For a man who has launched a career out of pulling pranks and mugging for the camera, Mike Ruga is alarmingly earnest. As he sat down in the Inked offices and talked about his tattoo collection—particularly when he spoke about the black-and-grey portrait of Ariana Grande that dominates his upper arm—there was none of the boisterousness he exudes on his Instagram videos. Ruga was simply a guy with a romantic plan that is more than likely doomed to fail, which he knows, but he’s still pushing forward just in case.
“I’m going to marry her one day,” Ruga responds when asked why he got the Grande tattoo. “That’s why I never posted it as a fan video. You’ll never see a video of me posting it, cause I didn’t do it for her to notice me. I did it cause I feel like I might end up in the same room with her one day and that’s where I’ll shoot my shot.”
All tattoos require some level of commitment and dedication—they are permanent, after all—but one might say that Ruga’s Grande tattoo is the ultimate commitment. It shouldn’t be surprising that Ruga took things to this level, since he tends to go all-in with everything he undertakes.
The first video that put Ruga on the map had a very simple premise—walk into a 7-11 and start dancing up on customers. It’s his commitment to the bit that makes it so funny. Of course, it’s also his commitment to the bit that almost led to Ruga getting his ass kicked.
“There was this big, big, big dude at the counter who was buying candy,” Ruga laughs. “And I started dancing and the whole store was looking at me, from the cashier to the stock boy to the big dude. Everybody was just staring at me like, ‘What the fuck is this kid doing?’ until I ended up pumping the dude’s leg. Then he choke-slammed the shit out of me.”
Ruga almost got choked out and the cops were called. But in the end, he walked away with a killer video that absolutely blew up on Instagram. Everybody saw it—including the big, big, big dude. “I remember he DMed me on Instagram saying, ‘I’m gonna fuck you up when I see you,’” Ruga says. “He must have found my Instagram somehow and just got twice as mad when he found out he went viral.” Luckily, the two have not crossed paths again.
As time went by, Ruga’s videos have changed. He’s moved away from on-the-spot pranks into scripted gags, many of which take place in a tattoo shop. You walk in for a tattoo appointment and there’s Ruga, sitting in the back, getting tattooed as his artist draws inspiration from a naked woman. It’s hilarious, and ultimately, relatable.
“I feel like everybody gets [tattoos],” Ruga says. “Whether you’re from the United States, overseas, wherever, everybody can relate to it cause everybody has tattoos. It’s like a barber shop. Everybody gets haircuts.”
Ruga’s got the drive to keep diversifying his videos and to keep people in stitches. Maybe one day his followers will get to see a video of Ruga dropping to a knee in front of a certain pop star, and they’ll have to ask, “Is this a gag? Or is he shooting his shot?” Regardless of the outcome, that video would surely go viral.