2006_05_bulettelg.jpgAt The Knitting Factory tonight, Jon Bulette wants to make you laugh about facial hair. To that end, he's bringing you NYC Beard and Moustache Championships, where 40 competitors from around the world will show off complicated facial hair stylings set to the backdrop of.music and comedy acts. With entry in one of six categories, moustache, beard, freestyle (think sideburns, goatees, and soul patches), artificial, Kenny Rogers, and patchy, those bold enough to strut their elaborate creations will compete for prizes, among them a chance to appear on The View. Audience members will help elect the show's mascot and be entertained by comedians such as Todd Levin, Nick Kroll, Christian Finnegan, and Michelle Collins, with music by Country Club and the Porn Horns, Curtis Eller's American Circus, and Valley Lodge. When he's not wrangling unwieldy facial hair (his own or the competitors), Bulette's working with Jon Friedman on their documentary Splitting Hairs, and running his web design company Schrysco. Here, the 30-year-old actor, comedian, and producer elaborates on his own travels through the world of beard and moustache competitions, the dangers of power tools to the heavily bearded, and the intense international facial hair rivalry.

How'd you get involved with the NYC Beard & Moustache Championships and what's your role been in planning the event?
I got involved a year ago when I contacted 2003 World Beard & Moustache Championship ("WBMC") organizer Phil Olsen about producing the 2005 WBMC in Berlin. He introduced me to Stone Roberts, an MTV producer who at the time was living in Williamsburg. Stone had been working on a WBMC documentary, and we decided that it was best to collaborate and cover Team USA on their way to Berlin as best we could.

After shooting the 2005 WBMC in Berlin, we took Jon Friedman on as an additional producer. Together we decided that a New York based competition could help pave the way for our film (Splitting Hairs).

What exactly will happen during the night? How many people are entered so far? Can people still enter tonight?
There will be live music, hip-hop dancers, specialty events (like the long awaited unveiling of the NYCBMC Mascot), comedy, and competitive facial hair. In terms of the competition, contestants will parade on stage (kind of like a fashion show) and our judges will pick a winner from each category and then an overall winner.

So far, there are about 40 people entered. There are still slots remaining, however. We will be taking last minute contestant registration on a first come first serve basis at the Knitting Factory from 6:00 - 6:30. Right now, the most open categories are freestyle, patchy, and artificial.

What do they get for winning?
There will be various prizes supplied by some of our sponsors, (Ben Sherman, PF Flyers, No Star) but the grand prize will be an appearance on ABC's The View.

Who are some of the favorites in the competition? How long do they "train?"
The smart money is on Heinz Cristophel, the three time freestyle champion who flew in from Germany last minute to compete. Other noteworthy competitors are United States Beard and Moustache Team members Jack Passion, Burke Kenney, and Dennis Dickerson (aka The River Boat Captain).

Have some of the champions taught you tricks for styling facial hair or making it grow faster?
They tend to hold those cards pretty close to their chest.

2006_05_bulette3.jpgAre there any particular challenges the heavily bearded or moustached have to look out for in daily life?
Yes, a German Champion named Will Chevalier got his beard caught in a power drill a year ago. As a result, he had to sit out the 2005 WBMC in his home country. I can't imagine what that must have been like for him.

The event will also feature the documentary Splitting Hairs, which follows the United States Beard and Moustache Team through Europe as they prepare to compete in Germany, and is currently in post-production. What are some of the highlights of the film?
Definitely the segments we shot in Amsterdam. Imagine Fear and Loathing with unwieldy facial hair.

Essentially the film has a "road trip" feel, as we follow these different groups of competitors from the United States through Europe and eventually to the championships in Berlin. Some of my favorite scenes focus on small moments, like when one of the subjects gets stuck in a traffic jam and doesn't want to reveal his frustration to the camera.

2006_05_bulette4.jpgBeard and Moustache championships have been happening around the world, with the World Beard and Moustache Championships every other year, with competitors from Germany, London, Sweden, among others. How does the United States fare in the facial hair race? Are other countries more advanced in their hair-growing and styling techniques?
Have you ever seen Rocky IV? Good. The Germans are like Ivan Drago: Relentless, powerful, merciless. They must break you. Team USA has so far never been literally beaten beyond the point of unconsciousness during one of these things, but it's safe to say that the Germans consistently tear Team USA a collective new one.

That's beginning to change though, because the Germans basically are a bunch of chain smoking oldsters, so their days are numbered. Team USA is definitely the youngest group on the world scene, and they will be a force with which to reckon. Splitting Hairs culminates with some surprising American appearances in the winners circle. Also, you should know that the winners receive bear statues.

You had a meet up on Saturday night at White Horse Tavern with many hairy-faced people. Did you draw any extra attention?
Boy howdy. There are pictures up at the NYCBMC blog.

How do you manage not to crack up laughing while working on this? Are people intently serious about these championships or is it all in good fun?
A little bit of both. The vast majority view these events as an excuse to get s-canned in public while draped in the flag of their homeland. However, at the core of this subculture are the die-hards, and by and large those are the people we covered in Splitting Hairs. To them, competitive facial hair cultivation is no laughing matter. Friendships have literally been torn apart over this stuff. Two of the subjects in Splitting Hairs live in the same small town outside of Seattle, and they continue to wage a beard fueled blood feud to this day.

What's the longest or most elaborate beard or moustache you've grown? Have you been working on yours in honor of the competition?
I've given myself a Chester A. Arthur, in tribute to the twenty-first President of the United States, Chester A. Arthur.

Do you plan to stay bearded this summer or will you be shaving it all off on Wednesday morning?
My favorite kinds of projects are the ones where you start off quietly mocking something, and by the end you are so deep in it that you have become a part of it. That's what has happened with Splitting Hairs. As a result, I think I'll be keeping this Chester A. Arthur for a while.

There's also a female artificial category—can you tell me more about that? How does one go about preparing for it?
At the 2005 WBMC in Berlin, there were a lot of women who showed up in fake moustaches and they wanted to compete. As a matter of fact, they stormed the stage and held something of a protest. I think they had a point. So we decided to open up the field to wearers of artificial facial hair.

In terms of preparation, it's hard to say because this has never been done before. I'd be happy if a competitor from the female artificial category won the whole thing.

When you're not dealing with facial hair, you run your own web design firm Schrysco. What are some of the projects you're currently working on and what are your favorite types of sites or clients to work with?
I do mostly sites for individual performers and small media companies. Recently I took a gig with Chesky Records, which is an independent jazz label. The owner wants to setup a download site for hi-quality indie labels to compete with iTunes. They're nice people.

You also were part of Who Is Wilford Brimley? The Musical. Why the obsession with Brimley, and what other pop culture figures intrigued you?
I'm fascinated by the Paxton/Pullman axis for starters. In terms of Brimley, the obsession comes from his grandfatherly place in the heart of a generation while simulataneously being a total prick. You hear that Brimley? You're a prick! Now I'm on record. For the Brimley thing, it was fun to laud an actor that made a career of existing just at the periphery of the popular consciousness. He's the kind of celebrity that once you realize who they are you're like "oh yeah. that guy." Then you start thinking about something else.

You've done stand-up comedy, acted, emceed, and did a stint as a dancing bear at The Rejection Show, among other performances. Do you prefer to be behind the scenes in terms of organizing/planning events or do you enjoy performing, or a combination of the two?
I like helping to make unique things come together, regardless of my role in their execution. There's something nice about being in front of people when good things are happening, but there's also a quiet satisfaction in photoshopping laser beam eyes onto a picture of Abe Lincoln.

You and Jon Friedman, who you're working with on the NYC Beard & Moustache Championships, have also coordinated on such outings as The Delicious Sandwich Social, where each person brings a sandwich and then they get randomly divvied out amongst the attendees. Is there another one in the works?
In July we'll be collaborating to put on an event called "Hamstravaganza." The title is fairly self-explanatory.

Since so much of your work involves humor in some way, what are you serious (or even angry) about?
Rice Weevils and other Granary Pests. Although they can't (or won't) bite and they don't carry diseases, most of the time these f*ckers are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Man, I'm totally steamed now.

Color photo: Karl Heinz Hille, World Beard Champion for 2003, 2005, photo by Nick Johson
Black and white photo: 2005 BMC Contestant, Dallas Raleigh and Jean Spencer

NYC Beard and Moustache Championship takes place tonight at 8 p.m. at The Knitting Factory, 74 Leonard Street. Tickets are $12, $15 at the door. Contestants may still enter today until 6:30 p.m, entry fee $25. Visit http://nycbeard.blogspot.com for photos and news about beard and moustache championships. Watch a teaser for Splitting Hairs here. Bulette's web design company is Schrysco.