By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
As runner-up in the 2010 Robert Goulet Memorial Mustached American of the Year Contest -- a defeat I took with grace, humility and, of course, a stiff upper lip -- I know what it’s like to lose by a whisker.
So it was with a sense of deja fu manchu that I recently got involved in another hairy situation when I attended the launch party for the new reality TV series “Whisker Wars.”
IFC, the cable station on which “Whisker Wars” airs Fridays at 11 p.m., hosted the bash at the Blind Barber, a New York City establishment that is part barbershop and part bar. According to the bartender, however, it does not serve gin and hair tonic.
The nice folks at the Blind Barber let me come in, though I have no hair on my chinny chin chin. I couldn’t say that for the bearded boys of “Whisker Wars,” a program devoted to what is described in an IFC press release as “the fascinating and hair-raising world of competitive facial-hair growing.”
Yes, raising a beard, or a mustache, or a goatee -- which is much less expensive than raising a child, because you don’t have to put a beard through college -- is now a sport. I felt right at home.
“You have a very nice mustache,” said Phil Olsen, the founder and self-appointed captain of Beard Team USA and one of the stars of “Whisker Wars.” Olsen not only has a mustache himself but a thick, luxurious and extremely impressive footlong beard.
“I get compliments on my beard every day,” said Olsen, 62, a semiretired lawyer and a settlement conference judge in Nevada. “I’ve never heard anyone say anything negative about it. I’m sure some people don’t like it, but they can keep their opinions to themselves or I’ll send them to jail.”
“I like your beard,” I said.
“Thank you,” Olsen replied. “You are free to go.”
And go I did, straight to the mustache competition, which was being judged by three other “Whisker Wars” stars: Alex LaRoche, Jack Passion and Myk O’Connor.
In a strong field that featured a variety of lip growths, I made it to the semifinals: a hairy half-dozen composed of five men and one woman.
Unfortunately, my chevron mustache, which was so successful last year, didn’t make the cut.
That wasn’t the case with Wendi Gueorguiev, an artist from Queens, N.Y., who made it to the three-person finals despite wearing a faux manchu.
“Sorry,” O’Connor told me, “but she has better qualifications.”
They weren’t enough to put her over the top. Still, Gueorguiev was pleased to be the runner-up, especially since, technically speaking, she cheated.
“There’s a photo booth in the back of the bar,” she explained. “I was trying on hats, mustaches and beards. I decided to keep the mustache. I don’t know what came over me. I made my way out front to the contest. I was surprised I finished second. I felt honored.”
Gueorguiev, who declined to give her age but said she is “old enough to grow a mustache,” commented favorably on mine. “It’s pretty formidable,” she said. “It’s thick, nice and lush, a little more masculine than the Dali-esque mustache that won.”
But the winner was masculine, indeed.
“Hello, Dali,” I said to him.
“Hello, Jerry,” replied Max Baehr, a 25-year-old Web producer from Brooklyn, N.Y. The champ said he was inspired by his father, Tim, who isn’t so much a Salvador Daddy as he is a whisker warrior.
“He has a beard,” said Baehr, who waxed poetic about his waxed handlebar mustache. “My lady friend likes it,” said Baehr, adding that he likes my mustache. “It looks great,” he said.
It wasn’t good enough to win the contest, but maybe, if I borrow one of the Blind Barber’s fake beards, I could still be a star on “Whisker Wars.”
Copyright 2011 by Jerry Zezima