PORTLAND, Maine - With a shake of his body and a twirl of his hips, Marc McCabe tripped the light fantastic onto the catwalk. The roar of the crowd nearly drowned out the thumping hip-hop beat of “The Last Kiss’’ by Jadakiss.
But it was not his nimble feet that brought McCabe to the Port City Music Hall on Friday night. It was the outrageously thick mustache on his face.
McCabe, going by the stage name “Jungle Boogie,’’ was one of several dozen contestants in Stache Pag, an annual mustache competition that grew this year into a two-day bash with an international film festival dedicated to the bristly facial hair and those who wear it. Film entries have come in from as far as India, Russia, Sri Lanka, and Sweden.
The goal of the two-day event, in addition to raising money for cancer research and organizations that support the arts, is to revel in a mode of expression that the mustachioed community says has gotten an undeserved bad rap in recent years.
“People would just wonder why you would grow a mustache,’’ said Nick Callanan of No Umbrella Media, a Portland video production company that organizes Stache Pag and the International Moustache Film Festival. “It was hard to get a drink at a bar.’’
Callanan and his brother, Zeke, share a dry wit and a tendency to exaggerate the discrimination faced by mustache wearers in a society where popular film and television characters from the Sundance Kid to Thomas Magnum of “Magnum P.I.’’ and generations of star athletes from Rollie Fingers to Michael Jordan have sported ’staches.
Then again, Zeke Callanan said, any mustache-wearer runs the risk of domestic opposition.
“My wife doesn’t necessarily love my mustache.’’ he said, indicating his well-manicured twirls. “I think it probably has something to do with the kissing.’’
Contestants in Friday’s pageant entered one of four categories: “Uncle Rico’’ (scant lip-fuzz), “Magnum P.I.’’ (thick and bushy), a category with a racy name that McCabe won, and “1899 Maine Legislature’’ (thick and curly in the style popularized in the 19th century).
“Everybody who was a distinguished gentleman had one,’’ said Jamin Badger of Portland, a.k.a. “The Stache Bomber,’’ who entered the 1899 category. He wore the garb of an early aviator and carried a large, wooden propeller as a prop.
“Sometimes mustaches are stereotyped as creepy,’’ he said. “But I think we’re breaking that boundary.’’
That notion was borne out by the large number of women in attendance, many of whom had pasted fake mustaches above their lips. All five judges were women. They were on the lookout for “excellence, outrageousness, beauty, sex,’’ said one of the judges, Robin Ivy, a disc jockey at WCYY, a Portland radio station.
The contestants displayed their whiskers to the judges and then hit the catwalk for the cheering crowd.
The Callanans and a few friends started the pageant in 2008. “Almost to a man, the girlfriends and wives were not in favor,’’ Nick Callanan recalled. They were thrilled when 35 people showed up that year. On Friday, hundreds attended.
The organizers added the film festival this year and were surprised when films started coming in from all over the world.
Friday night, pageant-goers got a special screening. A short film from India depicted the life of a woman who sticks a fake mustache on her face as a little girl that stays on throughout her life - and appears on a newborn when she is reincarnated. A Hungarian film documents the history of the national mustache - “Big and bushy, pulled to the side, wax allowed.’’ An entry about a Sri Lankan barber shop proclaims that “men who have a mustache are real proud!’’ And an American short film features a street face-off between a mustached man and the wearer of a goatee (“I’m gonna wax you right now!’’).
Mustache mania is not limited to Portland. The American Mustache Institute - there is one of those - has proposed to Washington an act that would give Americans a $250 tax credit “for maintaining their incredible good looks’’ through sporting a mustache.
The institute - which, according to its website, was founded in 1965 - has organized a “Million Mustache March,’’ set for today in Washington.
Matt Chamberlain of Portland, who pranced along the catwalk in his 1899 Maine Legislature mustache to the beat of “Good Clothes’’ by Little Brother, considered all this and deemed it a sign of progress.
“I think that’s what we’re trying to get rid of is the bad rap a mustache has,’’ he said. “It has been a good social experiment.’’
There is one problem with his bushy ’stache, however.
For kissing, he said, “it’s horrible.’’