Ever wonder what it would be like to work inside one of those mascot costumes at a big theme park? The supersized faces are always smiling, but it might not so happy inside, as these confessions from one former costumed character reveal.
It starts with the auditions
You would be surprised to know how many other people have worn this costume (Photo: Corbis Images)
There were a couple hundred of us trying out in multiple rounds for a few precious jobs. They wanted enthusiasm, acting ability, dancing ability, total commitment. All for $4.25 an hour. Still, it was a proud moment as a high schooler when I got one of the positions.
Those costumes? You have to share them
The costumes are sprayed and cleaned each night, but you could always smell the body odor of the guy who used it before you. I mean, it reeked. But you get used to it.
It’s hard getting used to the dimensions of a new cartoon character body
Watch that oversized head, Apple (Photo:Takashi Nishimura/Flickr)
It was like trying to dance wearing scuba flippers and a giant pumpkin on your head. One of my first days on the job two guys were standing on either side of me to take a photo. I turned to see if they were ready, and I smacked the first guy in the face with my giant snout, pulled it away, and then smacked the guy on the other side. And just when I figured out that costume, my character assignment changed!
Posing for one photo after the next becomes an endless paparazzi gauntlet
Everybody say “cheese” (Photo: Corbis Images)
The popular characters had to have handlers to move us through the crowds or we’d never be able to get out of there to eat or go to the bathroom. It was like take one picture, shuffle three steps, then take another. Repeating that 100 times with the toilet in view and hardly getting closer was absolute torture.
As the mid-August days go on, the heat and humidity can become unbearable
Everyone would just sweat buckets. And it’s not like you can wipe the sweat out of your eyes, with giant paws and your head totally enclosed. So I’d wear a thick sweatband. Only problem was one day it slipped down over my eyes and I was totally blinded. You’re never allowed to take off your head in public, so I had to start reaching out with my paws, trying to find a wall where I could feel my way to the nearest exit. Luckily, another character saw I was stumbling along and came to my rescue.
Not every mascot is so lucky in the heat
I was marching along the parade route one day — we were having some sort of farming theme — and there was a giant carrot dancing in front of me. He started tilting, then seemed to hop along on one foot while tilting further, and then just flat out fainted. But you’re never, ever, ever allowed to break character, so I just stepped around him and kept dancing. The parade must go on!
The dark side of being a mascot is that not all the guests (or your co-workers) are so friendly
People need to remember there is a person under this costume (Photo: Getty Images)
Nobody told me about the hazing. My first day on the job I was in a big group of characters in a restaurant. Every chance they got, they dumped jam packets into my ear holes. Not good! At the end of the performance they led me to the bathroom to get cleaned up — but it was the men’s room!
Then there are the nasty teenagers
I sometimes got yanked, prodded, poked, pulled by kids I couldn’t even see. If there isn’t a handler to help you, it can be pretty stressful. You’re not allowed to speak or break character, so you just have to take the abuse. I could use my paws to really squeeze someone hard who was harassing me without anyone else noticing — it looked innocent enough, but could make the kid yelp and run away.
I saw a fellow mascot snap one day
(Photo: Getty Images)
Two teenage boys kept running up and smacking a cute little costumed character. They didn’t realize inside was a short but very tough gal. At one point she’d had enough: She grabbed the teens with a vise-like grip, dragged them against a wall out of view, pressed her arms into their necks, and started screaming at them. The terrified boys fled, probably having cartoon nightmares to this day. She would have been instantly fired if she had been caught, but I could definitely sympathize with her.
Despite the heat, the harassment, and the endless, sweaty shifts, there is a reason mascots stay at their jobs
A young girl and mermaid performer hug (Photo: MLiu92/Flickr)
One day this little kid, maybe 3 years old, saw me in my costume across a courtyard in the park. He broke out in this huge smile and came sprinting at me, then wrapped his little arms around my leg in a tight hug. Then he looked up into my giant cartoon eyes and shouted “I love you!!”
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