Times Square’s Puffy Hustlers.

One nice thing about my current workload is the chance to see Times Square at its Christmassy finest. There are lights, trees and blaring Christmas music at every turn, and I’m always reminding myself to stop, look around and soak it all in. And then, when I do, someone bumps into me and calls me a fucker.

Christmastime has also brought out Times Square’s best-ever assortment of costumed hustlers. Half a dozen or more on every street corner, ready to trade Kodak moments for a dollar a pop!

I shouldn’t have to tell you that this isn’t entirely on the up and up. It’s not like Disney strategically placed Mickey and Minnie on the corner of 42nd and 7th in an effort to raise fifty bucks a day. Doesn’t bother me at all. Compared to how aggressive or downright nasty some of the area’s other hustlers can be, these costumed weirdos are a-okay.

These photos were taken last night. Keep it mind, this doesn’t at all represent the total number of costumed characters lurking around Times Square, which I’m betting is over 50. These were just the ones I saw on the short walk to the bus. Two Mickeys (one in a Santa suit, another in something shinier), a Minnie, the Statue of Liberty, and even Santa Claus himself were among the highlights.

To give you some idea of how bizarre and wonderful this phenomenon can get, here’s a photo I snapped a few days ago:

TWO Super Marios in the same spot. Plus Dora! And Puss in Boots!

The great thing is how the people in these costumes seem to share a camaraderie. I imagine them as one “team,” pooling their money at the end of each day and splitting the profits. I’m sure that isn’t the case, but considering how ugly things would get if these guys had no respect for each other (picture two Elmos paw-fighting over who gets Tourist Mary’s dollar), I’m glad they’re so cordial.

I feel strangely fortunate to end my workdays with glimpses of these creatures. Santa Mickey, I’m sorry I didn’t give you a dollar last night. It’s not that you didn’t deserve it. I’m just shy.


40 Responses to Times Square’s Puffy Hustlers.

  1. Wow, I didn’t even know that was a “thing” outside of Hollywood! I learned something new.

  2. It’s been a thing for a long time here, but only after they turned several streets into “park/pedestrian” areas that it really exploded. It’s so much fun. I’ll do another post down the line just to illustrate how many characters are out there. (Sooo many — even Power Rangers.)

  3. I was going to ask if you gave any of these characters money, especially the weird puffy Santa guy you got head-on, but I guess the last sentence answers that question.

  4. Nope, actually went fully prepared to, intentionally using twenties to buy coffee so I’d have a stack of singles. But it seemed like money only changed hands when you wanted them to take a picture with you or actually pose. Basically, I was a bastard and didn’t feel like adding any intimacy to this already strange experience.

  5. Dude, there HAVE been fights between Elmos. In Central Park there was one crazy guy in an Elmo costume, who would start screaming profanities if people didn’t tip him. He also got into a fight with another Elmo who was on his turf. He got arrested several times, and finally left for California. If you google it you can see video, its pretty hilarious.

  6. I’ve never been happier to be wrong!

  7. Having been a Hollywood Street “Performer” like 4 times(peter griffin w/Stewie & Leatherface), it is one of the most degrading and exhausting experiences I have ever had to endure.(hence 3-4 times) there is no camaraderie(at least in Hollywood) more of a turf war. Just Youtube Hollywood characters, and see what I mean.Hollywood characters are for the most part mentally unstable, or drug addicts….some real scumbags under the fur and masks. Not people you ever want to take pictures with….

  8. I have a photo of myself with a Grinch that I found in Rockefeller Center. I paid him one dollar to be in the photo with me. The reason I selected this particular Grinch was because of his lack of commitment. He is not wearing his Grinch legs. He has a Grinch torso, and regular pants and shoes down below. Way to throw yourself into character, the Daniel Day Lewis of Grinches.

  9. I would do a naughty pose with Elmo…just to show my displeasure with Kevin Clash’s recent underage sex scandal…Atlantic City boardwalk has a “beggars badge” you can get at the town hall…basically you can set up shop in designated areas a few hundred feet from each casino….some people play guitar…some just out and out beg…I want to dress in a costume maybe in the spring…see what I can get….

  10. There is an awesome documentary called ‘Confessions of a Superhero’ that you should check out. Its about those guys who dress up in costume out in Hollywood and take photos with people.

  11. I am not surprised to hear that it’s not all peaches and cream, but it’s fun to pretend. (I do think the “turf war” thing is largely missing from TS, because these guys are WAY too close together. Even if they hate each other, they do a good job of keeping it private.)

    Given that the area is pretty policed, none of that shit would fly far, anyway.

    @Rev: Dohhh. I want to see a Grinch. :(

    @ZombieRot: That’s pretty incredible. I’d love to hear more about your experiences. How does one even fall into this line of work? I assumed you just randomly decide to do it and see what happens. Are there rules? Are there bosses?

  12. I wonder how much these guys make. I could do this for a living.

  13. I just keep thinking about how easy it would be to knock one of those guys over, then watch them struggle to get up without having their costume heads falling off.

  14. Jeremy, I believe they would eviscerate you if you tried something like that. It takes a real survivor’s mentality to thrive as a giant friendly furry in Times Square, humoring tourists for dollars. I fear no man but I wouldn’t taunt these guys. Essentially they are like strippers, without the protective benefit of bouncers.

    My theory is that if you pull off those giant mascot heads, you find a smaller, human sized version of the same head underneath.

  15. I used to have to dress up in costumes just like those for my families grocery store. I was the honey nut bee, Chester cheetah, an Oreo cookie, etc. I want to know where they store these dollars. It’s not like there’s pockets on those costumes.

  16. Carnacki: Yeah that was the “Evil Elmo” who would curse and say racist stuff. People were still standing their kids in front of this nutjob to take pictures with him.

    “And then, when I do, someone bumps into me and calls me a fucker.” Sorry Matt didn’t know that was you. ;)

  17. Ha, I didn’t know they did this outside Hollywood either. My friend used to do Edward Scissorhands on Hollywood Blvd, but eventually the police kicked them all out, because some of them would be real jerks about getting tipped. They’re slowly starting to trickle back in now.

  18. @matt Heh, not really all that hard, grab a costume go stand on the street. only real “rule” was Don’t ask for money. You can tell people that you “accept tips” which is Ok.No bosses just vague rules of conduct. i have not done this in several years, and i know at one point it was Illegal to do this, but i think it went to court, and it was deemed legal…not sure. I went with a friend at the time who has a Batman costume.Basically you try to just stand out, and get attention. At one point I Really pissed of this D-bag who was “freddy” he was getting all up in my face about “being in his area”. it is kid of a pissing contest.But with unstable freaks in costume. most i ever made was about 65$ for 9 hours of standing on my feet. Free money sure, but not without it’s cost. Check out the documentary “Confessions of a Super Hero” I have been down there with most those guys. if you want more info just e-mail me i’m happy to elaborate.

  19. With those sunglasses, the Statue Of Libery one looks a lot like Michael Jackson circa-1984 to me.

  20. Goddamn, I wish I could see that!

    Sidenote: Matt, have you had the peppermint hot chocolate from McDonald’s? TINY CANDY CANE-SHAPED SPRINKLES! It is absolutely delightful.

  21. Ahh, one of the, ahem, delights of big cities. I wonder if they do this in Philly, too? ;)

  22. :-O it looks like a really terrifyingly bad acid trip, makes me feel uncomfortable just looking at it, specially cookie monster hahaha

  23. I’d hate to be Elmo right now though.

  24. I wonder if “Minnie” is a guy.

  25. What? No one in a Donald Pleasance costume?

  26. these guys always skeeve me out

  27. Oh, please tell me that somewhere, there exists pictures of kb in a Honey Nut Bee costume.

  28. Ahh, the Puffy hustlers of Times Square. Gotta love them. A few years back, I believe I met the Spidey Bum Matt posted on XE. I know I saw one of them, wearing a kid’s backpack full of Spider-man pictures to sign.

    Also, in the last year I managed to accidentally run into the Naked Cowboy. Twice.

  29. You learn something new everyday. What I learned today is I am such a country girl, I didn’t know such things existed anywhere!

  30. I got a picture with Cookie Monster and Elmo a few years ago and was mortified to see the people’s real faces through the mouths upon zooming in on the picture. It was creepy. :(

  31. I haven’t been to NYC in 3 years. My husband hates crowds, so I pretty much can’t take him anywhere anymore. But if I go to NYC a medieval sorcerer may try to steal my baby, so I guess it’s for the best.

  32. I found one where an Elmo is cursing in Central Park and a guy in a heart tuxedo comes over and tells him off. After that the Elmo character is silent. Click my name to see it.

  33. Okay, apparently that guy I mentioned in my last post and linked the video was doing his ranting for months in both Central Park and Times Square. It makes me wonder if these are people hired by agencies to portray these characters or they are just regulars who figure if they dress up like some cartoon or muppet character, they can earn a few extra bucks. They ran a story about him on CNN. Click my name to view it.

  34. I sure do love reading people’s crazy NYC stories, but I think that if I went there I would die of a panic attack in like 30 seconds flat.

  35. I made my friend, who is terrified of costumed people, pose with a Mickey Mouse hustler in Times Square last year. “Mickey needs a tip!” he squeaked as she came closer to him. I gave him a dollar for at least attempting the voice.

  36. I used to work at the Toys R Us right there, and those costumed characters are my LEAST favorite thing. They hang out in the Bryant Park D station without their heads on and it is deeply scarring.

  37. I’ve not run into them before in Hollywood. Dang I’m missing out! I’m going to be in NYC in January so I’ll try to snap at least one picture with these crazies. I can’t resist stuff like this!

    Well I can say with a decent level of certainty that other than the Evil Elmo that San Francisco is NOT a Mecca for those weirdos. San Francisco has too many of it’s own crazies to need them to dress up in character. They’re more into musicians, crazy street preachers that think women are evil (in front of the giant mall on Market St. no less) and down in tourist hell Fisherman’s Wharf it’s all about those Silver and Robot people.

    My favorite SF hustler is this guy that hides behind a bit limb from a tree or bush and jumps out at unsuspecting tourists in Fisherman’s Wharf. I saw him scare an old Japanese couple within an inch of their lives once. I almost feel bad but honestly being a clueless tourist puts you at risk for a lot of petty crimes so maybe he’s actually doing them a service!

    My FAVORITE and I mean favorite tourist schiesters on the planet are the zebra donkeys in Tijuana. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tijuana_Zebra These things are on every damn street corner in tourist areas of town. I mean hell they have their own Wiki that must mean something. I was always too shy to get my picture with one when I was down there. I certainly plan to remedy this next time I’m in TJ.

    When I was in Brazil (Balneário Camboriú a beach city; picture Waikiki) there was this Drag Queen that essentially did the same thing. She would be out there in all weather and finally on one crappy rainy evening after walking past her for nearly a week straight I stopped and got my photo. That’s dedication right there and I respect that! She also had a different costume every time I saw her.

  38. This documentary, Confessions of a Superhero (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1016164/) is actually really good. It’s about the people that dress up outside of the Chinese Theater in Hollywood. I had no idea about these people until I watched. Interesting!

  39. All of the attention is on Elmo, but I’d like to point out that that’s one FUCKED UP Cookie Monster!

  40. So instead of prostitutes in Times Square we now have people in costumes wanting tourists’ money.

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