In a sobering post-election period, Glen Pannell has figured out a way to make us smile — one pants-less donation at a time.
The graphic designer and actor bears more than a passing resemblance to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, and now he is using that genetic stroke of luck to help others as a part of a tongue-in-cheek impersonation that also raises money for causes close to his heart.
“I was really dejected after the election and spent a month as a prisoner of my Facebook feed,” he tells PEOPLE. “But then I decided to do something to make a difference and put my likeness to Pence to good use.”
Anchoring himself in the tourist mecca known as Times Square last Saturday, the 51-year-old New Yorker transformed into Mike Hot-Pence as he donned a conservative-looking suit jacket and tie from the waist up, and just a vintage pair of short-shorts down below as he held a jar seeking donations for Planned Parenthood.
Standing in chilly Midtown for four hours, he collected $171.21 for the organization and said the reactions from passersby ranged from supportive to indifferent to mean.
“A woman called me a disgusting pig. Some people walked by and said ‘put some pants on,’ But if that’s the best you can come up with, that’s fine with me,” he says.
Undeterred, he was out again the next day, this time raising $133.59 for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Pannell admits that despite his humorous depiction of Pence, the Indiana governor’s policies make him “very afraid.”
“He was on my radar before the election not because he looked like me but because of his record,” he says. “I have family in Indiana and knew about the ‘religious freedom’ bill. As a gay man I stood up and took notice.”
(Pence signed the controversial bill last year, and opponents immediately feared it would allow business owners to deny services to the LGBTQ community. Pence later signed a revised version of the law that explicitly banned the practice, even as the bill remained a source of controversy.)
If he ever meets the real Pence, Pannell knows just what he’d say.
“I’d tell him, ‘If you could walk a mile in my short shorts, you would meet so many people who are afraid and unsure about the next four years because they see rising hate speech in the last four weeks. You say you love this country, you say you have great faith in the American people. If that’s true, I’d say put your policy where your mouth is.”
Pannell debuted Mike Hot-Pence on Halloween after being repeatedly told he resembled Trump’s vice presidential pick. The look was an instant hit as he walked the streets of Manhattan with two old friends.
He didn’t consider reviving the look until well after Election Day, when he was stunned by Trump’s surprise victory. Pannell said he watched in disbelief when Pence took the stage around 2 a.m. on Nov. 9 to introduce Trump as our next president.
“That night unfolded like the most excruciatingly long, slow gut punch,” he recalls of his reaction after the polls closed. “I never cried at work before, but now I can check off that box.”
Finally finding a way to make a difference, he plans to hit the streets of New York again this weekend — this time to collect funds for The Trevor Project, which focused on suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth. He also has plans to help the International Refugee Project before Christmas.
And no, even as temperatures plummet he has no plans to put on pants.