Aaron Perlut, founder of the American Mustache Institute, explains how through comedy, the internet, and some actual lobbying, a "joke" can influence the national dialog.
It's not entirely clear that the American Mustache Institute is a joke. To be sure, it's a put on. The Institute's founder, for example, claims a PhD in nuclear mustacheology. But it's not unknown for the group to advocate passionately and genuinely on behalf of facial-haired Americans. The 'Stache Act, legislation designed by AMI that would bestow a $250 tax credit upon the mustachioed class, sparked controversy late last month in a Maryland congressional race, an incident reported as straight news. Its presidential endorsements are covered by Politico -- with tongue in cheek, but covered still. The American Mustache Institute might be the perfect movement for our times: farcically earnest, digitally adroit, charity-minded and not afraid of commerce, with a hipster vibe that helps it all go down. The Atlantic's Chris Good has interviewed AMI founder Aaron Perlut before. I spoke with Perlut from St. Louis ("home of the world's largest mustache," a.k.a. The Gateway Arch) about what he's learned about selling causes -- even ridiculous ones -- online and off.
Can you give me the background of the American Mustache Institute?
Essentially, we're the greatest organization in the history of mankind behind only the U.S. military and the post-Jim Henson Muppets. [Pause.] We are a civil libertarian group. We are fighting against discrimination against people with facial hair, which happens far more often than you might think. Three for four years ago from a young man in Royse City, Texas, who was removed from his high school classes because he had a mustache. And he was made to shave it or be told that he couldn't go back to school. So we lobbied the superintendent and six months later they actually changed the school board policy. And about two years ago we were contacted by a student at the University of George in Athens who was a waiter at a sushi restaurant. He was told on a Tuesday that if he didn't shave he'd be out of a job on Saturday. We applied pressure to the restaurant and he was allowed to keep his facial hair.