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.”