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