(PCM) Just in time for the season one finale, I spent a few minutes talking with Dirk Vermin and Rob Ruckus, stars of A&E’s Bad Ink, a show where the pair find and repair bad tattoos found on the tourists and natives in Las Vegas.
Every week we see the pair driving during the opening credits in a ’61 T-Bird, borrowed from a friend, “it runs like Sh*t, runs too hot and it burns our feet when we’re in it too long,” tattoo artist Dirk Vermin said about the vehicle. (more on that below)
As each episode begins, we watch Dirk and Ruckus approach tattooed strangers on the streets of Las Vegas, with a natural inquisitiveness that didn’t actually come naturally… the show producers suggested the street interviews, although Ruckus said that once the show happened, they run into people and the conversations just happen. It makes the show and stars approachable in a way that you could never get in any other city.
“Absolutely,” Dirk added. “It shows the character of Las Vegas, and we have this incredible city, with this insane population of tourists with bad tattoos, so it was really a smart idea.” Dirk was born in Vegas, and Rob Ruckus arrived at age ten, and always considered Vegas home.
Dirk’s tattoo peeves include “Badly done tribal, but when it’s done well, like Polynesian style, it can be beautiful. BUT, it’s never, IT’S NEVER, done well. It’s always bad tribal tats from the 90s.”
How does he feel about being asked to fix tattoos that were really good to start with? Mr. Vermin said “A tattoo could have a particular memory with it, or an old love, the ex-wife, and the new wife wants that GONE. There is some kind of sentimentality to it, that it’s not appropriate anymore. It needs to be gone. That happens quite a bit actually.”
I asked about logo tattoos. “Sure, why not? I got a Count Chocula tattoo. I’m not gonna judge.” Rob added, “If that’s what you are into, that’s EXACTLY what you should get.”
“Get a classic, something that will hold up with time. But bad tats happen all the time, that’s what keeps us in business.”
What got him started in specializing on bad tattoos? “It’s just something I latched onto early in my career. I kind of became known for covering up anything.”
30 years into their friendship, you can tell that it’s deep and genuine. While Dirk is the artist, Rob Ruckus informed me that his job description was “the dude who finds the jackasses… Jackass Inspector.”
In a few episodes, Ruckus alluded to getting into some trouble in the past. I asked about his secret in staying out of trouble today. “A moral contract waiver, a good lawyer, and a good friend who tattoos lots of cops. Those were my younger days, I was a much younger, wilder guy back then. Rob Ruckus is becoming Rob Commotion.”
I, and many viewers of the show, have noticed that Dirk makes every effort to erase even the shadow of the removed tattoo. There is a lot of care, as well as art to that. “You better believe it,” Dirk added, “I’ve done cover-up my whole career – I take it real serious and I take pride in being able to get rid of just about anything.”
During the show, you see each client wince, and even sometimes cry… I pointed out that it makes the show even more real. Dirk responded; “The pain is part of it – you can be tough all you want, but there’s a needle going into your skin, everyone handles it differently.”
Ruckus added, “That’s why my back isn’t finished…That sh*t hurts.”
There was an episode where both of the stars had a bit more work done on their unfinished backs, and I pointed out that Ruckus quit after 30 seconds. Dirk corrected me, stating that he barely got the needle wet, more like 3 seconds.
When asked if there were any clients who just rubbed him the wrong way, Dirk replied, without hesitation, “Episode one, episode four, episode seven and episode ten. Oh, and f’ing 13.”
“It happens a lot, but I can actually be pretty picky, and I can tell them ‘no’. If we’re not on the right wavelength, I’m not tattooing them. I’m in a good position to work with who I want. That’s why most of my clients are women.”
His schedule is generally booked months in advance, with certain periods kept aside for the show (fingers crossed for a second season as we spoke).
I asked if the show increased his business. Dirk surprised me with his answer: “I didn’t do it for more business… I thought I was gonna do a TV show and be done with the tattooing… Oh cool, I’ll just be on TV… NO, get right back to work.”
When talking about the effect of Bad Ink in his real life, Dirk said: “Real life imitates art, because that’s what happens every day of my life now. Everywhere I go, somebody shows me a really bad tattoo, ‘I’ve never had this conversation before. Show me what you got’.”
Ruckus explained how a typical day may run while filming the show. “The production people take care of a lot of that for us, Tuesday, we’ll stay on the strip and run into all kinds of people, the next day we’ll take care of a tattoo, and the next day and so forth… a lot is scheduled up for us.” Dirk added: “There’s a little looseness to meeting the people we want. We want it to be natural, keep the spontaneity in it.”
One of the spontaneous moments for Ruckus was when an older woman, Jeannie, came into the shop. “We didn’t expect her to show up, but here she was – 86 years old, on blood thinners and stuff. We had to get a medical release to make sure she was OK to get a tattoo. We have to take care of these people also!”
I asked about his display at the old folk’s home, and I could hear Ruckus’ voice light up. “That was actually one of the coolest days I’ve had over this whole thing – that lady, Jeannie, used to be a dancer for Louis Prima back in the 50s and 60s in Atlantic City! I met a drummer for Miles Davis! There are so many old musicians and entertainers that used to be the top entertainers in the world. Now they’re in these old folk’s homes in Vegas!”
I think they appreciate their new-found fame, although they have been known on the Vegas club/punk rock music scene for a long time.
“Most of our lives I’d say,” according to Dirk when referring to the several bands that have evolved into the current lineup of The Vermin – ‘Las Vegas’ Punk Rock Brat Pack.’
Ruckus described the band: “We just do what we love. We’ve never had a record label tell us what to do, we put out everything ourselves. Dirk’s made CD’s, I’ve made T-Shirts. We’ve done everything in-house, everything that makes US laugh – what makes us happy. We’re not doing it for other people, we do it for us!”
“We’ve been doing it for twenty years, it’s become really good. It’s part comedy act, part band. There’s times when there’s literally forty minutes between songs, just talkin’ sh*t.”
I asked the ‘old school punkers’ if they had anything on their ipods that might surprise their fans. Dirk’s playlist includes Duran Duran and the Bee Gees. The first album he bought? Kiss’ Destroyer.
Rob admitted to being a big jazz fan, and loves Cab Calloway, as does Dirk. The first album Rob Ruckus ever bought for himself was Robin Williams’ Reality What a Concept, although he did collect Elvis 45s prior to that.
Another big influence on the pair is comic great Don Rickles, and they told me they had seen him almost a dozen times, once buying front row $350 tickets. He seemed to rip on everyone in the audience, but avoided the Bad Ink duo “like the plague.”
The band has a few things going on through the end of the year, although Ruckus will be missing out on some of that while he tours Japan. With a little luck, he’ll come back in time for season two.
While awaiting word on season two, we discussed how they felt the show was doing. Having Duck Dynasty as a lead-in certainly helped for the final episodes of the inagural season, and the marathons get even more fans hooked. “We have an awful lot of young fans, which is cool.”
*Owners Jan & Don Telles added a little more info about the car – The 1961 Ford Thunderbird Custom was given as a gift from her father. They spent 6 years rebuilding it. The car has won several Best of Show Awards including top pick – personally chosen by legendary Gene Winfield – at a Pre-SEMA kick off party in Nov. 2010. It is regularly driven and the family enjoys it tremendously.
She added, “It does not have Air Conditioning and inside the car can get pretty warm, driving it around Las Vegas in the middle of the summer.”
It’s insured for $100k
Pussykat Tattoo is located at 4972 S. Maryland Pkwy #12, Las Vegas, NV 89119