PAINful Comedy, Classic Edition: Tom Shillue in 2012


Austin L. Ray

Tom Shillue is just like any other working comedian. He wakes up in the morning, puts his pants on one leg at a time, and then starts working on the 12 albums he’s going to release over the next year. Of course, that’s substantially downplaying the thought process that led to his ambitious project. “At first I thought of doing a three-hour album,” Shillue says. “Then I thought maybe I’ll do five albums instead, and price them really low, and people can collect them all. Then I thought, ‘What about 10? Why not? I’m sure I can do 10 albums if I dig deep. It will be a creative challenge, which always gets me going.’ Then I thought, ‘If I’m going to do 10, I might as well make it a dozen.’ Why not?”

Previous to this epic set of material, the NYC stand-up has worked with The Daily Show, created a two-man show with Jim Gaffigan, founded the storytelling show Funny Story and done countless shows over the year. All of which is to say: He’s not been wanting for work, exactly, which perhaps makes it less surprising that he’s tackling such a massive undertaking now. But his first comedic inspiration was his upbringing in suburban Massachusetts. “All fodder,” Shillue says in describing his time growing up in The Bay State. “Of course, one doesn’t think that when they are experiencing it. It’s just life, then later you take the experiences up on stage and people are laughing, and you’re like, ‘Oh, this is funny.’ Massachusetts must be funny—a lot of comics and presidential candidates have come from there.”

But his surroundings weren’t his only inspiration growing up. Comedy classics were around him early on. “I used to listen to the old albums at the library when I was a kid,” Shillue recalls. “Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby. We could only listen to the clean stuff. When my fellow comics talk about growing up with Pryor and Carlin, I’m like, ‘You were allowed to listen to that?’ I couldn’t even listen to Meat Loaf records in my house. Which was fine, really, because I loved the Carpenters.”

Funny Story is Shillue finding his niche. The series, which bounced around various venues before settling on Brooklyn Brewery in June, gives talented writers, comedians, and storytellers a place to showcase their words. Notable comedians like Bobby Tisdale, John Mulaney and Gabe Liedman have graced Funny Story’s stage. “It’s a really fun show,” Shillue says. “It gives me an opportunity to have some of my favorite comics and storytellers onstage together, and serve good beer. The show is always a blast. I never know what anyone is going to do—I just tell them to bring a story that’s funny. Then I can sit and enjoy the show along with the audience.”

For now, though, Shillue’s main focus is on the dozen-album project. Two are finished already and on sale for $1.99 via his website “I’m editing number three now,” he says. “I’m sketching out the theme for four and five. The second album was totally changed at the last minute. I had most of it done, and then I recorded two live shows when I opened for [Gaffigan] in a big theater, and they went well, so I just used those recordings for the two long tracks on the album, which I titled Big Room. Then I edit the album in GarageBand and knock it out. I can’t fuss too much, I’ve got deadlines!”

Stand-up comedy comes in many forms, from one-liners to music to avant-garde weirdness. But much like Kyle Kinane, Tig Notaro, and Dylan Brody, to name but a few modern-day contemporaries, Shillue prefers a long, elegantly unraveling bit as opposed to a quick-and-dirty setup/punchline combination. “It’s what I’m interested in,” Shillue says, in a rather large understatement. “I want to hear people’s lives. And I’m patient—I like listening to comedy as opposed to watching it. I like listening to a story on a long drive. And the kind of person who likes that, they like my style. I think part of the reason people are enjoying [storytelling] lately is we’ve pretty much mastered the short-attention-span style of entertainment, and it’s all around us. People want to slow down, take in more of a meal.”

Dan Kelley


Dan Kelley


Skull and Snake Tattoo Studio Art Gallery


North Berwick, Maine.

Years Tattooing?



Black and Grey/Color realism

Preferred inks & equipment?

Electrum Stencil Primer, Axys Valhalla Machine, Critical XR Power Supply, Dynamic Black Ink that I mix into grey wash myself, Eternal Color Ink, Redemption Tattoo Lubricant, Helios Red Cartridges.

Rotary or coil, and why?

I use a Rotary Machine currently. I learned on coil machines from the ground up but as my tattooing evolved, I felt that the inconsistency of coil machines and having to have a different machine setup for each needle grouping was holding me back. The day I switched to a cartridge system rotary machine is the day that my work finally began to level up in ways I had been striving for but just couldn’t seem to make happen with a traditional coil and tube setup.

You have a clear penchant for the creepy and the macabre. What draws you to that?

I’m drawn to this imagery for a number of reasons. As a child, I was raised a bit sheltered from the unusual. My parents never even let me go trick or treating because they believed Halloween was too closely related to the Devil. So when I began to discover the things I was always kept from, they grew on my like a weed. The darker side of reality is something that shouldn’t be ignored. It makes me appreciate the brighter side of things even more . . . You could say it’s a coping method for my own existence. I think we all struggle with what this life is about and what we are supposed to do while we are here.

More Than an Expo

The BTAME Founders are Using Art as a Medium for Change in Their Community

It was never just about tattoos. Yes, since the event’s inception five years ago, the primary thrust of the Black Tattoo, Art and Music Expo in Detroit has been the celebration of the subdermal art within communities of color. That much is true. But take notice of the comma placed within the name. It’s not “Black Tattoo Art . . .” It’s “Black Tattoo, Art . . .” The comma denotes a series, and that series includes three distinct categories: Tattoos, art and music. It’s about creative expression in all its various forms.

So, if you thought it was just a tattoo convention, widen the scope. And then widen it some more, because there’s a much bigger picture here.

Their website explains it best, stating that their driving purpose is to use “art as the building blocks for change in urban communities.” The Expo itself was only ever intended to be their initial splash point, with the real effect being the ripples that result.


“We want to really be a spark for art education, whether it’s visual arts or dance, or music—whatever” explains Jason Phillips, event co-founder and owner of the Ink Spot, one of the Motor City’s top tattoo parlors. “That’s the overall goal; to get art in front of those who aren’t being exposed to it otherwise. We have people who are missing their calling, especially with the arts being pulled from public school systems. You’re missing the artists who could be that next great architect or planner because they’re not getting the exposure to it.”

To this end, Jason and his partner, Mike Burnett have formed a 501(c)3 parent organization that will now house the expo, as well widen the scope to include a variety of projects focused on empowering their community through art engagement. Though they’ve maintained the BTAME acronym, it now represents something bigger than one event. Instead of just an expo, it’sthe Black Tattoo, Art and Music EXPERIENCE.

“In a nutshell, we’re a non-profit to promote the arts and make that positive change,” Jason continues. “We kept the umbrella of the corporation broad, so we’d be able to work throughout the various disciplines of art to create different programs and work with different institutions. We’ll still be putting on the Expo, but that’s now just one facet of our efforts.”

“The first organization we’re working with is called Wellspring,” Mike chimes in. “They work out of our Brightmoor community. They’d received a grant to continue a summer program to fight illiteracy between kindergarten and eight grade . . . and they incorporated us into their program.”

For their part of the program, Jason created two images for the kids to work with, one for the older kids and the other for the younger, both conveying one simple message:Knowledge is power. The image for the elder of the age groups was of a boy and a girl, each of them wearing a crown, sitting in the grass and reading a book. For the younger group, the image was of two children, again one boy and one girl, reading together.

“Jason sketched out the concept and came up with the color scheme,” Mike continues, “but it was the kids who pretty much did all the painting. We donated our time to work with them every Tuesday and they just went at it.”

The summer program was capped off by a picnic attended by the kids, as well as their parents.

“The parents got to see what their kids had been working on,” Mike recounts, beaming through the phone. “They were just so proud. They couldn’t believe that the kids were doing what they were doing. They were amazed.”


The Expo is all well and good, but interactions like this are what truly lie at the heart of Mike and Jason’s vision: To empower and build up their community by igniting that artistic passion within the youth and letting that passion be the catalyst to trigger inspiration in their parents; to remind their community that art is more than just a hobby. It’s life—and it can be a living.

“When the adults see that their children have interest in the arts, they see that there’s something they can do to cultivate it,” Jason says,“and that there are professionals out here using this talent to be entrepreneurs and make a living for themselves. That’s important because adults often feel that art isn’t necessary and think their kids will just become starving artists if they pursue it.”

“That’s the ultimate goal,” Mike adds, “to show kids and their parents how you can make a sustainable living through art. You can be alright out here through art. You don’t have to shoot a basketball or hit a baseball. You can do more.”

If they have their way, this is only the beginning. Mike sees a world of possibilities and hopes these initial outreaches will inspire others to join in and support the cause.

“We’re building our portfolio to make it attractive to potential sponsors. Maybe we can get someone willing to invest. Through that, we can create scholarships; maybe even have a community center so kids can come and create—in all facets of art. A practice space and recording studio for music, a dance studio, an art studio where kids can come and work at an easel.”

As far as the Expo that started it all, you can expect another installment in 2020. Meanwhile, Mike is doubling down on his call to the industry for sponsors. “As I said last time, if you’re willing to take the black community’s money, you should be willing to reinvest some. Come work with us.”

Roughrider Ink & Iron Expo

Photos Courtesy of Urban Toad Media

Roughrider Ink & Iron Expo

Fargo, North Dakota
September 27-29

Bikes and tattoos —- talk about a can’t miss show. The sixth annual Roughrider Ink & Iron Expo combines the skill, artistry, and expression of custom tattoos and custom motorcycles.

“We kind of go by the beat of our own drum,” says Courtney Ficek, Director of National Events for Jade Presents which put on this show as well as concerts, festivals, and live events that aim to connect local audiences with unique experiences. “We’ve really formed this tight knit community where there’s a lot of talent and it keeps more fierce every year.”

The Ink part of the expo is obviously tattooing. Iron refers to the bikes with more than a hundred beautiful machines on display.

“We’ve always said that it’s just a passion of artistry and it goes together well,” Ficek says. “This particular event has been a passion project for many of us because tattoos and bikes are in our blood.”

“Bikes and tattoos have always gone together, but the tattoo industry has come a long way,” Ficek adds. “We have a lot of people that just come for the tattoos (and visa-versa, the bikes) and it opens their mind up to the other side.”

More than 2,500 people came to the 2019 event where they were able to meet some 70 talented tattooers, not only from midwest states including ND, Minnesota and Wisconsin, as well as from around the world — and hopefully get some new ink form their favorite artists. Among the artists in attendance were Scotty Munster, Eli Bauman, Jake Meeks & the Fireside Tattoo Network, Kelly Severtson, Jay Purdy and Michael Seidling.

“We have a lot of local talent,” Ficek says. “There’s a real sense of community, and the expo is a great opportunity for artists to check out each other’s booths and learn different techniques — that’s one reason we’ve kept out show kind of small.”

On Thursday before the show, veteran tattooers Jake Meeks, out of Memphis, and Kelly Severtson, from Chicago’s Goodkind Tattoo, put on seminars covering subjects on finding your own style, digital design and dynamic color theory.

Tattoo contests in 27 categories were highly competitive. Justin Nudell, of Zoltar Tattoo, right there in Fargo, won Best of Day on Friday and Sunday, and Bence Kormos, from Hungary by way of New York, earned Best of Day Saturday and Best of Show. There’s also a “most regrettable” category of which the winner (or loser) received a free laser removal — Flaming Cheetos Eyebrows was a top (or bottom) contender.

The RIIE is held at Fargo’s Veterans Memorial Arena (typically home to hockey games as you might expect) and a side venue was turned a lounge where those 21 and over could hang out, watch live bands, like Jane Doe and the Johns, the Knotties, and Mikey D, and burlesque shows featuring Vendetta Vixens. Keeping with the “misfits” theme of the expo, kids had their own special day with face painting, temporary tattoos, games, and a performance by the students from Elevate Rock School. A portion of the proceeds from the “mini misfits” events, admission tickets and a silent auction for custom painted motorcycle helmets benefitted the local chapter of the Make-A-Wish foundation.

“The camaraderie and the atmoshpere at the Roughrider Ink & Iron Expo is something I’ve never experienced before,” Ficek says. “It’s like a big party, everyone works their asses off and has a blast.”

Flesh to Fantasy Tattoo Emporium


Flesh to Fantasy Tattoo Emporium

Everybody started somewhere. When Big Mike Hill began tattooing he was working out of his kitchen and trading services for eight-tracks and cassettes. That was back in the early nineties when tattooing was still relatively underground, and you couldn’t just log onto the internet and watch a few how-to videos to sort of figure things out. Mike actually got his first lessons from his “roommate.”

“I’d done a couple of tattoos with the old ‘pick and poke’ way,” Mike says, “and then I got into some trouble and ended up serving a three and a half years sentence. I spent a lot of time covering for my roommate while he was tattooing, you know, watching for the guards and so forth. One day, he showed me how to build a machine and tattoo with it. I’d always been into drawing and painting, and I feel in love with tattooing.”

The first thing Mike did upon being released was to seek out a real apprenticeship — and was told straight up: “Go fuck yourself.”

“I was literally trying to learn my craft. I went to one of the local shops here and was told that I would never amount to anything,” Mike says. “Funny thing is, two months later I opened my own shop and that guy has hated me ever since.”

One reason could be because Mike turned out to be a darn good professional tattoo artist. He opened Flesh to Fantasy Tattoo Emporium in 1996 — the Bellefontaine, Ohio studio was originally known as The Dragon Cafe, and was a place where you could get a tattoo and also play a few campaigns of Dungeons & Dragons. Mike was on his own for a while, improving his skills and gaining a following.

It was his wife Kaytonya, now a permanent makeup artist there, who suggested Mike get more training. Mike took her advice and spent two weeks at an intensive seminar in Florida, and wound up mentoring under the instructor for another eight months.

The turning point came when Mike felt he was good enough to guarantee his work — a promise that has carried over with his entire staff. “If a tattoo is faded or a line comes out, we go back over it without any questions asked,” he says.

“In the beginning, I was fixing a lot of my old work,” Mike admits. “I was the one who fucked them up, and I needed to make it right.”

Flesh to Fantasy has now earned its place as one of the top tattoo studios in the Midwest. It has a remarkable 4.9 Birdeye rating with over 400 positive reviews. Mike and his artists, who include Austin Arrington, Kellie Kremitzki, Brian Hughes, Marah Taylor and Heather Cottingim (Taylor and Cottingim are also professional piercers) are also fixtures at conventions around the country and have brought home 28 awards.

Bellefontaine is also home to Honda’s 40,000 square-foot manufacturing training center, so there’s no shortage of customers. There’s not much call for Honda logos though. The most common requests are lettering and flowers, which makes sense being that more than half of the clientele is female. The shop even has a kid-friendly waiting area that lends to its family friendly vibe.

Flesh to Fantasy recently opened a second location in Monroe, Ohio. It’s inside a flea market — yet completely adhering to all the health standards, and the arts take turns manning the booths there on weekends. Most of those tattoos, Mike says, are small walk-in stuff. But that’s okay because the real goal is to promote the art form and hopefully make some new clients who want bigger pieces done.

“One thing that makes us unique is that while we all have our favorite styles, we can also tattoo pretty much anything,” Mike says. “We do about 25 tattoo shows a year, and I think it really helps us to expand our passion to get around other artists and see what’s capable of being done.”

“We’re here to help people achieve something they never thought possible,” Mike says. “We do thousands of tattoos a year, and the biggest reward is seeing the people’s faces when their expectations have been met and exceeded.”

Piercer Burnout


I have been a piercer for seven years and there’s nothing I would rather do. I still love piercing, but I’ve been having a hard time at work for a while now. We have gotten busier and busier, which is great for tips, but I’m swamped doing piercings, dealing with customers, studio maintenance, jewelry inventory, and everything else I have to do. My boss is a decent guy but never gives me any props no matter how hard I bust my ass.

I’m sleeping like crap and am always tense and worn out. My stomach aches all the time. I feel irritated, distracted, and I’m constantly checking the clock to see how long until I can go home. I was always so into it, but now I’m just going through the motions, which is not like me at all. I really don’t know what to do. Please help me!

Thank you, O.

Hi O.,

What you’re describing sounds distinctly like job burnout: a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by extreme and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, drained, and unable to meet the constant demands of your employment.

Burnout is more serious than routine stress and it is accompanied by a sense of disillusionment with your job.It primarily affects people who are profoundly identified with their work and passionate about their careers. As piercers, many of us derive our sense of identity and self-worth from our profession. I know I do. Piercing isn’t just what we do—it’s who we are.

Virtually every occupation has some aspects that are tedious or difficult. Piercers deal extremely closely with people all day. Our clients are frequently indecisive or anxious, which is particularly draining and can require tremendous patience and reassurance. Also, the repetitiveness of verbally conveying aftercare guidelines can tax the interest and motivation of even the most dedicated pro. Feeling like you can never catch up–no matter how much time or energy you put in—is demoralizing, nerve-wracking, and regularly leads to the types of unpleasant consequences you’re experiencing.

Fatigue, pain, frequent illness, and sleep disturbances are common physical indicators of burnout. Emotional symptoms often include lack of energy, feelings of emptiness or hopelessness, and impatience or frustration with clients or co-workers. Behavioral signs can consist of absenteeism, loss of focus, and increased alcohol consumption or substance abuse.

Job performance is likely to deteriorate, too.When a piercer experiences burnout, needle stick injuries could occur, or clients might suffer from botched piercings. Burnout commonly spills over into your personal life as well, negatively impacting relationships with friends and loved ones.

Any combination of undesirable factors can potentially lead to burnout:

• Excessive workload, especially when combined with inadequate compensation

• Lack of recognition for your efforts, inadequate support from management, or other dysfunctional workplace dynamics

• Monotonous or repetitive tasks

• Insufficient down time (work-life imbalance)

Burnout is serious but fortunately it is reversible, so don’t let it be the end of your career.

Address burnout by taking a vacation as soon as you possibly can. Plan for some genuine all-out leisure and forget about the studio until your return. Rest, relax, and enjoy yourself. Right now,a vacation isn’t a luxury; it is as necessary as eating. A solid break can do wonders to provide a fresh perspective and rejuvenate you. American employees take only half of their eligible paid leave and time off. If you get vacation days, use them!

Contemplate the deeper impact of what you do and try to rediscover your purpose.Consider how your calling makes life better for other people: improving their self-esteem and body image, empowering them, etc.

Feeling more in control of your tasks can help to minimize negativity. Review your efficiency to make sure you’re optimally effective and managing your time as well as possible. Set priorities and identify any duties that could be postponed or omitted from your to-do list.

Every competent manager knows that happy employees are more productive,so it would be advisable to let your boss know that your responsibilities are overwhelming you. Be prepared to offer practical solutions for delegating certain assignments or otherwise reducing your burden. If you think he really does value your efforts, gently bring up the lack of appreciation, too. Hopefully, together you can reach compromises and revise expectations to make your work more viable.

Some of the methods I’ve used to keep myself from sinking into the burnout pit are outlined below:

Practice self-care; it really can help. Physically mistreating or neglecting yourself limits your ability to function and will affect your capacity to deal with your obligations and demands. Eat regularly (fresh, healthy food is best), stay hydrated, and don’t abuse drugs or alcohol. Consistently practice stress-reduction measures like meditation and exercise, whether yoga, gym workouts, or team sports. Find ways to de-stress during the week. Take up a hobby you can immerse yourself in for a few hours weekly like rock climbing, martial arts, music lessons, crafting, volunteering, or something else that interests you.

I take note of people who do jobs that are much less desirable than mine and experience gratitude for the enjoyable parts of my profession. I remind myself how lucky I am (not just saying the words, but really feeling the sentiment) to have a vocation that has such rewarding aspects.

I celebrate the exceptional encounters when I truly connect with a client. Cultivate those peak experiences by sharing a little more of the real (but professional) “you” when you click with a piercee and concentrate on those peak moments.

My hand-washing ritual is my reset button. While I’m at the sink preparing for a piercing, as my hands are going through the familiar motions of scrubbing and rinsing off dirt and germs, I use the time for the equally essential task of clearing my mind centering myself. I wash away the previous part of the day and begin fresh. I bring myself into the present and zone in my focus for the all-important duty at hand: to do my utmost, right here, right now.

Keep challenging yourself. Even though I have performed tens of thousands of piercings, I try each time to make the procedure smoother, gentler, and more perfect than any I’ve done previously. Refuse to let yourself pierce on auto pilot. Concentrate, and challenge yourself with every client.

Get a new piercing. If it has been a while and you’ve lost the sense of what it is like on the other side of the needle, go through the experience yourself with the intention of appreciating the unique magic of piercing—and recapturing your empathy for the people who are on the receiving end of your labors.

Connect and communicate with other piercers. The APP conferences and Camp APP members’ retreats are incredibly motivating and restorative. Regularly interacting and bonding with other piercers either locally or online (such as in Facebook forums) can be a fantastic support, too.

All occupations have pros and cons. If there’s nothing you’d rather do than piercing, I’d advise you to seek employment at another studio before giving up on your career. See my recent Pain Magazine articles, “The Importance of Sleep” and “Dealing with Difficult Clients,” for some additional helpful ideas.

Hopefully you’ll be able to weather the tough times using some of my tips, techniques, and suggestions.



November 2019