back, I like to grow different fruits and vegetables, I like to listen to music, I love more than anything to spend time with my family, and to travel. We’ve traveled all over the world, a lot of different places. TB: What do you think is the most extreme place you’ve ever been? SAB: A little town we stopped off in for two days in Russia, but I can’t even remember the name of it at this point to be honest with you. It was quite a culture shock, very different. TB: Have you ever considered writing an autobiography or memoirs? SAB: No, but that may be a good thing to do when this is all said and done. Right after I get the Burroughsland theme park up and running, I might take an afternoon and write one. TB: Have you ever thought about taking the SAB brand global? SAB: The overwhelming majority of my fans are from Knoxville, but I’ve got fans in Sweden and Australia and other parts of the planet. In fact, on the same night of my swag party, there are other swag parties being set up in New York and Houston, Texas that will try to be part of my swag party. That tells you how far the Burroughs Swag Experience is reaching. One young woman in Cuba is looking into flying up here for the party. The Burroughs Swag has international appeal. TB: Do you think that students’ final exams should be worth 25% of their overall grade? SAB: I don’t really have a strong opinion on that one way or the other, but that seems like a strong amount to put on one single test. I would leave it to the students and teachers to talk that out. Hopefully, they’re giving the students a chance to have some input and really listen. One thing I do know is that everyone, regardless of their age, can have some really good ideas and needs to have some input before they make their final evaluation. TB: Complete this phrase from one of your billboards: Stephen A. Burroughs, your ______________ attorney. SAB: It would be “car wreck.” TB: That’s correct. Tell us a little bit about Swagfest. SAB: Swagfest came about shortly after the memes page was created when fans were asking if they could come meet me or shake my hand, and I started realizing when the fans went from the hundreds into the thousands that I needed a way to thank everybody not only for their contributions to the memes page, but also all the people that trusted me with their cases over the years and hopefully bring all these people together to meet in person. I said if we got to 10,000, I’d throw a party. When I said that and people started to see that I was an approachable guy, it just sort of took off like wildfire. At first I was expecting maybe four or five hundred people to show up. As of this morning, we had over 5,000 people coming. The party is going to be held in two spots, the Sunsphere and the Knoxville Convention center. I have got, in my opinion, the swaggiest and most premier caterer in Knox County, and we’re going to have some big screen TVs in there with different scrolling memes. We’ll have three fantastic bands playing; one is Brewster’s Millions who will open, then Johnny Astro and The Big Bang, and then the totally ridiculously awesome The Black Cadillacs, who’ve got some music on iTunes and are traveling all over the country now doing shows. I’m going to give away over 7,000 t-shirts, plus magnets and chapsticks and things like that. There’ll be Swagfest 2011 photobooths where you can take a picture and upload it directly to Facebook. I’ll be giving away over $15,000 in vacation packages to say thanks to all the people and it’s going to be a really fun experience. TB: What single event in history has come closest to what you perceive Swagfest will be like? SAB: Sure there’s Woodstock and Bonnaroo that come to mind but they’re on a much smaller scale and a lot less classy. TB: Can you tell us anything about how you’ll make your appearance at Swagfest? SAB: In a very big, cool, classy way. Look for the color black. TB: Do you think there will be subsequent Swagfests? SAB: Well lots of people are saying that this is Swagfest 2011, since there will be a Swagfest 2012, but I don’t know about that yet. We’ll see how this one goes. TB: Hypothetical scenario: you’re flying from Knoxville to Chattanooga on a private charter plane. All of the sudden, an engine fails and the plane goes down in the middle of the Smoky Mountains. You are the only survivor, and the nearest building is a ranger station four miles away across a valley. You need to be in the courthouse in Chattanooga in six hours. What do you do? SAB: I would just whip out my phone and call to have someone fly in and pick me up, as that’s the quickest and easiest way. TB: That’s correct. And finally, define Stephen A. Burroughs. SAB: That is virtually impossible, even for Stephen A. Burroughs.