Brent Heuser is so much more than a typical pumpkin carver. This multi-talented artist can carve everything from pop superstar Lady Gaga to RuPaul, and even can get ultra personal by carving your favorite pet or even Ryan Phillippe’s butt from Cruel Intentions (it’s a long story). Since launching Brent Pumpkins five years ago, master carver Brent Heuser is the go-to person for all things Halloween, with the High Line Hotel in New York City setting up Pumpkin Bottle Service during the season, with Heuser carving personal pumpkins for customers over a bottle of Veuve Clicquot. Recently, Heuser’s Brent Pumpkins’ BrentPumpkins instagram has featured pumpkins he has carved on his own, with everything from RuPaul’s Drag Race superstars Sasha Velour and Peppermint to Broadway dynamo Patti LuPone, to the logo for Asbury Park nightlife complex Paradise! I sat down with Brent to chat about how he dove into the world of pumpkin carving, what it’s like traveling with Real Housewives of New York star Countess Luann on the Countess and Friends tour, and what his next carving medium very well may be.
Michael Cook: Tell me how Brent Pumpkins was formed..
Brent Heuser: Brent Pumpkins actually began five years ago in my hometown of Elyria, Ohio (shout out to family and friends)! I was touring with Chicago the Musical and we had an extended break during the Halloween season. I had waaayyy too much time on my hands and lots creative energy to burn, so I took it out on pumpkins! I started with cartoon characters like Elsa from Disney’s Frozen, and attempted to follow her up with other more intricate carvings, such as Lady Gaga and Jack Nicholson as the Joker. I guess I became a little obsessed (or a lot obsessed rather.) When friends of friends kept sliding into the DM’s asking for carvings, shortly after I opened Brent Pumpkins! I’m a person who goes full force into whatever I do. As I’m self taught on pumpkins, I try to push my skills year round. I think Brent Pumpkins became bigger and bigger every year because I try to grow every season, and I also like to surprise social media with a left hook… so you have no idea what I’ll be carving next!
MC: When did you realize that carving was something that had really taken off and was going to be super special?
BH: You know, I actually knew in the very first season. I lined up the front porch of my parents’ house with all my works as I carved them. People would bring their children by to see the pumpkins light up and were in awe. The kids would just smile and say “Elsa!” There’s something heartwarming about a carved squash! Especially when you carve someone’s face or pet’s likeness into them. The local news in Cleveland, Ohio featured me in a few segments carving on live TV my first year carving. After that, with my Lady Gaga jack-O’-lantern going berserk on Twitter, I knew I was just going to be that pumpkin carving weirdo! My second year carving I moved my hobby to NYC, where it has truly become a seasonal business.
MC: Pumpkin Service Bottle Service, The High Line Hotel; what a brilliant idea; tell me about how this all came together and what the experience is like carving for people…
BH: Pumpkin Service is my absolute favorite. Last year, we debuted the event and after one week the rest of the month sold out completely. I cannot take credit for the idea, it is all the brilliance of the owners of the hotel. I got referred to carve at their annual dog costume parade. After that event, I developed a relationship with the hotel and they created the idea and branded it all out. I was very lucky to happen upon the High Line Hotel as it has elevated my skills even further and has given me a platform to showcase my strange art! People can make reservations online that include a bottle of Veuve Clicquot and a one of a kind pumpkin from me, whatever you want! It is a very daunting task, and I love the thrill of it. Guests have all left more than happy with their experience.
There are some really special pumpkins that come from it. A couple came last year and had lost one of their dogs, so they wanted a photo of the two of them together carved into a pumpkin. Let’s just say we all hugged it out after it was carved because it was a very special moment. Another reservation was a Father who came to have his son’s portait carved into a pumpkin. The son’s absolutely crazy about all things Halloween, and I’m pretty sure his dad got the Father of the year award after that. The experience is just awesome. We are back for the second year of Pumpkin Service and have tripled the reservation availabilities. The event is open to all in NYC, you can book a reservation at https://thehighlinehotel.com/pumpkincarving !
MC: I hear you have done some work with a RuPaul’s Drag Race winner (Sasha Velour) and might be carving for another All Stars winner? Tell me about it…
BH: Haha who have you been talking to?! We got a leak in here! Well, I’m a huge fan of Drag Race; I can quote it all day long. So naturally I’ve carved a few queens. Sasha Velour’s rose petal reveal was one of my first works this year. Last year I carved Shea Coulee in a scene from Drag Race saying “Vote Bitch!” She posted that one, which I fully gagged for. I also carved a pumpkin for Peppermint, her “Club Kid Couture” costume from Drag Race. She used it at her booth at RuPaul’s Drag Con NYC. I carved Rupaul a couple years ago, and it’s great. However I want another go at Mama Ru, as my skills have developed so much more. Secretly, I hope one day they’ll invite me on the show to do a mini challenge where the girls dress up pumpkins in drag. Then I’ll carve something EXTRAVAGANT for Ru. I dooooo have plans to carve another very special queen this year… but shhhhh I can’t talk about it quite yet. You’ll have just to tune into @brentpumpkins to see something Drag Race fans will love.
MC: You’re craziest or most intricate carving you have been asked to do; tell me about it?…
BH: Oh, hands down, Ryan Phillippe’s butt from Cruel Intentions, and it actually started out as a joke. Which by the way, some of the BEST pumpkins that get allllll the social media buzz are total puns and jokes. So, I thought it would be funny to carve the Eggplant emoji next to a Peach Emoji and decorate it with little hearts like they were in love. To symbolize… well… you know what it symbolizes. Well, the picture got sent to a media sites editor, to see if he could use it for content. He responded something like, “I may be able to use this, but call me when he carves Ryan Phillippe’s butt from Cruel Intentions.” He meant it as a total joke. Our PR guy sent it back to me and said, “What do you think…?” So naturally, I carved those cheeks perfectly! Ryan posted it to his stories actually. We surprised the editor with the pumpkin, who had probably forgotten he even made the joke about it, and he was blown away. ‘Twas a hilarious pumpkin indeed!
MC: When you’re not carving, you have been on the road with Countess Luann and her cabaret show Countess And Friends; tell me is life REALLY a cabaret with Luann? What has the experience been like? Are you still “Feelin Jovanni” after doing so many stops with her?
BH: Ohhhhh you’re looking for dirt are you?! Haha! Well, I have to tell you, being on the road with Luann has been incredible. She’s a blast to work with, incredibly sweet to me, and I always enjoy going back to Countess And Friends. We have played plenty of sold out concerts and the crowds adore her. She really has a hit show on her hands. I get to jump in and out of her cabaret and it’s kind of perfect for me personally. After being on the road consistently for over ten years with touring productions, it’s cool to do a few concerts here and there. I also get to sing to Luann and dip her, not to mention bring the house down with a couple of really great songs. It’s also a cabaret, so it’s full of improv. I keep up with the Real Housewives and get to throw in a few new jokes here and there based on what went down that week. So all in all, I’m definitely “Feelin Jovani”. In fact, I’m feeling so Jovani that I’ll be performing again with Luann in late November and early December. Go to www.countessluann.com to check it out! OH and Luann is very tall, and I’m 6’7. So onstage we look like a prom couple together, it’s amazing.
MC: From ice sculptures to large foliage, you could go anywhere with this line of work; think we could see you doing more than pumpkins?
I’ve got plenty of tricks up my sleeve. I’ve been doing hyper realistic charcoal drawings, painting, and even trying watermelon art. Nothing is quite like pumpkins, but I do intend to expand to more unconventional mediums. Ice Sculpting is actually something I’d LOVE to get involved in. I just don’t know where to start! I think any artist can diversify their talents across many mediums. When I’m not carving, I wear a thousand different hats being an actor in NYC first. So in a way it’s nice to have this crazy season of pumpkins everywhere… then put them away until next year when it all unleashes again. I’ve been focusing on continuing to brand out Brent Pumpkins.
I’ve actually got merch for the first time ever this season! It’s an image of a Jack-O’-Lantern in drag, aptly named Jackie O’ Lantern. The back of the shirt says, “Yaaasss Hallokween!” The artwork was done by my talented friend Matt Becher and it’s hilarious. They’ve been a huge hit already that I’ve had to order more stock. So while I am focused on expanding into other forms of art, I want to make Brent Pumpkins the best it can be, while staying focused on my acting career in the off season. I think, though, that the two will align in some way in the future.
MC: When you’re not carving you’re a master bartender in New York City; what’s your best fall cocktail to make?
BH: I can make a vodka soda splash of cran faster than any other bartender out there! (Someone’s totally going to contradict that I know it). But that’s just a staple, not a fall cocktail. As far as those go, anything whiskey. I’m a fan of a Kentucky mule with real ginger beer and extra lime. Other than that, hot cider with a dash of Maker’s is the most perfect thing ever. You can find me at Hardware Bar and Pieces Bar, where they’ve got the best drag shows and once in a while Adele and Jennifer Lawrence come to play!
MC: Where do you want this career to be in five years?
BH: I want a lot of things. I have a brain that likes to think BIG! I want to be carving at big events, and maybe even be an ice sculptor by then. Also, I hope to still be doing Pumpkin Service Bottle Service five years from now. I’d love to try and get on Halloween Wars on Food Network soon, that would be a blast. I also want to write a fantasy book, all around Halloween. I have a lot of ideas and I hope little by little every year I can realize more of them. The “Yaaasss Hallokween” tee shirt started as a joke and now it’s selling out. I think if you just work hard to realize your ideas, focus, and take the necessary steps, you truly can do anything in this world. You just gotta get out of your own way and DO IT. So basically in five years… the sky is the limit!
Check out all things Brent Pumpkins: https://www.facebook.com/TheBrentPumpkins/