I like to consider myself a woman of principle — I’d never sell out to make a buck! But some of the gigs I do to pay my bills call that into question. And I’m not talking about nude modeling, fetish work or paid escorting.
For the last few years, I’ve been moonlighting as a corporate mascot. I perform at conventions, store openings and community events, high-fiving kids and scaring babies and whatnot. For the most part it’s a pretty good deal. Wearing a full-body mascot suit means I don’t have to wear makeup, do my hair or even smile — I just bumble around inside the costume, scowling and muttering misanthropic curses (especially when it’s an early-morning gig and I’m hung over from the night before).
Meanwhile, on the outside, my costume face is grinning ear-to-ear like the half-witted corporate shill I am. This can get pretty ironic, like the time when I was PMSing and stuck outdoors in 105-degree heat, bawling inside my costume as cars drove by, honking and waving at my moronically grinning exterior.
I’ve performed as many of your favorite characters, although I can’t tell you which ones since I have to sign nondisclosure agreements. But I’ve been a monster, a rabbit, two superheroes, a sheep, a piece of candy, a cookie, a princess, two dogs and a sort of animated squirrel-like creature, among others.
Last week, I scored a particularly sweet mascot gig at the Licensing Expo, a yearly affair in a cavernous exhibit hall full of image-pimpers, soul-sellers and shameless panderers looking to license their name/likeness to any manufacturer willing to put it on, well, everything from kids’ shoes to tampon wrappers. Seriously — everyone is for sale.
And since many of the exhibitors are there to pimp out beloved cartoon characters, there’s always a huge demand for actors to walk around in mascot costumes, waving and posing for photos and inspiring attendees to license that character for their new line of backpacks or butt plugs or whatever.
Interestingly, it’s not just fictional characters who can be licensed — plenty of real people sell their names and likenesses, too. Dead people make the most money: Elvis, Michael Jackson, Albert Einstein and Marilyn Monroe all generate revenue from beyond the grave. But plenty of living souls are for sale. An enterprising koozie maker can license everyone from Flo-Rida and the Duck Dynasty gang to Honey Boo Boo, Barbi Benton and Donald Trump.
Astonishingly, you can even license the Pope’s name and image! Pope Francis (aka “The End of the World Pope™”) had a huge booth at the Expo, with samples of branded sweatshirts, backpacks, T-shirts, notebooks and rosaries. And just think of the money to be made from Pope Francis-brand condoms!
Alas, the Vatican did not pay for a Pope mascot, so I was stuck inside something resembling a giant, grinning Nembutal, a character from some kids’ movie I’d never heard of. It wasn’t a bad costume — it was fairly lightweight, with adequate ventilation and just enough visibility that I didn’t “accidentally” knock over any of the sniveling brats who clamored for photos with me. And that was just the adults.
The exhibit floor was aisle after aisle of screaming, neon-colored, glitter-covered cartoon craziness punctuated by groups of gray-suited businessmen salivating at the prospect of tapping the lucrative tween market. It was like wandering the Fremont Street Experience on mushrooms. And I got paid to do it.
Truthfully, I did feel a twinge at being a cog in this giant machine of mindless consumerism. Do I really want to be part of the My Little Pony industrial complex, convincing tweenage girls that they have to have Bratz training bras, One Direction iPhone covers and mountains of cheap Chinese-made crap?
Not so much. But I needed the money.
Like I said, everyone’s for sale. Even me.
SARAH JANE WOODALL lives life to the fullest and chronicles it all at wonderhussy.com.