If you've looked at online lists of unique and clever tattoos, there's a particular tattoo you've probably seen. It's very specific: an anthropomorphized hot dog in a leather jacket clutches a bottle of mustard in its fist. Banners above and below the hot dog proclaim, "GUILTY OF BEING DELICIOUS." The image is colorful and absurd, and it makes sense that it's turned up on lists of best, worst and funniest tattoos.
But "Guilty of Being Delicious" also raises so many questions. Like, "Huh?" And, "Why?" And, "Who?" Guff Media editor Paul Ciampanelli talked to his friend, Liam Gray of Providence, Rhode Island, who is the father and owner of the infamous hot-dog tattoo, to answer all of the questions anyone's ever asked about that unique ink.
PAUL CIAMPANELLI: When did you get the "Guilty of Being Delicious" tattoo? How old were you?
LIAM GRAY: I got it in 2006, so that would make me 31 [at the time].
PC: That's more recent than I thought.
LG: Yeah, I was a grown-ass man by the time I got that tattoo.
PC: So it wasn't your first one.
LG: No, I got my first tattoo when I was in high school, when I was 18.
PC: Who's the artist? Mike, right?
LG: Yep, Mike Brousseau.
PC: Tell me a little bit about your friendship with Mike.
LG: I've known Mike since the first day of junior high. I had calculated out how many minutes there were left in the school year about 45 minutes in, and shared this with the nerdy kid in front of me. We hit it off immediately. So we've been fast friends since we were kids.
Liam and Mike in the '90s. Photo courtesy of Liam Gray
PC: When did he become a tattoo artist, and how much of your work has he done?
LG: Mike started working in tattoo shops in his early 20s. Kind of the normal routine in a tattoo shop is you work the front desk until you've paid your dues, and eventually somebody takes pity on you and apprentices you and allows you to learn how to actually become a tattoo artist.
Mike had always been very artistic and had always been drawing and doing graffiti and all that stuff, and worked for many years as the front-desk guy, and eventually apprenticed. He started tattooing in about 2002. And Mike and I had always been the closest of friends, and when he started apprenticing, somebody has to get the first tattoo, so I was Mike's first victim. And part of that deal was I got his first tattoo, and then I have carte blanche on tattoos from here on out.
PC: What was that first tattoo?
LG: It's a rose, kind of like a traditional rose, which was decided upon just because it's easiest to fix when you screw it up, because it has lots of curvy lines that intersect. It's on my ankle. It's pretty shitty, but it's good for a first tattoo.
Photo courtesy of Liam Gray
PC: I know that "Guilty of Being Delicious" is at least in part a reference to Minor Threat, but where did the idea come from?
LG: Growing up, Mike and I were both straight-edge hardcore kids, and Minor Threat was a huge influence and very important to both of us.
As Mike started tattooing, I got more and more stupid tattoos from Mike. The stupid tattoos were an ongoing theme of just nonsense. So for a while there, I was always trying to strive for, "What's the next new dumb tattoo idea?"
I had this image of the Minor Threat "Bottled Violence" logo but with a hot dog, which just seemed funny. I brought that up to Mike, and he immediately thought it was hysterical. Initially, it was supposed to be a New York System hot wiener. That was the initial concept, but then we realized that to make a hot wiener differentiated from a hot dog in a tattoo format is hard to do.
Minor Threat "Bottled Violence." Dischord Records.
We came up with the idea, and then both of us realized that it had to have text of some sort. It had to have a banner that went with it. But we couldn't figure it out. Over the next month or two, we kept bouncing back and forth shitty plays on words related to Minor Threat lyrics.
Then one day I was driving home from work, and "Guilty of Being Delicious" "“ which is, you know, Minor Threat has a song called "Guilty of Being White" "“ "Guilty of Being Delicious" popped into my head. And I had this eureka moment, and immediately called Mike. And he did the text the next day. We finished the design almost immediately. It was like, "Yes! That is it! That is perfect."
PC: What are some of the more memorable responses you've gotten to the tattoo, whether in person or online? Because obviously it sort of spread online.
LG: I uploaded it to my MySpace page in 2006 when that was a thing. And I'm not even sure who, but somebody then downloaded it and started uploading it somewhere else, and it started taking off. Probably within a year or so, it started showing up on all of those "10 worst tattoos" memes and lists.
My favorite responses I've had is I've had a few people that I've met that were totally familiar with it and loved it as a meme, and then I met them, and they realized that I was the person in the picture that they had seen a zillion times. And that's bizarre.
"Guilty of Being Delicious." Photo courtesy of Liam Gray.
PC: That happened with me. I'd seen the tattoo before I met you.
LG: There you go! That's happened a handful of times, and it's always amused the hell out of me.
PC: It's also funny how it'll end up on "best tattoo" lists and "worst tattoo" lists pretty equally.
LG: Yes! And the thing is, the "worst tattoo" lists invariably are just bad ideas. You know, because bad tattoos are a dime a dozen, and 99 percent of them are not memorable.
PC: Oh, yeah. Nobody thinks that Mike did a bad job. It's a great-looking tattoo.
LG: Right! Right, right.
PC: People either get what it is, or they don't.
LG: Right, right, right. I do really love on forums where there'll be a lot of comments, and they'll be hypothesizing who I am and why I got this tattoo. I love reading hypothetical backstories, because they're always really wrong. They're always funny.
PC: What's one hypothetical backstory that sticks out?
LG: I've had a few people commenting about how I probably have this because I think I'm a tough guy and I don't realize that it's really stupid. I'm a big fan of that concept because it just doesn't make any sense. Also a lot of, "What is this person going to do when they grow up?" And I was 31 and had two kids and was married and had a house when I got the tattoo, which was also funny.
Photo courtesy of Liam Gray
My other favorite thing that I've come across is our graphic being applied in other places. Like, I found a burrito place in New Jersey that has a mildly reworked version with a burrito instead of a hot dog, but it's clearly based on Mike's tattoo, not on the Minor Threat logo. All the minor differences are there in the burrito place's sign, which cracked me up.
Have you seen the pictures of the fake version of it?
PC: Oh, the one that misses that it's a Minor Threat homage, and it's just sort of like The Fonz?
LG: Yes! That one blows my mind, because it's like somebody heard a third-hand description of what the tattoo might look like, and then sketched something up and tattooed it on somebody else. Which is great!
PC: And it still says "Guilty of Being Delicious," but it's not the Minor Threat bottle logo.
LG: No, it's like Fonzie and like a New York background or something. It doesn't make any sense. It's great.
Photo courtesy of Liam Gray
PC: So that guy just has that tattoo now, and even he doesn't get the reference.
LG: Yes! It's awesome! It's so good.
PC: Are there any other copycats or imitators that you know of?
LG: Yeah, there are others. There was a pizza place in Portland, Oregon, that was using it on their menus for a while. There's been a bunch of them. The burrito stand and the weird Fonzie version are the two that really stood out.
PC: How has your relationship with the tattoo or your feelings about it evolved over time, with its sort of virality and the way that it's spread?
LG: I love it. It's definitely my favorite tattoo. When Mike drew it up and we discussed the ideas and everything, I was like, "This is perfect." And I like seeing that other people respond to it the same way, because I still love it.
It's got a few spots that are faded now because it's a few years old. And we never finished his shirt. In the Minor Threat version, he's wearing a Sex Pistols shirt, and we couldn't figure out what to put on his shirt. So we tabled that, figuring we would hit it later on, and it's never been finished.
So I've bounced around those ideas and wanting to get it touched up, but at this point, I almost don't want to mess with it. Because it's gotten its own life.
PC: It's out there. It sort of belongs to the world now.
LG: Right! I'm not going to, you know, put a mustache on the Mona Lisa.
PC: Do Sarah and the kids have any particular feelings about it?
LG: The kids think it's funny. The kids think all of my stupid tattoos are funny, and I think they're just amused by it in general. I think my kids are always amused by their father's incredibly stupid ideas.
PC: What other tattoos do you have, like the funny tattoos that you and Mike have developed, that you want to share, that you want people to know and see?
LG: My buddy Mark LeBeau, we had a war of insults for years and years. And eventually, Mike Brousseau did a tattoo on me that says "Mark LeBeau sucks." He had a band, and the band had a song about a mummy fighting a robot, so I have a tattoo of a mummy fighting a robot with a big banner that says "Mark LeBeau sucks." And that was me winning the war of insults. That's probably my favorite of the other dumb tattoos that we've done.
"Mark LeBeau sucks." Photo courtesy of Liam Gray
We've done a few other hardcore straight-edge stupid tattoos that I think are funny only to the two of us. We've done some picking out really bad flash in old Sailor Jerry-style flash books. I have a half-lady, half-shark with one boob. That's just a particularly stupid piece of flash that I got that's not a Mike original, but we found it on the wall and he was like, "Yes! That's perfect. You're the only person who will ever ask for that."