John Reardon opened Greenpoint Tattoo Company on Meserole Street in 2011. With almost two decades of experience working in the US and around the world, Reardon has a lot of stories to go along with it. This is why on a sweltering Saturday morning before they open for the day, I sit down in the very New York shop—pressed tin ceilings, wooden floors, tattoo art-lined walls and a bookshelf full of design inspiration from Gray’s Anatomy to Japanese symbolism—to chat with Reardon, fellow Greenpoint Tattoo Co. artist Matt Bivetto and GPT client, writer and director Dan Bowhers, about their new observational workplace comedy web series, Ink Inc., which is premiering in mid-November.
Greenpointers: When did Greenpoint Tattoo Company open and where were you before GPT?
John Reardon: I opened it in 2011. I had had a private studio on North 7th Street and before that I worked at Saved [426 Union Ave]. I’d also opened a shop with my ex-wife in Copenhagen and I’d worked at other places around New York City.
GP: How did you get into tattooing originally?
JR: In 1996, it was still illegal in Massachusetts. I was going to Pratt and I thought it would be a good idea if I tattooed so that I didn’t have to go to Providence or New Hampshire.
GP: How do you practice tattooing when you’re starting out?
JR: I practiced on my friends. The first time I did it, I didn’t care because my friend had tattooed me when I was 16, so I didn’t really think about it.
GP: Do you find that there are still trends with tattoos each year?
JR: Traditional tattoos became pretty trendy, which is great. Pop culture tattooing like line drawings of little arrows are popular. I don’t put those sorts of things in my portfolio because they’re usually walk ins, but people who do have gazillions of followers, so it’s pretty funny how things have changed.
GP: Is there anything you’d refuse to tattoo on someone?
JR: We wouldn’t do racist tattoos or white power stuff. That’s not just because of Charlottesville, we just wouldn’t do that.
GP: Where do you get inspiration from?
JR: Old Japanese tattoos.
GP: You’re now about to launch a comedic web series that was filmed almost entirely in the shop. How did that come about?
Dan Bowhers: John had been tattooing me for about five years. We started talking about what ended up becoming Ink Inc. over the course of him doing this tattoo on my arm, so I was here quite frequently over two months. Every two weeks I came in and we’d do a little bit more each time. I can’t sit there for very long. I cry a lot.
GP: How long is each episode?
DB: They’re about 10 minutes each and there’s five episodes. You can watch them individually or in a different presentation where you can watch them like a movie. What we found was that the jokes really interlock a lot more than maybe they should for a web series. If you tune in in the middle, it’s not going to make a ton of sense, so we’re going to release it all at once. The joke for me is that we’re making fun of the medium in general so I’ve been calling it ‘internet based reality TV’. We’re really leaning into just how moronic reality television is and poking at how we consume things a little bit.
GP: There are quite a lot of dramatic reality shows about the tattoo industry, was it your frustration with some of those shows that led to creating Ink Inc.?
JR: I had been forced to watch a couple of them like Miami Ink because we knew some of the people in them like Chris Garver, who is an awesome tattooer. There are really good tattooers in these shows, but it felt like watching work, just over-dramatized. It’s painful.
GP: What was it about the tattoo business that you felt made it ripe for comedy?
JR: There was just so much ridiculous stuff that repeated over and over again. People come in and ask the same questions like, ‘how much does a tattoo cost?’ and other things like that. I’d been complaining for almost two decades. There are a lot of different personalities who work in tattoo shops as well as the ones that come in and out of the shops. We barely even touched on half of the crazy stuff that happens.
GP: Is summer the busiest season for tattooing?
Matt Bivetto: It’s usually the spring and the fall. At the beginning of the summer people want to get stuff but they don’t realize how long it takes to heal, so they’re about to go on a cruise the next day or they’re about to go to a wedding and they want to show it off. Then we’ll get done and they’ll ask about the after care and we’ll say, ‘well, you can’t go in the sun or go swimming for two weeks’ and they say, ‘but I’m going to the Bahamas tomorrow!’. A lot of the stories in the show comes from things like that, because people have computers in their pockets but they still don’t do any research before they come in.
GP: Did any real tattooing happening during the course of filming?
JR: Yes, but Matt and I were the only tattooers.
DB: I think we do about 10 or 12 tattoos in the show. A few of them are fake, but the attention to detail of the tattooing is very high. We wanted to make sure that people looked like they knew what they were doing, even if they didn’t. One of the actors got a panicked text message from her mother because she saw a picture on Instagram of her getting tattooed and thought it was real.
GP: When did you shoot the series?
DB: We shut the shop down for a week back at the end of May and now we’ve just finished editing and it’s about to get mixed. It’ll premiere in November at Brooklyn Bazaar [150 Greenpoint Ave] and the screening will be free. Brooklyn Bazaar have been really nice. They’re into the idea and they think it’s funny.
GP: Where will people be able to watch Ink Inc. after the premiere screening?
DB: The show will be up on inkincshow.com so people will be able to watch it in on the internet in their underpants.
GP: Where in Greenpoint did you film?
DB: Because it’s a reality TV format, we’re mainly bouncing between the shop and talking head confessional sequences where the clients are talking about their lives and what brings them to the shop. It was fun because I got to write a lot of dumb clients who come in with a lot of ridiculous requests. I would base something on John’s experience and then I’d come back and say, ‘well, what if a dude came in and wanted to get Mount Rushmore on his back?’ Then we’d extrapolate from there.
GP: Were there any local businesses involved with making the series?
DB: A lot of businesses in the neighborhood donated time and money. Best Pizza [33 Havemeyer St] gave us pizzas, they really fed us for two days. Upright Coffee [860 Manhattan Ave] gave us coffee and Five Leaves [18 Bedford Ave] gave us coffee mugs and some other stuff. We drank a lot of coffee.
GP: Is there a plan to film more episodes?
DB: I have a three season bible of what I’d love to do with this story. I love tattoos. For me, it’s about any workplace that you can extrapolate and make contentious relationships with the characters. I think that’s interesting. It’s really fun to do something where even if you don’t have any tattoos or you’ve never been in a tattoo shop, it should still be funny to you. That’s a fun challenge. The show really is based on John and Matt’s lives, I just had to make it dumber.
Greenpoint Tattoo Company (131 Meserole Ave) is open every day from 12pm-8pm, and will take walk-ins for your tiny arrow tattooing needs.