"This is like Cirque du Soleil for poor people," joked Reverend Jen Milller, beatified patron saint of the Lower East Side and MC for Thursday's 11th annual Mr. Lower East Side pageant at the Bowery Poetry Club. The pageant was not a venue for polished beauties to flaunt their Vaselined teeth but, rather, a showcase of performance artists, exhibitionists, and various unsavory characters meant to embody the spirit of the neighborhood–the old, weird East Village, to borrow a phrase from Greil Marcus. Contestants ranged from familiar characters in Reverend Jen's Art Star crew–John King, the self-proclaimed "Minister of Ass," and artist Patrick Bucklew, a.k.a. Mangina, who wore nothing but a plastic prosthesis shaped like female genitalia–to men who were moved by the raucous pressure of the crowd or sheer drunkenness to join midway through the pageant. (One such mid-contest entry was Pickles, an audience member's kitten.) (PHOTO: THE REVEREND JEN MILLER)
The competition was judged by any biological woman or gay man who showed up and managed to complete a ballot. Contestants competed in three categories: a one-minute talent portion, swimwear, and a combination evening wear/interview segment. Talent standouts included Dave, an elderly Art Star whose feat was to wander around the stage completely naked, and Juggernut, who, in a magnificent piece of dada-punk theater, used his minute to scream "Stun Gun! Stun Gun!" over a Europop beat while threatening audience members with a Taser. Most contestants interpreted "swimwear" as "underwear with leather jacket" or "loincloth assembled from case of Pabst Blue Ribbon." (To be fair, there aren't any beaches on Orchard Street.) By the evening wear portion, several of the potential titlists had gone missing.
When the votes were tallied, the Budweiser crown (complete with detachable bong) went to comedian Mike Amato, who clinched the title with his stripshow/lip-synching number. The runner-up title, Mr. TriBeCa, went to last-minute entrant and enthusiastic beat-boxer Dan Glass. Novelist Jonathon Ames, Reverend Jen's literary agent, was in attendance with fellow Bored to Death compatriot Jason Schwartzman."It was like that scene in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest where everyone boards the bus," said Ames. "They all get to escape."