You remember that last guy we interviewed, Greg, who had a lifetime of killer jobs rolled into one existence? We were hoping that finding one successful, super nice, multi-talented dude was just a fluke, and we could rely on the rest of the world to be like us, losers hardly working. Turns out, maybe the world is full of these success stories because we found another one. His name is Joe and besides owing a successful hardware store and creating a blossoming urban garden center, he runs around sidelines of WNBA games wearing a gigantic dog costume, pumping up crowds and turning on furries around the world!
Vice: Hi. So how in the world did you become the mascot for the New York Liberty?
Joe: I was the mascot at Fordham University for four years. During my junior year, some Liberty brass were attending a basketball game and saw me perform. They got in touch with the athletic director the next day and told him they wanted me to try out for the position. I did a Liberty preseason game, nailed it, and seven seasons later I’m still working for the franchise.
You've been doing this for seven years? How old were you when you started?
I believe I was 20 when I was first hired. But I actually started mascotting in high school, St. Francis Prep in Queens. I noticed there wasn't a mascot at the games. I asked the athletic director if there was one, and he pulled this old dusty costume out of the closet. The inside of the head was papier mache, and you could still read the old headlines. I asked him for a spare basketball and football jersey. I wasn't about to run around as naked Terrier.
Yeah, pay is decent. I’m there three hours before games, so yes, there’s food there for me, etc. Beer? No. It’s hard enough to see in that costume without any other physical alterations. Plus I don’t want to end up looking like Will Ferrell from Blades of Glory.
What are some do's and don’ts you have to abide by when performing?
Never speak, never take off your head in public, and never pick up a kid, mostly for fear of them bugging out and possibly kicking you in the junk and dropping them.
Whoa. Did you drop a baby once or something?
I've never dropped a kid, thank God. It's not my specific rule, it's just part of the unwritten mascot code.
Why do you think mascots get a bad rap? They always get picked on in the movies. I don't get it. It looks fun as shit--you get to run around in a huge costume and do tricks and stuff.
Yeah, I never understood that myself. Most people make fun of things they can’t understand and don’t have the balls to do themselves. It is fun as shit for sure. Kids, and not surprisingly, a lot of adults love me as well.
On a scale of one to ten, how much do you enjoy being a mascot?
Once I’m in costume, I’d give it an 11. There are rare times I might be feeling under the weather and don’t feel like suiting up, but I don’t have a choice. I suck it up and rock and roll. You need to love this job. If you don’t, those negative emotions will exude through the costume. My swagger has to be over the top and exaggerated for it to even look normal in costume. Otherwise it’s just a dude in fur getting a paycheck.
Describe the outfit please.
Maddie (as in Madison Square Garden) is a big Labrador with the liberty crown, basketball jersey, and size 33 Chuck Taylors on a normal day.
I'd say he’s pretty badass, but a sucker for attention and affection. Maddie brings it all to the table night in and night out, from getting the crowd amped up, to dance routines, to pranks and skits. Maddie doesn’t care if the team is up 20 points or down, his energy never wavers.
Does it smell bad inside there? Honestly.
Ha ha. Maybe to someone else, but you know how it goes, you can never really hate your own stench. The fur is dry-cleaned after every game, keeping Maddie so fresh and so clean. But the head can’t be cleaned except for maybe some rubbing alcohol to disinfect the pads inside. One of these days, I’ll remember to buy some.
Have you ever had any furries approach you inappropriately after the game? You know, the people who fetishize stuffed animals.
No. That stuff’s pretty creepy. People ask me if I ever saw that Entourage episode involving furries. Still haven’t checked it out. Probably better off. That’s not to say normal female fans haven’t groped me during a game though.
Seriously? How do you react to that?
Acknowledging it can egg them on. Sometimes I'll just play it off jokingly like I'm bashful, embarrassed, or I'll slide my pointer fingers across each other as if they were naughty.
My dad was a cheerleader in college and despite the implications of that, it actually got him loads of girls. You think the same goes for you?
Let’s just say your dad is a smart man.
OK, spill it. What is your favorite and least favorite thing about being a mascot?
Favorite: working in [Madison Square Garden,] the world’s most famous arena, and being one of two professional mascots in NYC is pretty awesome. The only other NYC team with a mascot is the Mets.
Least favorite: camera phones. I hate them. If you remembered to bring a camera, you earned a photo op and I’m all yours. It doesn’t take any work to whip out your phone. And 95% of the time, it takes a crappy photo. On top of that, they barely know how to operate their own phone. IPhones might be the only exception. But I’ll stop and “smile” regardless.
Are you friends with other teams’ mascots or are they your arch nemeses and you totally hate them?
Not really. It’s such a small circle of people to begin with. There’s a mutual respect and admiration for each other’s work because nobody really knows what goes into mascotting unless you are one yourself. Sometimes you might end up working together if there’s a league-sponsored event, which is cool because each character has their own personality and shtick.
So do you and other mascots get together for a night of drinking and actual talking?
Not really. Normally there's only one per team/city. But I've done special league events and yeah, of course we talk shop after work, like most professionals do.
Do you guys ever get weird and try on each other’s uniforms?
No, definitely not. I know how much I sweat while I'm working, last thing I'm trying to find out is how much someone else is. Creepy.
Are there cheerleaders on the sidelines?
We don’t have sideline cheerleaders but we do have the Liberty Torch Patrol.
Are they nice or self-important bitches like in the movies?
They are a kickass group of gals and guys. Most of them have professional dance, gymnastic, or cheerleading experience.
What kind of routines do you do to get the crowd going?
Any dance routine involving a mascot normally gets a great laugh. Two routines this year that really got the crowd worked up were “Mama Said Knock You Out” and “Single Ladies.” For “Knock You Out” I had a silk Muhammad Ali boxing robe and giant oversized gloves and I performed with the Liberty Torch Patrol. “Single Ladies” was a little more daring. I had on a unitard with some shiny sequined bracelets and a belt. In that routine I danced with a team we call the “Timeless Torches,” which consists of all dancers who are 40 years old and older. I’m pretty sure that one’s on YouTube. The improv stuff is great too. We might be down two points late in the game and I’ll jump up on the announcers’ table with a dust mop and air guitar my way through “Thunderstruck.”
It’s not easy being in costume for hours at a time. Endurance and agility are huge in making sure I can keep it up. On average I lose three to four pounds a game. So staying hydrated is vital. The best way to explain how it feels is to picture running on a treadmill inside a sauna, wearing long johns and a parka for three hours. I do work out a bit, but I prefer my exercise through basketball or snowboarding.
You also own Crest Hardware on Metropolitan and run an urban garden center, right? How’d that happen?
My father started the business 48 years ago. I have been working there every winter and summer vacation since I was a kid. After I finished college I came back on full-time and three years ago I opened the urban garden center, which has been really successful so far. We recently expanded the center by 5,000 square feet.
What’s your number one favorite tool and plant?
Oh, it’s gotta be the hammer. No tool has been the alpha, omega, or inspiration for more projects hardware-related or otherwise. And my favorite plant is the Japanese maple. Its beautiful simplicity and color demands your attention.