Peeps trial expert says they're art, not garbage

This week's scheduled trial of Carol "Chay" Burdick, who was threatened with eviction over a Peeps-centric Easter display, has been delayed -- which didn't stop Stephen Colbert from grilling Burdick's lawyer, John Pineau, on the Wednesday episode of The Colbert Report.

But the real expert on grilling is Andrew Novick, who's agreed to serve as an expert witness at the trial, now slated for June 22. On or around Easter, Novick stages an annual Peeps barbecue at which attendees alternately turn the mashmallowy doodads into smores or creative displays; check out for photos like the one seen here. And he plans to testify about their worthiness in both these areas.

"Peeps can serve a dual purpose," he says. "They can be food, obviously. People eat them. But they also have and can be used as decoration and art."

This distinction is important, because Burdick's landlord says her Peeps display was condemned because it was a health hazard -- the equivalent of tacking garbage outside her apartment door.

That's just silly, Novick contends.

"If you don't eat Peeps right away, they don't rot, they don't deteriorate," he notes. "It's not like hanging a hamburger on your door. You won't have animals and things attacking them -- no flies or disease. They just get hard. They almost turn to plastic, really."

Novick knows what happens to old Peeps from personal experience. The onetime leader of the Warlock Pinchers, an infamous Colorado band, he's evolved into what he jokingly calls a "collector/hoarder" -- one who's raised his refusal to throw anything away to an art form. Last year, he was the focus of an exhibition at the Lab at Belmar entitled "The Astounding Problem of Andrew Novick," which celebrated the often bizarre stuff he's gathered over the years.

List highlights: a goose head in a jar, Vietnamese purple yam chips (cubed), a "Got Milk" Barbie, a metal tray featuring animals watching a clown on TV, a Mr. T air freshener. And, of course, Peeps. A light-up Peep. Cocoa bunny Peeps. Sugar cookie Peeps. A Peeps egg-decorating kit. Peeps-flavored lip balm. And more.

"I buy up a bunch of Peeps and do things with them later," Novick says. "I've had Peeps that are many years old in my garage, and they just kind of get hard -- a little bit crunchy. Some people think they taste better that way. They'll wait until they get hard until they eat them."

As for Novick, his own Peeps obsession began with "an Easter barbecue, probably in 1994 or 1995. I'm big into barbecuing, and when I was out shopping, a bought a lot of Peeps. I made sculptures with them, decorated everything with them, and then we roasted them over the fire -- and a tradition was born. We have a diorama contest every year, too."

In addition, Novick is a member of the national Peeps fan club -- sign up here -- and a one-man booster for the confections in all their many variations.

"They make them for all the different holidays now," he points out. "There are Christmas ones, Halloween ones. They're propagating, even though for some people, they're almost too good to eat. They're really, really sweet. A marshmallow coated with granulated sugar -- that's almost too much. Maybe that's why people do so many other things with them."

Which brings us back to Chay Burdick, whose cause Novick fully supports. "You can't call Peeps garbage," he stresses. "No way."