World's Strangest Conventions
Imagine a hotel where, in a single weekend, Brad and Angelina, Jennifer Aniston, John Mayer, and Jessica Simpson all stay under the same roof—without a single catfight or a single tabloid reporter there to document the drama. Sound impossible?
It’s not if the “celebrities” are look-alikes, and the hotel is hosting the annual Celebrity Impersonators Conference. Here, not only do all of today’s A-list stars get along—even long-gone VIPs come to join the party. This might be the only place in the world (apart from a wax museum) where you can get a photo op alongside Elvis and Marilyn Monroe.
This gathering for faux celebrities—and those who appreciate them—is just one of the wacky conventions that happen around the world every year. And given the thousands of people who congregate at these fetes to celebrate their shared passion for horror movies, cake decorating, and TV sitcoms, the fun of uniting around a common interest seems abundantly clear.
“The community of celebrity impersonators and tribute artists is one huge family,” says Janna Joos, director of the conference. “These kids are amazing to see networking with each other—Cher sharing with other Chers, Tina tapping out dance steps with other Tinas, Tim McGraw comparing cowboy hats with other Tims, or Oprah dishing the gossip with Whoopi.”
No matter the common ground, it’s fair to say conventions bring people together—both literally and figuratively.
Perhaps the best-known example of this phenomenon is Comic Con, the annual comics convention in San Diego that draws a motley crowd of geeks, celebrities, artists, writers, and gamers. The event has such broad appeal and is so heavily promoted and anticipated that even non-comics enthusiasts around the world know about it. (As such, it’s become enough of a cultural norm that it didn’t even make our “World’s Strangest” list.)
The annual World Toilet Summit & Expo, however, is another story.
It may seem bizarre that a quotidian fixture like a toilet could inspire an entire weekend convention—one that brings together droves of toilet-industry professionals, innovators, buyers, and, ahem, everyday end-users. But such gatherings aren’t unusual at all. Witness the LEGO World conference, for example, where lovers of the brightly colored childhood building blocks amass each year. Or the Sunshine State Eggfest, a Florida convention for devotees of a particular brand of barbecue grill.
It seems, in fact, that for every human activity or passion or fad, there’s a conference somewhere where people can commemorate it. And if some of these mass gatherings seem odd, well, it’s also kind of nice—heartwarming, even—that they exist. No matter how eccentric or unusual your secret hobby is, these conventions will make you realize: you’re not alone.
World Toilet Summit & Expo, Suntec, Singapore
What It Is: Make all the potty puns you want; the toilet business is a flush industry. And much of this annual weekend summit is devoted to trade-show exhibitions that focus on keeping it that way. While some promote the latest in self-cleaning mobile toilets or toilet-paper dispensers, others aim to address a global human rights problem: bringing sanitation and clean water to the 2.5 billion people around the world who still need it.
Who Goes: A veritable who’s who of throne royalty—including some 300 government representatives, engineers, environmentalists, and manufacturers—along with about 5,000 john-obsessed John Does.
Celebrity Impersonators Convention, Las Vegas, NV
What It Is: Want some guaranteed celeb sightings, without having to battle the paparazzi? Head to this annual weekend gathering, where you can mingle with Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, and Elvis Presley; wink at Sarah Palin while discussing healthcare reform with Barack Obama; croon alongside Frank Sinatra before voguing with Madonna…you get the idea.
Who Goes: More than 150 dynamic doppelgängers, who perform in stage shows, host seminars, and lead classes for wannabe Liza Minellis and aspiring Barbara Walterses.
The Office Convention, Scranton, PA
What It Is: The sitcom may be a mockumentary but there’s nothing fake about the die-hard fans who come out for this annual convention in the show’s home city of Scranton. Attendees sit in on cast-member Q&A sessions or participate in the Office Olympics (inspired by The Office episode of the same name).
Who Goes: More than 15,000 fans of the show, along with 14 gracious cast members. The 2009 event included series creator BJ Novak and also stoic sourpuss actor Creed Bratton, who said of the gathering, “It was very cool beans.”
When: Check www.theofficeconvention.com for upcoming convention dates.
International UFO Congress Convention & Film Festival, Laughlin, NV
What It Is: The world’s largest UFO conference hosts a full week of panel discussions, lectures, and presentations—and attracts all kinds (possibly even the third kind). Perhaps the best events are the nightly sky watches, where hopeful eyes are cast upward toward the expansive and mysterious darkness.
Who Goes: Extraterrestrial experts from around the globe—including Sci Fi Investigates host Richard Dolan and former British defense minister Nick Pope—bump elbows (and night-vision goggles and tinfoil hats) with hundreds of UFO believers.
Scarefest, Lexington, KY
What It Is: America’s largest horror and paranormal convention, which employs the slogan “We Put the Care in Scare.”
Who Goes: More than 5,000 fans flock to this weekend festival each year to hobnob with like-minded horror enthusiasts at pub crawls, catch midnight screenings of indie horror film premieres or classic flicks like Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—and, for couples who want to seal their bond for all ghostly eternity, participate in Scarefest marriage ceremonies. Vampires should stay away, since the convention-sponsored blood drive may prove a little too tempting.
Twins Day Festival, Twinsburg, OH
What It Is: Touted as “the largest annual gathering of twins in the world,” this weekend festival welcomes more than 3,000 sets of siblings from all over the globe.
Who Goes: Twins, triplets, and the occasional quad from as far away as Hong Kong and Australia congregate here to show off, meet up, and revel in their genetic synchronicity. Though some attendees are looking for love (MTV made twin-on-twin courtship famous with its reality show True Life: I’m a Twin), others come for run-of-the-mill festival highlights, like talent shows, contests, a Twin Parade, and that classic family-fun activity: scientific data collection (like DNA swabbing, cardiovascular tests, and surveys).
When: Annually on the first full weekend in August.
Sunshine State Eggfest, Melbourne, FL
What It Is: In this strange alternate universe, everything revolves around Big Green Eggs—not Dr. Seuss creations, but domed barbecue grills with a devoted cult following. The green ceramic smokers and grills have been around since 1974, but the growing fan base keeps new production as hot as the reported 750 degrees inside the appliance.
Who Goes: More than 400 “Eggheads” (passionate Big Green Egg enthusiasts)—gather each year to compete in the annual Iron Egg cooking competition, attend grilling demos, and enjoy lots and lots of barbecue from Egghead A-listers like Bubba Tim and Pork Butt Mike.
International Cake Exploration Societé (ICES) Convention, San Diego, CA
What It Is: An annual cake-decorating expo, where the festivities include browsing among hundreds of elaborately decorated display cakes, competing for the titles of Sugar Artist and Master Sugar Artist, and resuscitating botched cakes at an on-site Cake Hospital.
Who Goes: Cake artisans from around the world and the sweet-toothed fans who love them. Vendors range from fondant to fillings suppliers: specialty cake shops, edible-dye experts, cake-stand manufacturers, and cake trade magazines.
TwiCon, Dallas, TX
What It Is: A brand-new, weekend-long clan gathering for fans of Stephenie Meyer’s teen-vampire Twilight book series, featuring cast meet-and-greets, a masquerade ball, fan-fiction contests, and a fan-made art gallery.
Who Goes: Black-clad, black nail-polished, and almost certainly teenage Twi-hard fans (that’s really a term) from all over the U.S. are sure to mob the first TwiCon. Attendees under the age of 18 need a chaperone, so expect to see a few mother-daughter tantrums.
When: Check www.twicon.org for convention dates and venues.
LEGO World, IJsselhallen Zwolle, Netherlands
What It Is: Ever wanted to see a life-size model of Indiana Jones built entirely out of LEGO blocks? You’re in luck! At this weeklong convention in the Netherlands, giant LEGO constructions take center stage. Watch with bated breath as teams compete in building competitions, or try to beat world-record LEGO construction times; if that’s too much pressure, you can stroll exhibitions of pre-made LEGO masterpieces.
Who Goes: While families with young kids make up the majority of the 20,000-person crowd, a surprising number of adult LEGO “sculptors” travel from around the world to attend. It takes mature skills, after all, to build a life-size baby elephant, a Star Wars Death Star, or the Eiffel Tower out of LEGOs.