David and Jill Lira’s voices cracked as they recited their vows to each other, a renewal of ones made a decade ago.
Their obvious care for one another was the only natural aspect of this highly unorthodox scene. David wore a luchador mask and came as professional wrestler Rey Mysterio Jr., while Jill was dressed as a soot sprite, a magical character from the anime classic “Spirited Away.” They stood in a pop-up “Geek Chapel” set up by the SyFy network in an empty lot in the heart of San Diego’s Gaslamp District.
Officiating the ceremony: Orlando Jones, who most recently played Mr. Nancy on the hit series “American Gods.”
Yep, I’m at.
So in addition to getting swag, celebrity autographs and sneak peeks at upcoming films and shows, you can now commit to your soul mate at the increasingly varied pop-culture mecca that is Comic-Con. But while most of the stars and activities at the show are promoting some new project, Jones wanted to focus on the fans. As a result, the “Geek Chapel” is one of the rare slivers of authenticity in a town where everyone is trying to pump you up for the next big thing.
“For me, this is about a community,” said Jones, who originally pitched the idea to SyFy. “I thought it would be cool to do something that wasn’t marketing to this community.”
So while there were the silly Comic-Con touches — a band that played selections like the“Imperial March,” or Wonder Woman and Batman rings — the feelings were serious.
Jones said he was surprised at how emotional he got as the Liras said their vows.
“In terms of heartstrings, that was the toughest to try and maintain,” Jones said in an interview on Thursday. “Those weren’t idle words to them.”
Jones didn’t come up with this plan on a whim. He has been trying to marry off Comic-Con fans for the past four years, and had been soundly rejected each time he made his pitch.
“I wanted to do something that felt distinctly genuine to this community,” he said. “And it’s always tricky when you’re doing something with a company.”
Enter SyFy, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary amid a push to rebrand itself. The company organized around a campaign called “#ItsAFanThing and wasn’t looking to push any specific shows. So while the “Geek Chapel” did have various SyFy logos around, the advertising wasn’t overt. Jones wasn’t pitching any show and doesn’t have a project with SyFy.
Jones felt strongly enough about the project to get ordained at the Universal Life Church specifically for Comic-Con. He was decked out in a black suit and minister’s hat, making sure he had the appropriate attire for the gravitas of the situation.
“You marry someone, and it’s a lifelong memory,” he said. “It’s something you are part of that’s so far beyond a movie or a television show.”
Jones is just getting started — he’ll be officiating ceremonies for the next three days. He hinted that he may continue doing this at future comic book conventions and says he’s already had requests.
‘Sharknado’ in love?
The pop-up chapel is an open-air venue with AstroTurf and trees brought in for the occasion. Six short benches, three on each side, lined the aisle, and attendees received paper confetti to throw at each couple.
At one rear corner was an array of wedding accoutrements, from bouquets made from comic book pages to Lego bowties. The opposite side featured a wedding cake, which couples had to share.
SyFy chose an empty lot between the Gaslamp Strip Club (it’s a steak house) and a souvenir shop, the former site of a defunct bar known for its cantankerous staff. It’s right on the main strip of the downtown area, where actor Ian Ziering, of “Beverly Hills: 90210” fame, happened to be walking with his family.
A SyFy representative asked Ziering and his wife if they wanted to renew their vows, and his wife thought it would be fun. Ziering was less enthusiastic, at one point cracking a joke about a shotgun. But he played along, making for a surreal moment as the star of the made-for-TV “Sharknado” movies walked down the aisle to the “Jurassic Park” theme song.
The Ziering ceremony followed that of Esteban and Melissa Martinez, the first couple to get married at the chapel.
Esteban, dressed as Han Solo, and Mellissa, dressed as Poe Dameron, bonded over Harry Potter when they met as students at San Diego State University. After the ceremony, both were ushered around the corner to a “Just Married” pedicab.
All of the couples responded to queries sent by SyFy and Jones, who said he had gotten 30 more requests through social media over the last day.
Each ceremony — roughly a few minutes apiece — had a unique personality. One groom stood nervously with his Lego bowtie on, the gravity of the situation hitting him as he stood before his bride. Another couple wanted to get their renewal done as quickly as possible so they could get to a panel and autograph signing.
For David and Jill Lira, who live in Detroit and regularly attend at least one geek fest a year, the chance to have Jones officiate their ceremony was a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” Jill said. She found out about the event because she follows Jones on Twitter. One of David’s favorite films is “Evolution,” which stars Jones.
The two had already thought about renewing their vows, and had already bought their tickets to Comic-Con.
“This is too perfect,” Jill said.
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