An Austin Original

Austin's original weirdo Crazy Carl Hickerson gets his own documentary

Austin's original weirdo Crazy Carl Hickerson gets his own documentary

Crazy Carl Hickerson is an Austin original. If you’ve walked by Esther's Follies on an early weekend evening, you’ve no doubt taken in the unexpected site of Carl spinning chrysanthemums in his palm and flashing his man-boobs outside the theater’s giant window.

Known for years as an Austin institution of weird, Crazy Carl has also had an effect on local politics despite never holding office. And a new film from local production company Beef and Pie, Crazy Carl and His Man-Boobs: An Austin Love Story — screening at Austin Film Festival this Saturday — explores this legendary personality and the last remaining bastion of weirdo hippie Austin.

Crazy Carl (actually his legal name) became well known as an Austin personality during the city’s wild hippie days in the late-1960s, and it’s hard to find an aspect of the city’s culture from the period that he hasn’t touched. Whether it was Eeyore’s Birthday Party, selling sandwiches on the Drag or swimming naked at Hippie Hollow, Carl partook in it all.

And as much as Crazy Carl and his Man-Boobs is about the man himself, this excellent documentary is secretly an unofficial history of "Weird Austin." It covers the heady hippie days of the city as a countercultural mecca from the late '60s through the mid-1990s.

The documentary includes interviews from several Austin politicians, including former Mayor Will Wynn, former Austin City Council members Max Nofziger and Daryl Slusher, as well as mainstays of the Austin performance scene including Kerry Awn, Shannon Sedwick and Michael Shelton of Esther’s Follies.

Crazy Carl ran for city office 10 times from the '70s through the '90s, inspiring others outside the mainstream, like Max Nofziger, to run and win. As director Mike Woolf explains, “When Carl threw himself into the ring of local politics, it had a massive ripple effect.” Nofziger credits Crazy Carl with making him realize he could run at all. Of course, Crazy Carl never actually voted for himself, and his funny, self-aware sound bites were tongue-in-cheek enough to make a person wonder if his campaign was an elaborate performance, a reminder that the city shouldn’t take itself too seriously. As Esther’s Follies’ Shannon Sedwick explains, “He likes to be satirical.”

It’s clear from his funny credentials (first on the list: contortionist) that Crazy Carl knew how to stand out and make voters crack a smile, but the issues he ran on reveal someone with strong ideas for a better city. Some of those have since been implemented, like single-member city council districts and finishing the hike and bike trail. Crazy Carl was certainly decades ahead of his time.
 
So where do the man-boobs come in? In more recent years, Hickerson started showing up at Esther’s Follies and performing outside their giant windows overlooking Sixth Street. But how does one stand out when the whole city that now — thanks in part to Crazy Carl — prides itself on being weird? Well, Crazy Carl grew out his man-boobs. He's not transgender; he just loves breasts. And he also noticed that they got a reaction from crowds.
 
Woolf hopes the documentary helps people better understand Austin, so he (along with his co-director Andrew Yates and the Beef and Pie team) is launching a Kickstarter project to help get the film released publicly online. All the funds raised will go toward music licenses for the film’s soundtrack.
 
“It’s 100 percent a labor of love,” Woolf says. His hope is that all Austin newcomers will watch Crazy Carl and his Man-Boobs and gain a better sense of the man as well as the wonderful city he helped shape. Because without Crazy Carl, the city we know and love might not be what it is today.
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Crazy Carl and his Man-Boobs screens Saturday at 2 pm at the Rollins Theatre as part of the Austin Film Festival.
Crazy Carl Hickerson Austin
The documentary on Crazy Carl Hickerson screens during Austin Film Festival. Courtesy photo