Tattoo Theory

I had two conversations today. One about tattoos, the other about writing original personal routines for your show. Two different topics with two different people and yet, the advice I found myself giving seemed to be exactly the same.

So, with that in mind, I’m calling this: Tattoo Theory.

I’ve noticed a trend when chatting to anyone considering their first tattoo. They want it to be cool and special. They want something timeless that will suit them forever and never go out of fashion. Mainly they want it to communicate to the world something about who they are. Usually, everything that they are.

This is where they hit the wall. The best tattoos are a beautiful and intricate expression of a simple and singular idea. Once you have lots of tattoos you realise that they fit in and around the others as the single brushstrokes required to complete the final picture.  The parallels between this and an interesting show almost write themselves.


It is simply not possible to tell the audience about everything that you love and everything that you are within the confines of a single routine. You must first decide the things that you want to communicate and then put each individual idea at the core of a single routine. Unpack them all separately and carefully with nuance and detail. Trust that the audience see your show as a whole and that during the course of a performance they will get to know you.

Trying to jam every routine with multiple ideas will make your show lose direction and  stop the audience from ever really getting to know you, which ultimately, is all they really want to do.

It also gives you a new criteria for choosing your material. Instead of the usual system of saying ‘Right I need an appearance, a vanish, a transformation, a mind reading trick’ etc, you’ll be saying ‘I want to talk to the audience about hope, and ghosts, and the time you broke your wrist and had to learn to do tricks with one hand’. (Joshua Jay’s brilliant routine from his show ‘Unreal’ is a perfect example of the latter)

Ultimately, these things add layers into your show (something I’ll be covering much further in my next blog) and they help us to let the audience in, slowly. We wouldn’t dream of saying hello to someone offstage and then in the first five minutes trying to tell them every single thing about us, yet on stage we forget this ordinary social convention.

In this rare case, that which is natural will actually make us better performers. So take it slow. And let the audience get to know you, one routine at a time.

Stay well friends,
Mark James

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