For those unfamiliar with “Times Square Weirdness,” my series of photos of the odder denizens of Times Square, shared frequently on my Facebook page, you may be surprised to learn of my familiarity with the Elmos and Spider-Men that people The Crossroads of the World. One by-product of this frivolous pastime is that whenever a new “character” appears, I note it almost immediately and, whenever possible, record it for posterity.
Today I was surprised to encounter a nattily attired, white-haired gent calling himself “Mike Hot-Pence,” playing off the name of our Vice-President-elect, to whom the man bore a strong resemblance. He was, according to the sign on his back and the jar in his hand, collecting funds to support Planned Parenthood, an act of admirable yet relatively subtle political theatre.
The name, you ask, why the name? Oh, I neglected to mention: he was nattily attired from the waist up, but wearing only tight, bright blue shorts on a day that was in the mid-40 degrees.
Within 90 minutes of posting my best photo of Mr. Hot-Pence on Facebook, a mutual friend revealed H-P’s true identity: Glen Pannell, a graphic designer, actor and activist. As the photo spread quickly, I disovered other mutual acquantances. Consequently, I am pleased to offer the very first interview (conducted via e-mail) with Pannell about his new persona, on his very first day in character.
* * *
HES: When did you become aware of your resemblance to Mike Pence? And when did you first find out who Mike Pence was?
Pannell: Shortly after the Republican convention over the summer, a few people remarked on my resemblance to Pence. My sister joked with me about it, a friend posted on Facebook, somebody at work made a comment – it all seeemed to happen at the same time, and then more and more people started asking, “Do you know who you look like?” I think I was aware of the resemblance too, but I become more fully conscious of it the more people called attention to it.
I have family in Indiana so I knew that Pence was governor. But it wasn’t until he signed the anti-gay Religious Freedom Bill last year that I really started paying attention to him. I’m gay so that made me sit up and take notice. And it’s those kinds of policy decisions that are energizing my activism now.
HES: How did you conceive of your alter-ego, Mike Hot-Pence? Did you come up with the name yourself?
Pannell: I did come up with name myself! A friend suggested I dress as Mike Pence for Halloween. But a straightforward Pence costume seemed a little lazy. I was also concerned that people might take it as an endorsement of the Trump-Pence ticket. So I decided to have some fun with it and dress as “Sexy Mike Pence.” Once I decided on jacket and tie for the top half and short shorts for the bottom half, the “Hot-Pence” moniker popped into my head. And that’s the origin story of Mike Hot-Pence.
HES: It’s already pretty chilly out. How long do you see yourself seeking funds in Times Square?
Pannell: I’m a wimp about the cold so I’d like to look at some other locations, preferably indoor, so that MHP makes it through the winter months with all his fingers and toes intact. But I won’t let the weather stop me. It may just mean layers and lots of coffee. I found on my first outing that Times Square has some other challenges regardless of the weather. There are a lot of costumed characters competing for attention, all in their Designted Activity Zones, so breaking through that noise and getting people to pay attention is tough.
HES: In addition to Planned Parenthood, are there other charities you want to use the character to raise funds for?
Pannell: Absolutely, For the next few weeks, I’d like to raise money for Natural Resources Defense Council, The Trevor Project, and International Refugee Assistance Project, among others. I want to concentrate on charities that support people and causes that may be especially vulnerable under a Trump-Pence administration.
HES: I read on Facebook that some people may have been less than gracious to you in this persona. Are you concerned about people not caring for your persona, especially since it seems to be getting lots of traction very quickly?
Pannell: I can only control what I put out there, not how people receive it. I’m trying to provide as much transparency for the fundraising part of it so that people know it’s legit. 100% of the money I collect goes to the charity. Some people might not care for it or may think I’m being opportunistic. Yes, I am being opportunistic! I’m using this opportunity to raise money for people that will really need it over the next couple of years. I do promise to heed Michelle Obama’s words, “When they go low, we go high.” And that was tested on my first fundraising outing. Even with the short shorts, Mike Hot-Pence is a classy guy at heart.
HES: If you could say one thing to VP-elect Pence, what would you like to ask or tell him?
Pannell: Just one? I’ll keep it short: You have to represent all people, not just the ones that look like you. And me.
Follow Mike Hot-Pence on Twitter. He’ll keep everyone posted there about his appearances and the funds raised.
Photos © Howard Sherman