In his early twenties, Utah-native Shayne Smith was in the trenches of the punk movement and began his journey to becoming heavily tattooed. And like many collectors who commit to ink on their faces and throats, he soon encountered challenges pursuing steady employment. However, instead of opting to remove his most visible pieces to assimilate to the demands of customer service, Smith entered into the world of standup and hasn’t looked back since. We sat down with the “Prison For Wizards” comic to learn how being heavily tattooed pushed him into the world of comedy and how he wound up headlining the Utah laugh circuit.
How did you get into comedy? I was living in Salt Lake City at the time and was also very heavily tattooed. I was having a hard time finding work and couldn’t get my life together. No one would let me work anywhere. I hated school. I couldn’t be a firefighter or turn to the military because of my tattoos. I didn’t know what to do with myself. [Comedy] was not something that I’d ever tried because it seemed so far away, it’s show business. Of course it’s not going to work out, right? I decided to shoot my shot to see if I liked it and it was really fun. I put all my effort into it to see what happens, basically screwing myself out of all other opportunities, until it was the last thing I had left.
How did that lead to Dry Bar Comedy? Dry Bar is a company based in Provo, Utah and I super lucked out that I was on their radar. In Utah, there’s a lot of money to be made if you can do clean comedy. I have a dirty hour and a clean hour—I would do the clean hour for corporate events or whatever. Dry Bar reached out to me saying, “Hey, we’re filming these specials and we know that you can do clean comedy. Would you want to sell us that hour of clean comedy?” I did that, assuming that no one would ever see it and just make a little bit of money. And then, here I am.
Do you see the irony in not being able to find work as someone heavily tattooed to now doing clean, corporate-friendly comedy?
Yeah, it’s hilarious. Isn’t that always how show business is? They don’t want you to do the work but they’ll let you entertain them. That’s the way it goes, I guess.
Do you find any comedy in the tattoo world? Outright, tattoo shops are hilarious places. So many people do wild things in them. But the act of getting tattooed, not funny, super painful actually. Usually when I’m going to get tattooed I’m pretty bummed out to be honest.
How do you think the audience has taken to you as heavily tattooed, but having so much more to you as an entertainer?
That’s been a whole journey. The first three or four years of doing comedy, it was a huge obstacle. First being heavily tattooed: everyone couldn’t get past the fact I was tattooed, no one cared about anything else about me. Then when I was getting good at comedy and performing for bigger audiences, they were not getting passed my looks and I had to address it, which is why I started doing jokes about my tattoos. I felt like a gimmick. The thought that I would never get passed it was bumming me out. Now, my tattoos don’t factor into it. Most people who are excited about me as an artist, that come see me perform aren’t tattooed and they don’t mention anything about it. In fact, the most I hear about tattoos is, “Because of you, I stopped caring about other people’s tattoos.”