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J.T.: Well, BeardCon has developed quite dramatically in such a short time. Do you think that you will keep it the way it is right now for a few years or are there other changes already in the works?
Thomas: It seems really odd to say because as much as it is a very fine social activity for us to partake in, it requires an unbelievably enormous amount of effort. The amount of time and money and skill that it takes to actually pull something like this off and the amount of people that it takes is immense. We would have to gauge this off of what the culture and the society wants. We’ve benefitted greatly from this huge explosion of the popularity of facial hair and next year, if that explosion continues, we might have a push to throw a bigger event, but if it starts to kind of chill out, then it becomes just a social activity for us to encourage people to grow beards or for just raising a shit-ton of money for charity, and then it could just stay at the size it is now.
Nate: Every year we just get a feel for what people want. Part of it is that we know the limitations of the venue and if we pack the venue, then we go, ‘Okay, we have to get a bigger venue next year.’ When we get the bigger venue, we find out the capacity of that one and that becomes the goal for that year. Every year we just have to see how it goes. We’ve been fortunate two years in a row to feel that it was successful enough that we could easily invest ourselves into the next year. Maybe it will plateau at some point, but we haven’t hit that point yet. Like Thomas said, it is an unbelievably intense undertaking. We’re planning the next one three weeks after the upcoming one is over.
Stephen: As far as the competitions go, all the people that are in the competition, once they are there, they are there for that reason and the culture doesn’t really come out as much. It does, but it’s not like, ‘in your face’.
Thomas: We do get to meet and associate with a lot of genres and niches of people that we probably wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to. Even at bars, we find ourselves talking to dudes who are like sixty years old or more and we probably wouldn’t have talked to them otherwise, except for their association with their beards. With the whole BeardCon thing, the immediate parallel that you would draw with that is Comic-Con, and that is not by accident. We have run into so many people that get really, really into beards and the pageantry of it all. It’s kind of the same type of personality as these people who get really into the comic books and dress up like the characters. These are people who are passionate and unashamed and that encompasses a lot of people that we wouldn’t have met otherwise.
J.T.: With a lot of other conventions and competitions, it is a very narrow fringe niche that they are drawing from and that niche usually defines themselves by that niche, be it Trekkies or hairstylists or anything else. The BeardCon seems to draw from a huge cross cultured swath who share a common characteristic in that they love beards and all that goes along with them, but whose influence may have been the Civil War recreationalists or biker dudes or someone who became enamored with a specific type of moustache or beard from a historical perspective and decided to emulate and affect that appearance.
Thomas: Stephen began to say that it is a narrow draw, and to a degree, it really is. It’s people who love facial hair, but you find that the culture or the influence that that person comes from outside of the beard culture can be vast indeed and I think that is what you are getting at.
Nate: Yeah, and that’s probably one of the most interesting things when we meet a new person is discovering what attracted them to it. We have got people who are seventy year old bikers who just crawled out of a cave and are completely off the grid and then we’ll have tattoo artists who have ink all over next to professors from universities and from all other walks of life. We have pizza delivery guys and mayors from a few different cities that will be there, so yeah, that’s probably the most interesting thing culture-wise about the event; there is a culture, but there is also many cultures at the same time.
J.T.: Well, like with other conventions and groups…like there is a hair styling convention, but there is a smaller investment of time with something like that. You can add extensions and create a wild hairstyle for the convention and then take it down tomorrow. With BeardCon, there is a 24/7 commitment to this activity. It takes time and patience.
Thomas: An interesting part is that sometimes people don’t realize how much they have invested in it. Sometimes we’ll see someone out who has really cool facial hair and we’ll talk to them and you can see that there is a light bulb that turns on when they realize, ‘Holy crap! I really do have a lot of time invested in this!’ Then they can see that the beard clubs or the competitions could be a really cool thing. Like we hold small competitions…we held a Cinco de Moustache party at the Quaker Steak and Lube out by Wright State and some of the people who won the competition originally just showed up because they thought it would be fun, but they competed and won and had fun and now they are invested in it. Now they are invested in it more than ever before. It’s those people that have that love and have that attention to details, but didn’t realize it until someone pointed it out to them.
Nate: Yeah, I think some people expect it to be a joke to a certain degree. I mean, you tell someone that you have a beard club and they laugh and say, ‘What do you do? Sit around and drink beers?’ Well yeah, we do…but the thing that surprises people the most and enamors them to it and why we get people to come and stick around is that they find out that we actually have goals outside of just being hilarious or whatever. We take this thing that is important to us and make it important past us and people connect with that. That is why our club is so successful and why our profile is so big on a nationwide scale. It’s also why we’ve been able to have the events that we have had. It wouldn’t be what it is if we were just a bunch of dudes who go around, showing off our beards. It’s the fact that we have a goal and that we are open with it and we do everything that we can do to make it a successful thing, and people can get behind that.
J.T.: Do you think that all the clubs and events are making facial hair more socially acceptable in the work place?
Stephen: I wish that were true. There are some that are kind of not doing that; they are kind of going in the opposite direction. The majority of them are trying to make it more socially acceptable. That part is in our mission statement and is one of our goals.
Nate: It is a double edged sword and it’s a tricky line to walk because we want to get out there and show that we are normal people and that we are productive citizens and we have to throw this competition in a way that is not like a freak show because that is only going to further the perception that dudes with beards are somehow weird compared to people who are ‘normally’ groomed or that have a more accepted standard of appearance. We’ve found that being a bearded person does not make you any specific type of person. There are a lot of people who are not necessarily closed minded, but have a narrow vision that see a person with a beard and make these assumption, but they don’t realize that they are making those assumptions. We just want to bring that to their attention and we do it in such a way that they end up asking themselves why they are making those assumptions…which is beautiful.
Nate: Well, obviously, the whole goal for us is to gain attention for the event at this point. We are also always looking for new members from the Gem City who are excited to be a part of what we are doing.
Thomas: Also, everything we do is for charity. There are some clubs that do make money and those are some of the clubs that are doing more harm to the culture. We, and a lot of our companion clubs, do everything for charity. We put on this hug, ridiculous carnival of an event that just amazes and takes people’s breath away and people pay ticket fees just to see that show but, at the end of the day, what everyone’s really doing is donating money to a charity. At this point, we’ve raised around $7,000 for different charities. We always give 100% of all of our proceeds to charity.
Nate: This is the second year in a row that our main competition will benefit the organization Central Ohio Men Against Prostate Cancer (COMAPC). We just felt that that fit because, obviously, it’s a man’s disease and a beard is a man’s gift, so we’re trying to use the natural good of our natural ability as men to grow a beard for the benefit of a disease that affects so many men. It’s something that we really believe in because we have had affiliations with many people who have been affected by it in many ways. There have been members of our club who have either had it or have had family members who have fought it or passed from it. It’s something that the public still kind of needs a lot of education about and so, to us, it kind of makes sense and it’s a worthy cause and we are using this event to take put into focus this large scale problem within our community.
“You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion.”
~ G. K. Chesterton
For more, check out the WYSO interview here. And stay tuned for a post-convention piece by DMM Columnist Shana Douglas, who will be covering the convention this coming Saturday in Columbus.