What began as a lark — two years ago, a former coworker bet the bald-headed, clean-shaven Faulkner $1,000 he couldn’t grow a beard for a year without trimming it — has turned into a phenomenon of sorts that has led to multiple appearances on local and national news broadcasts; work as an extra on TV shows and commercials; appearances on IFC’s Whisker Wars; stops at various beard conventions and contests; and a multitude of local promotional jobs.
And now he’s won probably his highest-profile gig to date: Popular hat company and lead NFL sponsor New Era picked Faulkner out of hundreds of thousands of worldwide entries to represent the Cincinnati Bengals in its 2013 promotional campaign; his bearded visage will appear on the NFL Network, on the side of Paul Brown Stadium and on various billboards and ads around town. You’ve probably already seen him at Bengals training camp back in August, when photos of his beard decorated with a six-pack of Hudy “Hu-Dey” beer cans became a viral sensation, bouncing across the Internet and beyond.
CityBeat recently sat down with Faulkner at El Coyote (one of his many promotional partners) downtown to discuss the renewed popularity of beards, the nexus of his elaborate beard creations and his ultimate beard-related goals.
CityBeat: It seems like beards have become popular again in the last four or five years. Why?
Garey Faulkner: They’re back! It’s a sign of, “I’m a man and I can grow a beard.” Not everyone can do it. There are also people in the limelight. You have Brian Wilson, the baseball player, who obviously was a big influence in the sporting world. He has a smaller beard compared to me. He would kill to have my beard.
CB: Really? I saw him the other night and his beard looks pretty serious.
GF: Oh yeah, it is. My beard measures a little over 37 inches when I put it out to the side.
CB: What inspired you to start getting dressed up and decorating your beard?
GF: I was at a break-dancing event and there was a lady there who did face painting. She saw me and said, “Oh, you have a perfectly round head. I would love to paint something on the back of your head.” I said, “OK,” and she ended up doing the Rolling Stones lips on the back of my head. I left the event and forgot it was there and the amount of people who were coming up to me afterward saying, “Oh my gosh, that’s the coolest thing ever,” was crazy.
And then I was sitting around thinking, “Maybe I could paint my beard and take it to the next level.” So I stayed in contact with her for a little while, and we did a look for St. Patty’s Day (2012) where I just painted the entire thing green and she painted a three-leaf clover on my head. And, of course, I wore a kilt and came down for the parade. People were flipping out, saying, “That’s got to be the coolest St. Patty’s Day look I’ve ever seen in my life.” They asked me to walk in the parade with them. It was like photo-shoot central the entire time. People were lined up. It got me published in the Enquirer and the news interviewed me. So, of course, people started seeing me and I was like, “All right, maybe I got something here.”
CB: How did you start getting involved in promotions?
GF: A couple weeks later was Opening Day. So I was like, “Let’s do something for Opening Day.” I painted my head like a baseball. I painted my beard red and put a white “C” in it. I had a baseball uniform on. I personally created this look for Opening Day and just called myself “Mr. Opening Day.” I researched it and no one has done anything with it. Mynt Martini wanted to sponsor me for it. Spade Kreations picked me up the following year.
CB: Why do you think people are so fascinated with beards?
GF: Most men can’t grow beards like this. I would say the percentage is less than 5 of men that can 1) physically grow it, and 2) be in a position where they can grow it and their job will let them keep it. When I left my last job and I started applying at other places, it was tough. Nobody wants to hire a guy with a giant beard unless you have a friend that works in the company. You get stereotyped as soon as you walk in. That’s the honest truth. But the same people that stereotyped me have since then seen me on Good Morning America — they interviewed me when they came here for the World Choir Games. People saw me on TV and in the newspaper, and now I’ve noticed the way they’ve talked to me the next time they see me is always different. It’s like I earned their respect or something because they know everyone knows who I am.
CB: So what would be the ultimate beard-related goal for you?
GF: My ultimate goal from having my beard would definitely be to be featured in a movie like The Hobbit. How awesome would that be? Is that something I thought about when I was 10 — oh, I want to grow a beard one day and be in a movie? Hell no. But now that I’ve turned 30 and this stuff is taking off for me and I’m getting opportunities, I feel like it’s not that far-fetched.
And I’d like to do something for Cincinnati. I know I got a popular face in the city. I’m popular online. I use it as much as I can to give back and do cool things. My ultimate goal would be to help open a free public skate and BMX park downtown.
GAREY FAULKNER will appear at CityBeat’s Cool Issue/MPMF Launch party at Kaze OTR 5-10 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19.