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“Whisker Wars”: Meet Alex LaRoche

“Whisker Wars”: Meet Alex LaRoche (photo)

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Alex LaRoche is the Austin Facial Hair Club’s freestyle beard master. His red whiskers are sculpted into shape before each competition with a lethal yet effective combination of hairspray and glue. While Americans have a reputation for floundering in the category, Alex could emerge as the first serious American freestyle beard contender on the world stage. Each time he styles his beard, it gets more elaborate revealing that perhaps the smart alec Austinite might actually be invested in the competition. However, just ’cause he cares about the competition, the outspoken member of the Austin Facial Hair Club has no problem talking about the club’s increasing disillusionment with Beard Team USA. He sat down with us to talk about “Whisker Wars,” beards, and the trouble with soup.

How did you end up in the world of competitive facial hair growing?

It started with some friends of mine who have a magazine called Misprint out of Austin who had a tongue-in-cheek beard contest in 2006. I missed the first one and prepared for the second in 2007. So I went, and it was super fun and jovial. Then we saw that people did this around the world, so we went to Alaska. Then we saw the Norway trip was coming up and we started to raise money for the club

How did you raise money?

We had a bunch of parties. We started out with a show called a Bear-lesque. We had an ABBA cover band called STABBA and some drag queens and other dudes. Then we had a Halloween party on a riverboat with a Huey Lewis cover band called the New Drugs. We got a bunch of sponsors to donate beer and tequila and sold tickets. One of the most fun events we did was have a Beard Prom. It was an adult prom at the American Legion Hall in Austin. There were balloons, a see saw moustache, alcohol, food. Those were the primary ways we made money this year.

Did you make enough to send everyone to Norway?

Well, no. Between hotels and airfare and food and stuff, we did make a big dent in it though. Especially for some of the dudes who couldn’t afford it we made it possible for them. We [Austin] were the most represented city in the world there.

Does your mom ever say, “You’d be so nice looking without that beard?”

No. When she and my father married he had a beard. And he’s pretty much always had facial hair. Now my sister on the other hand has said it a lot. Especially when I had sideburns she thought they were tacky. She likes it now. It’s probably too big for her to handle, but she’s excited about the TV stuff.

Do you have a day job?

I have a unique job in that I work for Apple. So I first moved out here to Cupertino and then moved back to Austin. When I moved out here I had a beard and actually shaved it off once and one of the dudes who hired me said, “If we had known you were going to shave your beard, we wouldn’t have hired. ” I’m not a doctor and I’m not in food service. It’s not in my way.

What do you use to keep your beard in tip-top condition?

Daily I use Paul Mitchell shampoo and conditioner. It makes it pretty soft. Sometimes I switch it out and I use this Neutrogena thing that erases all the other products.

Oh the Anti-Residue Shampoo?
Yeah, that’s it. I use a leave in conditioner everyday, too. When I decorate it and curl it for competition, I use Tresemme mousse and the Got2b Glued hairspray or Aquanet. Sometimes Elmer’s glue to really make it stick.

I guess that’s what the Anti-Residue Shampoo is for. How much of bearding is genetic luck? As in what just naturally grows out of your face?

I think there is a little bit of genetics involved. My mom’s hair goes down to the back of her ankles and it’s not dreaded or anything, so I think I have a pretty good chance. Now if your beard is graying or something, that’s different. But, the judging at these competitions is pretty subjective, though, especially from what I’ve seen of guys with big beards. Some times there’s a guy with a red beard who sometimes win. The judges like the color, I think. Freestyle guys can dye their beards as long as it is a natural color. I think the grey beards look sweet. You see guys in their 20s with full beards and old guys in their 60s with grey beards, but you don’t really see the transition. I think a grey streak is kind of awesome. If it was symmetrical it would be awesome. I don’t think they would take points off in a competition.

Tell me about Beard Team USA

It’s a brand that Phil Olsen owns. I joined Beard Team USA in 2006 or 2007 around the time that we were looking up beard competitions online and we saw that he was out there doing this thing. We invited him to judge a competition in Austin. But, [Beard Team USA] is not a real team, it’s a collective of people. Everyone I’ve met on the team is cool. Like really cool. The Portland guys, the LA guys. But there’s no point to joining the team except to buy a t-shirt from Phil or compete in a competition that Phil put on. We have more fun in Austin. We told Phil that we weren’t part of Beard Team USA so he could stop yelling at us about losing. We don’t go to these competitions to win, we go to meet people and hang out. We are fully prepared to lose. We aren’t going there to win. That’s not the point of growing a beard.

What’s the hardest thing to eat?

The bottom of the beard isn’t a big deal, but the moustache is really the worst. An ice cream cone is tough. The big sphere is just bigger than my mouth and it just gets dragged through your moustache. I’ve learned to tuck my beard in when I eat soup.

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New episodes of “Whisker Wars” air on IFC on Fridays at 11 p.m. ET

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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