Live photos: Mr. Lower East Side Pageant (NSFW)

The traditions of Mr. Lower East Side, trolls and nudity

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  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

  • Photograph: Francine Daveta

Photograph: Francine Daveta

 

The front room of Reverend Jen's apartment holds the Lower East Side Troll Museum. There are hundreds of neon-haired troll dolls, and on the wall hang Rev. Jen's paintings of trolls, unicorns and aliens, in psychedelic swirls and pastels. Rev. Jen and the troll museum are a New York City fixture, a rent-controlled relic of the hippest days of the Lower East Side.

So, it makes sense that Rev. Jen is the mastermind behind Mr. Lower East Side, a yearly pageant--freak show wherein male contestants are judged by their bodies and bizarreness  (which are not, necessarily, mutually exclusive). The men are rated in four areas—talent, swimsuit, eveningwear and Q&A. One contestant's "talent" was to slur the words to "Bad to the Bone" without musical accompaniment or choreography. There is a lot of drinking onstage. 

"Did you see the guy who drove a nail in his dick during talent?" asks Rev. Jen, shaking her head. "Some of these guys think you can just be weird and win. But to win Mr. LES, you gotta have heart and soul. You've got to be the representative of the neighborhood that women want!"

Rev. Jen started the pageant from a feminist-ish perspective: "I ran an open mike, and women were constantly taking off their clothes, for no apparent reason. I got sick of the objectification of the female body." Jen decided there had to be an event where men strip down. She didn't really promote the first Mr. LES very much, but the place was packed, full of women drunk and chanting "show us your balls!" 

I ask Rev. Jen about the highlights over the years, and she tells me about Moonshine Shorey who, somehow, chugged a six-pack and read a poem in one-minute flat (Jen was timing). After the Iraq War broke out, one contestant came out in army fatigues, stripped down and slathered himself in baby oil from a bottle marked exxon. The crowd liked that one.

The 13th annual pageant, which took place on January 20 at the Bowery Poetry Club, saw a lot of nudity and chants of "Show us your dick!" But it isn't always sexual.The first contestant, Tommy D. Naked, who looks to be in his 70s or 80s simply walked out naked for his "talent." The man had testicles the size of honey-dew melons, and audience recoiled in horror. "I once asked him why his balls were like that, and he told me it was from drinking to much Diet Coke." Rev. Jen says. "He's had surgery though; they actually used to be bigger." 

Another contestant pulled off his shirt to reveal glorious man-boobs. "I have nicer breasts than most women," he said, sucking in his stomach, and the audience nodded in agreement. They were perky, a full B-cup. A drunk couple behind me argued over whether or not he was really a guy. "That is a girl," said the guy, raising his beer. His girlfriend shook her head.

The male contestants are judged by the audience—throngs of drunk young women (most of whom appear to be NYU students). "This year saw a new chant—'show us your taint!'" says Jen. The men tried, exposing the area between their testicles and anus. "You have to really bend over to show a taint" explains Jen,

In the end, it was Jason "J-Boy" Thompson, a bearish man from Alabama, who took the crown. First, J-Boy danced to "Purple Rain" while being pelted by grape--Jell-O--filled water balloons. For eveningwear, he donned a ZZ Top beard. Just the beard. But it was his striptease that was the clincher. The party was held on January 20, the day Etta James died; in tribute, J-Boy donned a blond wig and put electrical tape over his eyebrows. "At Last" came on and he stripped out of a sparkly gown and handed roses to audience members.

J-Boy has announced his first act as Mr. Lower East Side. "It will be on February 14, otherwise known as Valentine's Day, which is shit," explains Rev. Jen. A few years ago, Rev. Jen started referring to Valentine's Day as "Cher Day," because who was Saint Valentine, anyway? Why not rename it after someone you actually like? J-Boy has proclaimed Cher Day an officially sanctioned Lower East Side holiday and is inviting everyone to dress in wigs and sequins and come celebrate at Slinte Pub.

In Rev. Jen's apartment, I pick up a troll dressed like a ninja and say, "I remember these, trolls for boys; they were trying to make them seem masculine." Rev. Jen and I agree that trolls should be nude and asexual. Likewise, Mr. LES's nakedness will probably never arouse, but it's expected.

But this might be the one area of the contest Jen wants to change: "I really think if someone shows up with a rock-hard erect penis next year, they are gonna win." Future contestants, take note!

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