Five years ago, I worked at the Huffington Post and sat at the same table as a sardonic young video editor named Patrick Waldo. We both moved onto other jobs, years passed, and we lost touch as ex-coworkers do. Then in the summer of 2011, Patrick was suddenly in the newspapers, only they were calling him "the infamous Moustache graffiti bandit." Yes, Patrick Waldo was the street artist who scrawled the word "moustache" on subway ads all over the city. Kate Moss’s face was hit, an ad for Chanel lipstick was tagged, the happy bride in "Mamma Mia!" got a moustache for her wedding day — and those are just some of the prolific tags he made. In the year since Waldo’s bust by the NYPD, he’s been busy: one, watching Zara and even Maybelline rip off his moustachery, but two, creating a one-man show, Moustache Man: Confessions Of An NYC Grafitti Artist, now being performed at Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. After the jump, I chatted with Moustache Man himself over email.
So, why moustaches?
The whole moustache thing was just kind of something I stumbled across- I saw an ad at a subway station with graffiti on the face and from far away it looked like a moustache, so I thought writing "moustache" on the upper lip would be funny. I had no idea it would go as far as it did.
Do you consider what you do street art?
Some people call it street art, some people call it graffiti- I’m a huge fan of both so I’ll take either of them.
It seems like you didn’t discriminate much on who got moustaches — was it just any opportunity that presented itself that you seized, or did you do specific typs of ads on purpose?
When I first started I was looking for posters with beautiful models in super serious, sexy poses, or bad reality show ads where the stars have their mouths hanging open or are making some otherwise dumb face- anything that could be undermined very easily by a moustache. But as I started doing more and more of them I treated almost every poster the same. They were all ads, they were all fair game. Some of my friends (redacted-ex-HuffPost colleague, actually) would give me shit about doing posters for things like BAM shows, so every now and then I’d stand in front of a poster weighing out this moral dilemma. But usually that ended with me just saying "Fuck it" and moustaching it.
How did a typical tagging session go? Or were they all unique?
Yeah, I mean there was no typical tagging session. I never really set out on tagging missions, I’d just make sure that before I left my apartment I was armed with a bunch of Sharpies. Cell phone, wallet, Sharpies. That was my checklist before I walked out the door. And then wherever I’d go, I’d hit as many posters as I could. I started with one marker — it was a Bic "Mark It" — but I was passing up a lot of faces because they were too small or too big for the marker, so I started carrying around a bunch of different sized markers. I used a Sharpie Chisel Tip for most faces because it was super thick and dark and made the moustaches look more like actual moustaches from far away. I used regular Sharpies on smaller upper lips, Sharpie Ultra Fine Points on tiny upper lips, Sharpie King Size markers on bigger than normal faces and then this monster of a marker called the Pilot Super Color Wide and Broad for the biggest faces. It was a ton of markers, and I usually carried an extra of each because once you start using them it wears the tip down and they get fatter, so I wanted to have as many size options as possible. Winter was awesome because I could just stuff them all in my coat pockets, but the warmer months sucked because I’d have to walk around with all of them in my pants pockets. Too bad Jncos went out of style or I’d have been set.
Did you have lookouts?
If I was with my friends I’d just start doing them and usually they were cool with it. If there was a police station nearby or a cop on the platform I’d sometimes position them so that they formed a little barrier between me and the cops, but I usually didn’t need to be too sneaky about it. Some of my friends would be terrified and power walk down the platform as far away from me as possible or run across the street if I was doing them aboveground, but most were surprisingly good about it. (Redacted-ex-HuffPost-collegue actually was really good about being a lookout.)
How often did people see what you were doing?
All the time! They had to — I was doing them during rush hour, I was doing them outside in broad daylight. I preferred doing them in the middle of the night when no one was around but the only way I could’ve done as many as I did was to just do them all the time, so that’s what I did.
Did anyone ever say shit when they saw you?
Oh, yeah, people reacted all the time, mostly positive. Sometimes people would try to take a picture with me and I’d have to explain how graffiti works and how it’s probably not a good idea to put my picture out there. One lady was walking by me when I was doing these huge Lady Gaga posters outside UCB on 8th Avenue and she doubled back when she realized what I was doing. She had this very thick Latina accent and she goes "You do these everywhere?" and I was like "Yeah" and she goes "It’s your yob?" And in a way, yeah, it was kind of like my yob — just unpaid and with no yob benefits.
Tell me about the time you got arrested.
The arrest was crazy- one of the weirdest days of my life by far. The weirdest part was that I wasn’t tagging anything. I didn’t have any markers on me. I was coming out of work and five plain clothes police officers swooped in on me. They’d been investigating me over a three month period and had been staking me out that day to get me as soon as I came out of work. I tell the whole story of the arrest, the interrogation that followed, my time in jail and all that stuff in my UCB show, so I’ll save all the juicy stuff for that. October 18th! 8pm! UCB Theatre New York! Shameless plug!
When did you decide to do a one-man show?
I’ve been taking improv classes at UCB since right after I moved up here in 2006. I met a bunch of people I clicked with in a UCB class taught by Zach Woods (from The Office) and we started a team called, wait for it, Out of the Woods. We perform at UCB every now and then but mostly at indie venues all over. We’ve been doing it for like three years now, over 100 shows at this point, so we’re at that point where we’ve got "group mind," as it’s known in the improv world. We came into it with a similar sense of humor, I think that’s what drew us to each other in the first place, but after spending so much time together now we’ve like melded to the point where we finish each other’s sentences, beat each other to the same punchlines, can almost predict how a person will react in a scene. We’re like that annoying married couple that’s really good at Catch Phrase. But our sex life is terrible. We almost never fuck anymore.
I decided to do a one-man show a few months after my arrest, when I realized there were so many weird things that happened during the Moustache Man stint that it might make a fun show. I’ve been a performer for a while, so it seemed like a natural progression to tell the story on stage.
Are you worried about doing a show about something so visual? Will images of your tags factor into the show?
The show has a ton of images in it. I tell some stories and show some pictures and tell more stories. It’s like a TED Talk but way smarter.
So what are you doing as a day job these days? What’s next for you artistically — both in terms of street art and comedy?
I’m giving private walking tours these days through Streetwise New York. I miss the double decker bus tours- those really were so fun to give, but I’m a huge NYC history geek and there’s no real better way to see the city than to walk it, so I’m enjoying the walking tours. Still performing with my improv team Out of the Woods, still doing the Moustache show at UCB (October 18th. 8pm). After that, only God knows what will happen. JK, there’s no God.
Contact the author of this post at Jessica.Wakeman@Gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter and Tumblr.