Cameron Esposito on great mullets throughout history
The local comic explores the roots of her hairstyle
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There has been as much written about Cameron Esposito’s haircut (an asymmetrical coiffure affectionately referred to as a “side mullet”) as there has been about her infectious onstage energy and genuine talent as a standup comedian. Her hairstyle choice hints at a deep affection for the alternative arts scene: Not only has this Chicago-based comic toured with Maria Bamford, but she also moonlights as a roller derby commentator and has performed as a ringmaster for circuses throughout the country.
In her five years as a comic, Esposito has transitioned from reciting “sci-fi themed poetry” to a more organic comedic form. Her skills as a storyteller are remarkable: There is no aside too far-reaching, no tangent too absurd to explore, before returning to the core of an entirely believable tale. Esposito’s one-woman show, Side Mullet Nation, is based around a handful of such stories. The show was picked up for a short run beginning Aug. 5 at the Playground Theater following a sold-out performance at Just For Laughs earlier this summer. The A.V. Club met with her to trace the lineage of her show’s namesake, the oft-maligned mullet, and to use this exploration as a means to peer deep within herself and her material.
The Founding Fathers
Cameron Esposito: I don’t know if I can go back further than this ... If I wear my hair in a ponytail at the nape of my neck, which is the only way I can wear my hair in a ponytail, I always think I look like I am in the Revolutionary War. Those dudes wore serious mullet wigs. “The Whig Party”? Not a coincidence.
I think all those wigs—with the tiny, braided ponytail with curled bangs in the front—those are early mullets. That is what that hairdo is; we have seen it throughout our lives, so we think that’s just what was respectable in their time, but those men looked ridiculous.
In some ways, Prince is not as revolutionary as we think he is. Heels? Been done. Tiny, spandex pants? Been done. Crazy, poofed-out rattail mullets? Been done. Benjamin Franklin was the original Prince, mixed with Paul Giamatti: He was ugly, but the dude worked up.
CE: David Bowie is the most beautiful woman that I have ever seen, and I have never seen him. He’s gorgeous. That Ziggy Stardust haircut, which is a mullet, but I mean, there’s the oft-repeated truism “business in the front, party in the back.” With his, it’s just all-over party. It’s consistent, 360-degree, all-over party.
The A.V. Club: It almost is like it’s Lego hair that just snaps right on.
CE: It does! It just clips right on. It doesn’t seem like there’s any one, individual hairs. It’s just one hair, his. His hair. There is no businessman present there; it’s all party. This is exactly what my hair would look like, if it was “straight.” I say straight in quotes, because that man’s not straight either.
CE: So, Tegan And Sara, this is exactly what their hair looks like. When they got that haircut, it changed the world. The side mullet is really a marriage between Mrs. Brady and any Jedi, if you just add about the one long Jedi braid that’s in the front to her hairdo.
AVC: This is interesting because, if you ignore the “party in the back,” then she looks like an average suburban mom.
CE: That’s what makes her hairstyle, and the side mullet, such an extreme choice. It’s just degrees away from a completely sane haircut. It’s not a Billy Ray Cyrus sort of idiocy; his haircut didn’t look normal from any direction. Imagine Florence with a nape-of-the-neck ponytail. Do you understand what I’m saying? That’s a very revolutionary style.
CE: First of all, it’s weird to see him without blue-tinted sunglasses. Andre Agassi’s hair, that was a wig. That’s what is amazing about Bono: That goes home with him forever. That never comes off. I think a ponytail is a really important aspect of the mullet. Sometimes you just have to keep it back out of your face, like if you’re driving a long distance or working in Haiti. If you’re doing relief work, you have to tie your hair back, so you can really get your trapezius muscles into it. It’s shocking to think about what it would look like if that was back in a ponytail.
AVC: Well, let’s think again about what this would look like without the party in the back. It’s a pretty standard haircut.
CE: Yeah, that’s 90210; that’s Brandon Walsh. He looks like Brandon Walsh and Michael Bolton. That’s the cool thing about a mullet: It’s not just the business and party aspect. You can pay homage to two different people at the same time.
AVC: So you’re familiar with Andre Agassi’s wig, then. Apparently he used it to distract from the fact that his hair was falling out.
CE: I won’t ever understand what it would feel like to be a man that’s losing his hair, but especially a man that’s losing the hair on his head but remaining so hairy. [Pointing to Agassi’s neck and chest.] He is one of the hairiest of all sports figures. So there’s something to be noted there.
AVC: It’s great how there’s no telling where the neckbeard ends and the chest hair begins.
CE: Yes, that’s another interesting thing about having a mullet: It really highlights your face. The hair from behind is like a backdrop, the hair comes up from the chest, and there’s the hair on top of his head.
AVC: It’s like a picture frame made of hair.
CE: It is. It’s a hair picture frame. It makes his face look that much more angelic.
A Flock Of Seagulls
CE: I get that, actually; people ask me if I’m trying to have a Flock Of Seagulls thing going on.
AVC: I feel like that’s a pretty tired joke. They’re probably just being jerks.
CE: There is a certain desire to comb your short side up. You can make it go down, but you can also rock it up. ... My girlfriend wears her hair in one direction, because she thinks it makes her look more masculine, and then when she flips it to the other side, she looks like a girl. That being said, she always looks a little bit like a boy, so I don’t really know what she’s talking about, but it’s very cute.
AVC: The Flock Of Seagulls guy, his mullet was a precursor to the ridiculous hair of people on Myspace.
CE: Yes. Here’s the other thing about this guy from Flock Of Seagulls: Is it Ghostbusters or Ghostbusters II where there’s a painting of a guy named Vigo that comes to life? I guess what I’m trying to say is that actor is not a handsome man, whoever played that. He was very good at his job, very threatening. The guy from A Flock Of Seagulls reminds me of him: very serious, but not super handsome. I guess what I’m trying to say is that sometimes a very extreme hair choice can be a welcome distraction. I don’t mean that in a jerky way. If you want to be punk rock, but you look like an old-timey haunted painting, you have to go to greater lengths. I like that he has a mullet in the front as well as the back; he has a bangs mullet.
AVC: If you’re not familiar with Nicki French, she’s best known for a dance remix of “Total Eclipse Of The Heart,” and that’s her hair.
CE: Oh wow. I am not familiar with her. The wavy side mullet is something. Here’s something to say about that: There was a time when I was growing up when a lot of moms in the suburbs of Chicago had bobs that were asymmetrical. It was grazing the ear on one side and the chin on the other. That’s what that reminds me of.
I’m sorry, Nicki French, but she—for a dance remix—I mean, she’s not 19, and I think that’s what I like about her. There is a chance that her hair could actually be suburban. That could be country club hair, the country club that likes to party. That’s true of a lot of country clubs; you might not know that.
My parents know everybody at their club. My Dad kisses all of his male friends on the lips. Not because they’re—it's like, “We golf together!”
AVC: They’re like the Romans!
CE: Yes. They’re exactly like the Romans, and there’s baths there. That’s another way it’s like the Romans.
AVC: We’re going to jump forward to 2003 and check in with Scarlett Johansson.
CE: I did not know about this. I’m curious to know what you think about this.
AVC: She’s very pretty, but this is very confusing, as a fan.
CE: It’s a gutter punk style. She could have an army-issued backpack and a dog in Bucktown and fit right in. With a “money for songs” sign. She’s a knockout, but I wish she was better at her job. In Iron Man 2, they had her in this elaborate catsuit, and she was supposed to be all saucy, but literally the whole movie led up to her in a karate pose.
She’s really working hard on making her lips bring in the bucks. I’m sure she’s got insurance on those, so it’s nice to see her with a bit of a gutter punk look. She’s also kind of androgynous with that hair. She looks like Jonathan Brandis. Are you familiar with him?
AVC: I can’t say I am.
CE: He was on seaQuest DSV ... It’s okay, we don’t have to talk about seaQuest. [Whispering into recorder] Yes we do.
Here’s a better example: How about Peter Pan? She looks a little bit like she could be the leader of the lost boys. Any time you ever seen anybody depict Peter Pan, they’re wearing makeup, so we don’t have to pretend like she’s not wearing makeup to make her look more androgynous.
A Skylit Drive
CE: Can you imagine how much acne these guys have on their necks? This is something you don’t know about this style. You can’t really get the swoop without product. Hair doesn’t just stay down without product; it’s ephemeral, it wisps into the morning dew. In order to get hair like theirs—all of their acne is on the one side of their neck—you comb the product down your hair, and then it all gathers at the bottom.
I’m just being real. I’m just talking to you about the real shit here. The red-haired guy on the left, that’s sort of what my hair looks like sometimes, if the short side is a little longer. The idea is that you want it to look like a sudden gust shellacked your hair to your head. Like, it was gusty but sticky outside.
AVC: The red-haired guy’s hair has potential energy. It’s all flowing, pushing counter-clockwise.
CE: Yes! There is potential energy. I don’t know if you’ve watched any of the World Cup this year, but there’s this new element they’ve added to the broadcast that they can add in digitally for no reason. They were putting “action rings” around people that were about to kick. When they would go back and show the play again, they would have little rings swirling around them to show where their legs were going to go, and that’s really what I think of when I look at his head: It’s like an action ring.
So if we were going to earlier than the Revolutionary War, I think we could go to knights. I have no idea if this is accurate, but in a lot of visual depictions, paintings, movies, and such ... and the CGI rendering of Beowulf, knights always have bangs. I’m assuming it’s so they could have the kind of helmet where it goes down on your nose. [Laughs.]
AVC: It’s padding, so it’s not just metal on skin.
CE: Exactly. Knights had mullets, and that’s what the guy on the far right looks like. He looks like he took his helmet off just before this, they put him in a T-shirt, and he's like, “What’s this garment?” He’s from the past.
What’s cool about the guy in the middle, here, he’s pale as a ghost; his hair doesn’t make any sense. It’s sick, straw-colored hair; it’s definitely dyed, but not dyed fully. To bring it back to the Bradys, he looks like Jan Brady.
Here’s the thing about rock, and it’s why I like David Bowie: To be badass, you have to not give a fuck, or, you have to be so specific in a new way. I really respect Lady Gaga; she has a vision. She’s not letting anyone mess with her face. She’s messing with her own face. Bowie was the same, and that’s punk rock. This guy in the middle is kind of punk rock, because he’s like: “I refuse to wear eyeliner.”
AVC: There’s almost an air of “get a load of these guys…”
CE: There is! There’s definitely a “get a load of these guys” air! So, I feel very comfortable in this hairdo, but there’s a certain aspect where I’ve gotta check myself before I wreck myself, because I know that I go home to a bed. I actually sleep in a bed and not a subway terminal. So I guess it’s only punk rock in that I came from the suburbs. [Laughs.]