If you’re a fan of Robin Williams, even if you know his lifestory, you show up when he takes some time to answer questions at the 92Y. Williams made an appearance last week to top off the New York Comedy Festival, and his manic energy is just what you think it is. His comedic skill is that you don’t have to wait for the punchline. Whatever he talks about, and he talks about a lot, is funny because he MAKES it funny. It’s not that he’s a physical comedian, it’s that he knows how to make a story entertaining, and he knows how to get the audience going. It’s the perpetual question – what’s he like in person? Well, do you even want to know? If you sat down with him and asked him questions and didn’t receive that animated and physical manifestation of an answer, wouldn’t you be disappointed? That’s why it’s best to just let him run wild and try to follow along as best you can.
The IFC Original Reality Series ‘Whisker Wars’ begins its second season on November 23rd at 10pm. We caught up with former World Champion Jack Passion to discuss his involvement in the world of competitive beard growing and what sets him apart from the competition.
YS: How old were you when you began growing your beard out?
JP: The beard I have now I began when I was 19. Just like someone might get a haircut, so do I keep my beard trimmed.
YS: When did you first get involved in facial hair growing competitions, and was there an event that inspired you to grow your beard competitively?
JP: just wanted a story to tell my grand kids. In 2005, the World Championship was going to be in Germany and I wanted to go to Germany. I got third place there and that put me on the map. The rest is history.
YS: A causal observer would probably look at the show and say ‘this is a bunch of guys growing their beards out.’ Describe how it’s more than that and the psychology that goes into the competition.
JP: Beard competitions are really a bunch of guys having a good time over a shared experience and common interest. A show about that wouldn’t be on TV, it’s a lot of fun to be part of, just not interesting to watch. The appeal of Whisker Wars is the trash talking and the drama, just like any TV show. The show is a docu-comedy and I looked to characters like Jim Lahey (Trailer Park Boys), Billy Mitchell (King of Kong), and Kenny Powers (Eastbound and Down) for inspiration and guidance to make it fun and funny.
YS: Are there tricks to growing and maintaining an award winning beard? What’s your daily preparation like?
JP: I outline all of my tips and tricks in my book, The Facial Hair Handbook. I give out all my secrets, but few men will actually put all of them to use.
Maintenance is much easier if you grow strong hair to begin with. I’m far more concerned with quality growth than I am hair care. Hair is dead: you can’t make it better, only prevent it from getting worse. If you start with great hair it’s easy to keep it great/good for a very long time.
I take a beard growing vitamin called VitaBeard. The same company makes a very powerful Omega 3 supplement that I take as well. I eat clean, high quality protein. Bioavailability is a big deal and so I eat very simple, clean, fresh, natural and unprocessed foods. Protein is essential, but you need high quality. For instance, cheap corn-fed beef is a waste of your time and money – go grass fed or don’t bother.
Consequently, my daily prep doesn’t need to be more than a wash (I use Grandpa’s Pine Tar Soap) and a brushing. Guys love to talk about how much work their beard is. Those fools are just doing it wrong.
YS: Who is your chief rival and what steps are you taking to defeat him?
I have no rivals on the beard level, but contemporary facial hair competition is much less about how good your beard is and much more about who your friends are. In Whisker Wars Season 2, we go to beard contests where people “forget” to call me on stage or put their friends on the judging panel. My fight is against stupidity and I’m fighting for the future of beard competitions.
YS: When did you first realize that you wanted to be a comic?
DW: When I was five. My dad had a tape of Steven Wright and I was blown away by what he
was doing there and that he was doing it for a living. Whatever was going on there seemed
magical and interesting. Comedian’s just didn’t seem as miserable as my Dad (little did I know).
Also, around the same time I was introduced to Robin Williams who blew me away, to me he was
the consummate comedian. I still kinda think he is. He often goes for the joke everyone thinks of
but he does it so perfectly and from a very logical yet cartoonish perspective and he’s probably
the greatest comedic actor of all time and a great dramatic actor too. Also, embarrassingly
enough, Dave Coulier on Full House and Fozzy the Bear were big for me when I was really
This is a fun memory that’s sort of on topic: My brother, neighbor and I used to play a game
where on a rotating basis we all stood on my couch and tried to make the other two laugh and if
we didn’t the other two would whip batteries and change at you. I don’t think anyone ever got a
full joke out. This was my first taste of the stage.
YS: Who are some of your favorite comics?
DW: I’m a big fan of comedy and comedy history. There are too many to list and I’m afraid I’ll
miss a bunch but here’s some at least:
Lenny Bruce, Patrice O’Neal, Bill Burr, Bill Hicks, Steven Wright, Andy Kauffman, Doug Stanhope,
Greg Giraldo, George Carlin, Bill Cosby, Chris Rock, Marc Maron, Louis C.K., Mitch Hedberg,
Robert Hawkins, Emo Phillips, Stewart Lee, Dave Chappelle, Dave Atell, Eddie Murphy, John
Stewart, Brian Regan, Richard Pryor, Patton Oswalt, David Cross,
Anyways now I’m just being ridiculous and listing all the legendary comedians that there are,
but I love these guys and can’t make a list without including these and many more. For me, with
comedians and musicians, what makes a really great artist is when I’m listening to their stuff
they are my favorite. Everyone else doesn’t exist and they are all there is and all these guys are
like that so I have to just stop making the list.
YS: What’s your favorite thing and what’s your least favorite thing about doing comedy?
DW: My favorite thing about doing comedy is that when I’m doing it I feel connected to people,
which I don’t usually feel in real life and it’s pretty depressing. That’s why I like mixed crowds
different ages and genders and races and political backgrounds and shit. ‘Cause that’s more
magical than some alt show with homogenized, white guilt beards being in some exclusive club
for people who’ve submitted to some zeitgeist of judgmental, no risk taking, shadows of people.
That to me is not connecting. It’s disconnecting. Even when I describe my favorite thing I end
up angry. Sorry. I should say that I love a lot of “alt comics” and “Alt rooms” it’s just a general distaste I have for a very general side of the world. Really just anyone who doesn’t realize they are the hero of their won story simply because they narrate it, bother the shit out of me.
My least favorite thing about doing comedy is the egos. Mine included. Comedians, club owners,
audience members that try to make the show about their own personal shit and not about “the
collective shit”. Egos are what get in the way of the connection between the people in the room
which is what’s cathartic and makes people love comedy.
YS: What is your writing process like?
DW: I always keep a notebook on me. I jot stuff down while I’m on the train or talking with
friends. Then I sit down with a lot of coffee and write on the ideas I have that are unfinished
alone or I’ll talk it out to a good friend with a good sense of humor that understands what I’m
doing. Through all that I get it to a place I like and then I finalize everything onstage because
that pressure flattens it out for me.
You can find out more about David Wiswell, including where he will be
performing on his website, DavidWiswell.com. His “Watch me for Free” sketches are
included on his site.