Aug Stone turns hair-brained idea into ‘Sporting Moustaches’

The author will read from his new sports-and-mustache-themed collection of short stories at Prologue Bookshop on Thursday, May 23.
Aug Stone
Aug StoneCourtesy the author

Sometime before the pandemic, around 2018 or 2019, comedian, musician and writer Aug Stone invented a character, Young Southpaw, who served as an exaggerated version of himself. Built on freely associative, stream of consciousness verbal flights, the typical Southpaw routine could see the comic connecting the TLC song “Waterfalls” to snake wine to what he imagines are Bon Jovi’s deep-seated psychological issues with water. (“Why else would you call an album Slippery When Wet?”) 

“It’s not just an act. It’s based on how things just naturally tend to go in my mind,” Stone said in a mid-May Zoom interview. “But even my close friends didn’t believe me when I started doing it live. And I was like, ‘But you’ve known me for years. You know this is how my brain works.’”

These Six-Degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon-like connections – many of which are rooted in assorted dives down internet wormholes – exist throughout Stone’s new sports-and-mustache-themed collection of short stories, dubbed Sporting Moustaches, which the author will read from during a 7 p.m. event at Prologue Bookshop on Thursday, May 23. One fictional, chess-themed short, for instance, can trace its genesis to the 2020 release of the Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit,” which, following a few turns, eventually led Stone to the 1978 World Chess Championship between Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi, a match in which the two competitors accused one another of engaging in hypnosis, black magic and other forms of psychological warfare.

Though Stone described himself as challenged in his ability to cultivate quality facial hair of his own, he grew up enchanted with those who could, making note of both the wizards he aspired to at age 4 and the family friend with the impressive handlebar mustache who drunkenly approached him at a picnic when the author was in his later teenage years.

“And he stepped out of the shadows and called me over, and he goes, ‘Just remember: Wherever you go, there you are,’” Stone said. “And I thought that was wonderful, because I’d never heard that expression before. … And so, this guy, as a character, is someone who always stuck with me.”

These memories came flooding back as Stone began work on Sporting Moustaches, which started as nothing more than a title and then quickly developed into a personal challenge as the writer pushed himself to see if he could turn out enough follicly inspired sports stories to fill a collection. “And that’s often how things start with me, where I hit on a pun … and it’s like, ‘Let’s see what I can do with this,’” said Stone, whose cast of invented characters includes a 19th hockey player whose mustache winds about his stick and a baseball player who grows a mustache for good luck against the protestations of team management, which prefers its players to adopt a more clean-cut appearance. 

This, of course, is not the first time Stone has struck upon a seemingly ridiculous idea and then followed through to see where it might lead. In the past, he’s taken on invented challenges both small (watching “I Know What You Did Last Summer” every day for 37 days) and large, with his 2020 book Nick Cave’s Bar documenting the time he and a friend flew to Germany in an attempt to locate a bar they heard was owned by the Bad Seeds musician.

“Someone told me that Nick Cave owned a bar in Berlin, and this was in 1999, before we were ever really on the internet very much. And so, without doing very much research, we flew from Boston to Germany to try and find it,” said Stone, recalling how at one point in their travels the two found themselves stranded in Prague, in the wrong country and thousands of miles from home. “And to top it all off, we learned that Nick Cave has definitively never owned a bar anywhere. So, to the idea that I’ll go to great lengths for an idea, that really says it all. We flew across the ocean to find something that didn’t exist.”

In a strange turn, part of this new collection's existence can be traced to both travel and performance being restricted in the early years of Covid. Prior to the pandemic, Stone had been ramping up his onstage appearances as Young Southpaw. He said he performed around 170 sets in 2019 and was aiming for more than 200 the next year before the virus intervened. Absent this live outlet, Stone leaned more heavily into writing, focusing his energies on podcast scripts and hair-brained short story collections.

Stone said his parents cultivated his love of language from an early age, tracing his love for wordplay and elaborate puns to his father, who has a similar sense of humor. And yet, Stone initially shied from pursuing writing, recalling how pen and paper continued to tug at him even in the years he attempted to chart a different career course. 

“My first job out of college, I was working at a bank in accounts receivable, but I was having all of these ideas, where I would literally write them out on adding machine tape,” said Stone, who completed a couple of unpublished novels before eventually finding his footing with Off-License to Kill, from 2014, a James Bond parody centered on a drunken spy (James Vagabond) who travels back in time in an attempt to prevent prohibition. “I wanted to sound like my influences early on and I failed miserably. … And I didn't think of myself as copying, but I was. And after you do enough of that, you finally begin to realize, oh, this is me. And then you learn to go with that.”

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