With winter rapidly approaching, I think it makes sense to discuss the warmth of facial hair. So, today I chat with the two-time World Champion in the Full Beard Natural category at the World Beard and Moustache Championships. If you tune in to see him in Whisker Wars next week on IFC, you will see how he earned the reputation as the Muhammad Ali of bearding. As the author of the The Facial Hair Handbook, the owner and proprieter of the beard known as "Big Red" hopes to be known as the first “Professional Beardsman."
At what stage of your life/your beard’s life did you decide to take it from just a look to a lifestyle?
The beard thing just happened. People encouraged it, and for better or worse, I went with it. I never thought I'd be doing this interview.
What tricks do you have for keeping your beard clean while eating? Are there any foods you've sworn off?
Have you ever seen an Olympic fencing champion wield a sword? I'm like that with napkins. Also, the beard doesn't just pop out over night; you have time to adjust to it, so nothing is really that difficult to eat without making a mess of one's face. It's really hard to eat ice cream cones, but I don't even like ice cream. A juicy, rare burger might be difficult, but you can always ditch the bun and eat it with a fork and knife. Where there's a will, there's a clean beard.
Which celebrities do you think have the best and worst facial hair?
I believe a beard should taken care of, but remain a little unkempt. Obviously, dress and manner factor in, but to closely groom one's beard is akin to brewing decaf coffee. The zoo is just more fun when there's no cages, you know? That being said, the best and worst celebrity beards are on Whisker Wars. I'll let you pick which goes with which.
Obviously, you get a lot of attention for your beard. How do you handle it when you just want to go to the grocery store or what have you without stopping to talk to curious strangers?
Funny you should ask. I was just at the grocery store and like ten people gave me business cards (this is L.A.)! The older I get, the more I value time, and the less I want to waste it entertaining stupid comments like, "Hey, have you seen that show about beards!?" or "Dude! ZZ Top!" Thus, I usually braid my beard and stick the braid down my shirt, and just look like a guy with a pretty big beard but nothing extreme. If I don't, it's almost impossible to get through the day going anywhere in public with any kind of efficiency.
If someone recognizes me with my beard braided and hidden, they're recognizing me, and that's awesome, so I'm more than happy to chat with them. It's hard to be more than a beard when the beard is more than your head and torso.
What, if anything, would make you shave or significantly cut back your beard?
I guess it would be reasonable to say money (for me or for charity), but with the money would come sort of strings or agenda. It's my beard to shave, my experience and perspective to move on from and my personal evolution to honor. I haven't seen my bare face since it had baby fat; to shave would undoubtedly be the most life-changing event in my life so far. To entrust that to any agenda other than my own would only lead to disappointment.
Now that you’re on a reality TV show, do you watch other reality shows differently?
Well, technically the show is billed as a docu-comedy, but yes, I do watch other reality shows differently. When you make a show like this, producers ask you questions that really only have one answer. If you want the show to be successful (and therefore make you successful in some way I guess?) you answer those questions. Sometimes what you say — and the expressionless dry sense of humor that you say it with — doesn't translate well. Having had the experience myself now more than twice, I understand how one can and will be edited on a reality show, and so I definitely watch other shows now with that understanding.
Here's an interesting story: There was a point during some of the promotional preparation when other cast members had to repeatedly say on camera, "bearding is a sport," until they got it right. Those same cast members LOATH the idea of bearding as a sport, but the cameras were rolling and for that moment and every time it is replayed on TV, guess what? Bearding is a sport.
Beard competitions aren't good television. Beard competitions in which there is sensational drama and oh-no-he-didn't soundbites at every turn are great television.
What does one do if his beard catches fire?
He burns. Beards are oily and and dry at the same time so the flames spread quickly and are hard to put out.
But want to know something cool? Firefighters historically grew beards so that they could drench them in water and hold them over their face as air filters so as to not die from smoke inhalation. Just a fun fact for you there.
You’re a musician and music fan. What do you listen to before you compete?
I've used the theme from Exodus as my theme song many times, but lately, here's the song I usually compete to when I go on stage.
What’s your next book going to be about?
Thanks for asking! I have a lot of irons in the fire, some I can talk about, some I can't. I wrote a diet/health book that's finished, but the publisher wants to wait and see what happens with Whisker Wars Season 2 before releasing it. For the holidays this year, I'm releasing a beard and mustache coloring book for kids. We've got to start the next crop of champions at a young age! That book as well as my Facial Hair Handbook will be available at jackpassion.com.
How does it feel to be the 331st person interviewed for Zulkey.com/WBEZ?
Psh, you know.