Comedian Paul Church Shares His Story of Healing Thanks to a Tattoo

in Nonfiction by
Paul Church

With the help of Pen & Ink by Wendy MacNaughton and Isaac Fitzgerald, we realized that every tattoo—good or bad, funny or tragic—has a story to tell. In our Personal Ink column, we connect you with artists, their tattoos and the unique stories behind them. This month, we’re hearing from comedian Paul Church.

Church is a Vermont based comedian and the producer of the podcast, The Other Day with Paul Church, where he interviews his fellow comedians about local food spots. In his own words, here’s the story behind Church’s gingko leaf tattoo:

When someone asks me about my tattoo (which is rare as the tattoo sits on my thigh where neither sunlight or the gaze of strangers often reach) the easiest explanation is that I chose a gingko leaf because it’s the species of tree that was planted in remembrance of my grandfather when he died. My grandmother has an affinity for gingko trees and I have inherited her affection for these oddly beautiful trees.

Paul’s gingko leaf tattoo

I got the tattoo in March of 2013 shortly after my birthday—a date I shared with my grandfather. It was a turbulent time in my life, a friend of mine passed away two days before my birthday and I had gone through a difficult breakup the previous fall. I thought a tattoo would be a way to commemorate the breakup. (Luckily I haven’t continued to mark breakups with body art, if I had, I would be tattooed from head to toe by now.)

My father told me once that getting a tattoo was a “low class thing to do,” but he’s been wrong before. I remember him telling me once that there are only two ways to learn, by reading books or by hanging out with people who are smarter than you. I am here to tell you that there is a third way to learn—the hard way. Through years of research I have learned a lot of things the hard way. For instance, never gamble while waiting in line at an In-N-Out burger—you are getting hustled. Also, people don’t find it “funny” to have pieces of heirloom taxidermy “stolen” as a “prank.”

I also learned that some things in life shouldn’t be purchased at a discount. Much like seafood or medical care, tattoos are always better when purchased from professionals. Just because your best friend’s brother has a tattoo gun and needs some practice does not mean it’s a good idea to get tattooed by an unlicensed artist in his parents’ basement with a bunch of pit bulls running around. You might as well get a stick-n-poke tattoo from a carny behind the Zipper at a state fair. You can do it, but you’re the one who has to live with it.

That being said, I like my tattoo. It’s not perfect, but neither am I. It serves as a reminder of a time in my life when I was experiencing a lot of pain, and, like tattoos, when pain heals it often becomes something more interesting. It has helped me to become the man I am today, and I am grateful for that. My ability to accept my own flaws reflects my ability to accept the choices I have made in life, and who I am as a person. Whether they were good or bad decisions doesn’t matter after a while, it’s just how I got here, and I might as well accept it. The tattoo isn’t getting any better, but I have the choice to improve around it.


Rachel Carter grew up surrounded by trees and snow and mountains. She graduated from the University of Vermont and Columbia University, where she received her MFA in nonfiction writing. She is the author of the So Close to You series with Harperteen. These days you can find her working on her next novel in the woods of Vermont.

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