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Flamboyant hairdresser is a YouTube star

Debra McKinney
Joseph Williams, aka "Joseph the Hairdresser", volunteers his time and talent with the cast of "The Boyfriend" at Cyrano's.
BILL ROTH / ANnchorage Daily News
The Web-based show "Joseph the Hairdresser" stars Joseph Williams.
Joseph Williams of the Web-based advice/comedy show "Joseph the Hairdresser" carries on a multi-subject monologue even as he styles Kari Miranda's hair before a dress rehearsal at Cyrano's in November.
BILL ROTH / ANnchorage Daily News
Williams, left, and director Sean Morris create another webisode of "Joseph the Hairdresser" in the Headquarters Hair Salon & Day Spa off Fireweed Lane Jan. 13.
BILL ROTH / ANnchorage Daily News

Say you're in the film and video production business and there's never enough opportunity to have rampant, feral fun with the craft. And you know this guy -- this crazy, cornball-of-a-guy who's equal parts kick in the pants and potential knuckle-sandwich receptacle.

Why not bottle him up, send him out to the universe and see what comes of it?

That's the short explanation behind "Joseph the Hairdresser," a series of webisode video clips posted on YouTube by an Anchorage filmmaking team.

Joseph Williams, 38, really is a hairdresser, and has been since going directly from his Glennallen High graduation ceremony to beauty school at 17. He has clients who'd follow him into a culvert if that's where he set up shop.

Lisa Lopez, who was referred by her sister-in-law, who was referred by her boss, who was referred by her daughter, sometimes comes away from her appointments exhausted from all Joseph's motor-mouthing and topic hopping. But she's followed him to five different salons in the past seven years.

It's like a party sitting in his chair, she says.

"Sometimes I laugh so hard I can't breath," says another loyalist, Virginia Gill.

Besides a steady stream of clients, Joseph does hair and makeup for independent films, theater productions, beauty pageants, weddings and drag shows.

He even put makeup on a kitchen appliance once to cover a scratch for a Spenard Builders Supply commercial.

The Alaskan Makeup Queen, he calls himself.

So these filmmaking guys were looking for a Web-based project as a playground. And Joseph was looking for an audience, because holding people captive in his chair for an hour or two -- or as many as five when he's applying hair extensions -- apparently isn't enough.

There's nothing you can't talk about with Joseph. Not a thing.

"Oh honey, there's plenty of drama," he says. "People tell their hairdressers things they don't tell their therapists."

Michelle Martin, Mrs. Alaska-America 2006, met Joseph on the pageant scene and has been going to him religiously for a few years now.

"I've been to a million and frankly, I'd rather switch gynecologists than hairdressers," is how she puts it.

When asked to list topics that come up in Joseph's chair, Martin could go on and on:

"Hair, money, physics, children, homes, insurance, movies, marriage, threesomes, bars, drinking, cancer, alternative medicine, tattoos, Internet, how messed up the world can be sometimes, your personal list of people to kill and how he can help you hide the bodies..."

That's the premise behind the "Joseph the Hairdresser" episodes. Viewers submit questions worthy of Joseph's chair, and he answers them in his Joseph-the-Hairdresser way.

Think Miss Manners high on permanent-wave solution.

BATTERED BY BULLIES

Joseph grew up in the sticks, at Mile 93 of the Richardson Highway, where his family owns Grizzly Pizza and Gift Shop.

He hunts. He rides four-wheelers. He chops wood. He changes fan belts.

"All without breaking a nail I might add.

As for his sexual orientation, never mind.

"I have been open and out from birth, much to everyone's distress," he said. "I came out this way: 'I'm here!' So yeah, my upbringing was rather turbulent -- to say the least.

"I'm not all sweetness and bubbles."

The way he tells it, he got hazed every day on the bus from the third grade on. He was an abomination, his tormentors told him. He was headed straight for hell. It says so in the Bible, they said.

Ultimately, all this made him stronger. And it didn't stop him from fighting for the right to be a hockey and wrestling cheerleader in the fifth and sixth grades.

Joseph did marry when he was 21, and has shared custody of his two sons, now teenagers.

"And yes, they know," he says. "I'm really honest about everything."

More recently, Joseph and his best friend, Heather McChesney, decided to have a child together. They share a home, expenses and parenting responsibilities. Phoenix turns five this spring.

"We made a baby the old-fashioned way," Joseph explained. "Isn't it shocking? Where's my parade from Jerry Prevo? Hallelujah, Jesus!"

DEAR JOSEPH

The Internet -- YouTube in particular, where anybody can post whatever on video -- was made for guys like Joseph.

"You can say anything you want," he says. "No FCC. No wardrobe malfunction. Just me being obnoxious in front of the camera."

"He says things you're not used to people saying," said Sean Morris, director of "Joseph the Hairdresser." "And he swears like a sailor."

Morris, a 1987 Service High graduate now based in Los Angeles and proprietor of Alaskan Nomad Productions, made his first "movie" when he was 8 with a video camera loaned him by Alaska television pioneer Augie Hiebert. In 2007, SHOOT, an industry magazine focused on commercials and music videos, named Morris one of the world's top up-and-coming new directors.

Even so, he and his Anchorage hometown team spend a disproportional amount of time chasing down work rather than doing it. So Morris and special effects guy Charlie Marshall were searching for a way to do something fun and quirky without having to answer to anyone.

Then it hit Sean in one of those slap-the-forehead moments: Joseph.

Morris first met Joseph while shooting a music video for local singer/songwriter Colleen Coadic. There was an old lady character in the mix that Joseph worked with on hair and makeup, and Morris was so impressed, he told him so.

"He looks at me, and this is our first conversation ever, and he says, 'Sweetie, if you want makeup like a king you've got to hang out with the queens,' then turned his back on me and strutted away."

The two have worked together off and on ever since.

Besides Morris and Marshall, the core team behind "Joseph the Hairdresser" includes Pat Donnelly, lighting and sound. In addition, Mark Morris does music, and Dan Abbruzzesi, graphics. They shoot their episodes in a makeshift studio in back of Joseph's current workplace, Headquarters Salon & Spa on Fireweed Lane. "Current" because Joseph bounces around a lot.

"I have a big mouth," he explains.

NO SCRIPT, NO BOUNDARIES

How it works is, viewers go to the site www.josephthehairdresser.com, hit the "Ask Joseph" button and write a question. The team then picks one, sticks Joseph in front of a camera and says, "Go."

No script, no boundaries, a lot of editing and special effects.

Joseph bursting into flames. Joseph floating in space. Joseph swimming with tropical fishes.

The team has posted five short episodes so far -- a Halloween special, a travelog, a beauty school confidential, a worldwide search for some guy's missing iPhone and an election special where Joseph goes off on what policies he'd create if elected queen.

Drive-through make-overs, for sure.

Along with serious hairdressing questions, come those like, "Joseph, do I look fat?" and several that inspired a future game-show episode where Joseph tries to guess what intoxicant the person was on when he or she wrote the question. Like, "Joseph, you are the queen of all valleys and basements. Talk to me about compartmentalization and tricks to integrating our twisted pieces into one healthy organism..."

"Can't you just hear the bong in the background?" Joseph says.

"Joseph the Hairdresser," with new episodes posted roughly once a month, has racked up a couple thousand hits so far. It would take a tsunami of them to actually land a sponsor and make money. But nobody cares much about that. These guys are having a blast.

"If our priority was to make money we probably would have stopped by now," Morris says.

Not that he would object to such a thing.

Stranger things have happened. Stranger things happen right in Joseph's chair.

Find Debra McKinney online at adn.com/contact/dmckinney or call 257-4465.


By DEBRA McKINNEY
dmckinney@adn.com