For Mr. L.E.S. 2006, a crown of Buds


By Orli Van Mourik

Saint Reverend Jen Miller, founder of the Mr. Lower East Side Pageant, has been known to call the contest “the thinking woman’s Chippendales.” But it might be more accurately described as the night thinking women take off their thinking caps and rediscover the Bacchanalian joys of dancing, screaming, and drinking until they puke. Nothing, it seems, gets these ladies out of their heads faster than a parade of disheveled hipsters and local hangers on flashing their testes, dousing themselves in motor oil, and belting out the theme song of television’s “Rawhide.”

“There are only two things that are going to happen when you go on stage during the competition,” last year’s Mr. L.E.S., Comedian Jeff Mac, told this reporter. “The audience is gonna scream like you’re a rock star or they’re going to tear you to pieces like wild dogs . . . It’s like Thunderdome.” On October 18 at the Cake Shop on Ludlow St., 19 men subjected themselves to such harsh scrutiny, but only one emerged the victor.

An elder contestant — known simply as Dave — whose talent consisted of standing on the stage, naked and mute, was ejected after only 10 seconds when the crowd erupted into a chorus of boos. “Put them AWAY!” screamed Celebrity Judge and self-described “all around art star” Carmen Mofongo (a.k.a. Michele Carlo), using her pot leaf-encrusted fez to block out the sight of Dave’s scrotum. “The ones you actually want to see never get naked,” she said, dejected.

What could induce nearly 100 self-respecting women (and a sprinkling of gay men) to participate in such a spectacle? The show was created to “counteract the objectification of the female body in art,” says Reverend Jenn, the elfin beauty whose long-running open mic, The Anti Slam, currently held at the Downeast Arts Center, has earned her the moniker “patron saint of the uncool.” As for the men, if eleven years as a Manhattan MC has taught Reverend Jen anything, it’s that “there are a lot of exhibitionist guys on the Lower East Side.”

On Wednesday night, the contestant’s talents ranged from doing nude headstands, to reading poetry in their underpants. Contestant number seven, Angry Bob, a comedian and performance artist, who billed himself as the antidote to “useless pretty boy” Jeff Mac, stopped short of taking his clothes off, to the great relief of the audience. Bob, who weighs in at “550 lbs.,” chose instead to read a manifesto. If elected Mr. L.E.S. 2006, he promised to visit every retail establishment in the Lower East Side wearing a t-shirt reading: “Give me something for free or I will fart.”

After nearly two hours of performances, Reverend Jen and her cadre of helpers retired to the back of the bar to tally the audience’s votes. With the AC on the fritz, the Cake Shop’s windowless basement had been transformed into what one spectator described as “a Bikram yoga studio with beer.” Undaunted, several audience members stripped down to their skivvies and wiled away the minutes before the winner was announced grooving to the raucous tunes of local band The New York Howl.

In the end, the crown — festooned with mini-bar sized bottles of vodka, empty cans of Budweiser, and a detachable bong — went to the odds-on favorite: Moonshine, a poet-cum-bartender, who’s dedication to the pageant was evidenced by the “Mr. L.E.S.” tattoo on his shoulder. A tall, broad man, with a flowing (albeit slightly receding) mane of brown curls, Moonshine won over the crowd by donning a red sweat band and re-enacting the climactic scene from 1983’s “ Flashdance.” “I love you all! I’m gonna start crying,” said the mincing bruiser. “No. I’m only kidding. I don’t cry,” he said, proceeding to pop open a fresh can of Bud, down it, and crush it on his forehead. The ladies howled in appreciation.