inside a surreal mud wrestle with lily-rose depp and a sasquatch
Water Pearce and Hunter Ray Barker's Great American Mud Wrestle was a surreal pastiche of trashy delights.
Photography Matt Sukkar
The Great American Mud Wrestle went down one sticky Friday evening in August on a sprawling private ranch in Sun Valley, California about 30 minutes from Hollywood. Organized by casting director Walter Pearce and stunt coordinator Hunter Ray Barker, the event’s press release promised a pastiche of trashy American delights — including mud-covered brawls between bodybuilders and cowboys, country tunes from a Willie Nelson impersonator, and a chance to “get dirty” with squealing pigs.
The weirdness began as soon as you walked into the ranch, past a kissing booth manned by a disheveled Joker applying lipstick in front of a terrified-looking child. “This shit is hilarious,” muttered a lanky skater kid watching a team of cleaners in hazmat suits as they jogged up to a wooden tiki bar serving free beer, and started theatrically spraying it down in front of a tittering crowd. No one really knew if these stunts were meant to be performance art, but it didn’t really matter, because everything was melting into a surreal swirl of carnivalesque Americana.
Throughout the night, an assortment of celebrities including stylist Lotta Volkova, model Lily Rose Depp, and horror legend Bill Moseley jumped into a giant mud pit in front of the 300-person crowd, facing off with various friends and costumed creatures, including a drunk Sasquatch and giant corn-on-the-cob. On the sidelines, young Hollywood royalty like Duke Nicholson, Jack Kilmer, Ally Hilfiger, and Charles Melton mingled with legends such as Dog the Bounty Hunter, Goddess Bunny, and Hollywood Boulevard’s most famous street performers.
Two days after the event, Pearce and Barker retreated back to an apartment off Hollywood Boulevard, immediately ordering whippets from a sex shop via Postmates for this interview. In between hits of hissing balloons, the pair explained how their bizarre yet brilliant freak show came to be.
How did you guys meet?
Hunter Ray Barker: Walter’s ex-girlfriend was always complaining about him, so I did a scam on Craigslist saying: ‘my son has been a bad boy and I’m giving his Xbox away to teach him an earnest lesson. Please call and say why you’re a good person and deserve this Xbox.’ And I put down his number.
Walter Pearce: I had no idea who did it, I barely knew Hunter. Then I went to a fake birthday dinner Hunter threw in LA, and slept at his house for the next month from that day forward.
So your friendship has always been sort of based on a troll.
Pearce: Things that start out as joke end up just being real life, it’s hard to tell the difference. Life is kind of a joke, you might as well make it one.
How did you come up with the Great American Mud Wrestle?
Pearce: We did a bunch of whippets and this idea came about.
Barker: I grew up obsessed with wrestling. My parents are hillbilly rednecks from the South. My dad is a very staunch, traditional Southern guy. He’s also a stuntman and a survivalist. Walk into my garage, and you’ll see packed food and banana boats because he thought the world was going to end. I’m from Camarillo, agricultural farmland two hours from LA.
Pearce: I grew up in the woods outside of New York and spent a lot of my childhood in Texas. Some of my relatives blew my fucking mom. Also, my mom is an activist. But the whole point is that this was not political, for once. A drunk Sasquatch wrestling a girl — that’s America.
How would you respond to people who might say this was cultural tourism — a bunch of elite Hollywood kids making fun of Middle America?
Barker: All of those people we brought in — those homeless guys I see on the street and interact with every day — those are the people who make Hollywood what it is, not the celebrities. We put them on the judging table, we made them the stars. At the end of the night, they were like, ‘holy fuck, this is so cool.’ It wasn’t an event for celebrities, it was an event for those real people.
Pearce: Our whole thing on a day to day basis is combining as many worlds as possible. Our ideal crew is the Joker from Hollywood Boulevard, some random sugar daddy, and a Hollywood kid.
Barker: There was no hierarchy. Everyone was on the same land. Lily Rose Depp bought a ticket for $20. It wasn’t celebrities making fun of these people in any way whatsoever.
I thought it was cool that mud was like a great equalizer. No one can be glam when you’re covered in mud.
Pearce: We’re obsessed with American imagery because it’s disgusting. It’s gross. Traditionally, mud wrestling is girls fighting or buff farmer boys going at it. Let’s do that, but let’s throw in everything we can think of.
Barker: A lot of mud wrestling events are dirty old men going to see hot chicks wrestle in the mud. We wanted to flip it on its head and make it far more extreme and funny, and not that at all. We wanted to bring something you could only find in the parking lot of a truck stop, and show that on a larger stage where you can have celebrity people there — and we’re throwing them in the mud.
What was the split between earnestness and irony in your approach to this event?
Pearce: It’s completely earnest. I don’t think about if things are jokes or not. I can’t tell if I love America or if I’m making fun of it. Also, we worked our asses off for three months to throw this.
Barker: I think that’s a really personal question. Growing up with my family who are very traditional conservatives, it put me in a serious depression as a kid, dealing with a lot of hatred growing up. But at the end of the day, this is my family, and I can’t hate them because they’re still good people, or they’re trying to figure it out, or they don’t have the resources to learn. My whole life, when I felt things were so wrong, all I could do is laugh and make jokes. I’ve always felt the best way to bring people together is through laughing and forgetting about all the other things we struggle with day-to-day. Maybe ‘ironic’ isn’t the best word. It’s more tongue-in-cheek.
Pearce: Surreal, too. We had a Willie Nelson impersonator in a Hawaiian T-shirt, a Tiki bar, and a drunk Sasquatch. None of these images are related, but they connect because they’re all America.