Becoming Burt: How my beard got famous (and Facebooked) overnight

    This weekend, I experienced what may be the crowning moment of my beard-growing quest. Around 12:30 a.m. CST, Feb. 24, someone likened me to Burt Reynolds. At first, it seemed like a passing comment – the kind you hear at parties once everyone’s loosened up a bit. But it wasn’t. This guy had latched on to some resemblance (dark hair + sport coat + facial hair = Burt Reynolds, apparently) and spent the rest of the night exclaiming “Hey! Burt Reynolds!” every time I passed.

    Any comparison to a movie star whose career peaked before most of us were born should be taken with a grain of salt, but there are truly few movie stars who are just as well-known for their body of work as they are for their body of hair.

    But Burt Reynolds? I thought everyone had forgotten about him (aside from a small population of aging women with moustache fetishes). Then I remembered that, while my generation may not have seen Deliverance in theaters, we have seen our fair share of SNL’s Celebrity Jeopardy. In all fairness, since Norm Macdonald played Burt Reynolds in the skit, it was more than likely I was being compared to Norm Macdonald as Burt Reynolds as Turd Ferguson, but this deduction failed to burst my balloon. Norm Macdonald is a comedic genius, so it’s all good.

    The similarity was apparently so striking that one girl felt the need to covertly take a photo and post it on Facebook the next day, tagging me as Burt Reynolds. The joke was funny for a night, but I don’t think it warranted eternal enshrinement in the social networking hall of fame. But I digress…

    As the late Mitch Hedberg once said, “I got to smoke fake pot with Peter Frampton, that’s a cool story. It’s almost as cool as smoking real pot with a guy who looks like Peter Frampton… I’ve done that way more.” I agree. It would be great to be Burt Reynolds, but sometimes just having college students think you are Burt Reynolds is way cooler.

    Just a week before the Burt Reynolds incident, my roommate’s mom visited campus and — upon seeing a more hirsute version of the Matt Leib than she had met in September — commented, “Well, this is new.” I don’t know what that was supposed to mean, but my confidence in the beard — that Samson-like swagger — was all but wiped out. It was at that moment I first wanted out of this winter experiment of mine.

    But then this crazed kid swooped in and saved my beard from possible destruction by comparing it to Burt Reynolds’ moustache. Just as those baldness treatment infomercials claim to give bald men “a new lease on life,” a comparison to Burt Reynolds will give a man contemplating a shave a new lease on his beard.

    Out of this comparison, I have developed a theory. Any aging Hollywood stars reading out there, listen up: It would behoove you to have distinctive facial hair if you want consistent work and reverence into the silver years. Along with Reynolds, perhaps Sean Connery has best employed this little ruse to prolong his career.

    Connery (also famously lampooned on SNL) has successfully cultivated a dual image over the decades – that of the smooth-faced James Bond as well as that of his bewhiskered countenance in hits such as Entrapment or The Rock.

    Suffice it to say, since the beard has helped Connery to two careers, the combination of male celebrity and facial hair must have rejuvenating properties. Turns out your Indiana Jones didn’t need to bring you that dumb grail after all, Sean; all you ever needed was that handsome beard!

    So here’s to you, dude at the party who thought I looked like Burt Reynolds, and to you, girl at the party who agreed with dude at the party that I looked like Burt Reynolds and deemed it necessary to take a picture of me and put it on Facebook. It’s people like you who keep me going.


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