Two nights ago, while I was trying to shove a plate of slightly burnt asparagus into a Ziploc bag, slap some Bandaids on my ankles, and figure out how to get to the Passover dinner I was inappropriately late for, I got a Snapchat. It was a life-altering Snapchat, the kind I imagine is reserved for DJ Khaled, or an extremely popular teen, or Sir Evan Spiegel himself.
I received a photo of an Executive Producer Dick Wolf Tramp Stamp (EPDWTS).
I do not check Snapchat all that often anymore. This is perhaps a stupid confession coming from someone who works for Gizmodo, Jezebel’s tech-oriented sister site, but I am too lazy to keep up to date with all of the Snaps. I usually wait a few weeks and check the direct messages all at once, which is both sad yet satisfying.
On Sunday night, however, I decided to check the unopened message from Kara, my best friend from high school. Here is what greeted me:
“Is that an EPDWTS?” you might be thinking. As Kara’s helpful and furious red circles confirm, that is indeed an EPDWTS. It is a bold, inky, font-matching tribute to Dick Wolf, the prolific auteur of shows like Law & Order and Crime and Punishment. I firmly believed everyone in the world needed to see this tramp stamp, so I tweeted a screenshot and let the magic happen. (The magic, in this case, was a fave from venture capitalist Marc Andreessen.)
My tweet went viral. And a few hours later, I got a reply from the tattoo owner himself.
That night, Bernard Johnson—a 29-year-old resident of New Orleans—added me on Facebook, because sometimes the internet is good. He even left a very nice post on my wall (“Thanks for making me popular”).
The next day, Jezebel deputy editor Kate Dries asked me if I had any plans to talk to him. I told her I would ask, and when he said yes, I was happier than I had been in weeks. What follows is a transcript of our conversation, which has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Jezebel: How’s the viral fame been treating you?
Bernard Johnson: I love it. This is, like, the third time it’s happened just randomly. Not just from the tattoo—from random things about me. One time BuzzFeed got a picture of my eyebrows when I was making a funny face, and I got on their list for worst eyebrows, and everyone tagged me [on Facebook] for that too. And there was another time for my ears.
Tell me about the genesis of this wonderful tattoo.
Obviously I’m obsessed with Law & Order: SVU. Obsessed. I watch it every single day of my life. So one day, me and my tattoo artist were just talking about what I should get next. I told him I’ve wanted a tramp stamp for a while, and we were talking about Law & Order and Mariska Hargitay and everything, and I was like, man, I would love to get a Law & Order tramp stamp. And then he thought of the executive producer thing, and I was like, that is so perfect. I want that right now. And the rest is history.
So it was actually the tattoo artist’s idea?
Yeah, it was a collaboration. I mean, he enjoyed the [idea] to get a tramp stamp to do with Law & Order, and I was like, well I love the executive producer Dick Wolf!
And the font matches, too.
Yeah, my tattoo artist just copied and pasted it and inverted it so it would be the exact same font.
Why the tramp stamp location? I don’t have one, but I’m a big believer in them.
That’s how I was for the longest time. I was like, I am such a believer in tramp stamps, I love them so much, and when I saw EPDW the sparks just blew up in my mind. That’s fucking genius, I love it.
I feel like there’s some stigma associated with tramp stamps. You know, it’s like, ‘Oh, you skank.’ Do you think that’s true?
I feel like about 10 years ago, there was a stigma. But now there’s a throwback to the early culture of tattoos. New it’s an embrace of something that used to be tacky.
You’re a pretty big Law & Order fan.
The day I meet Mariska Hargitay is the day I can just die peacefully.
She’s your favorite character?
She’s my favorite character, she’s my favorite everything. I live for her.
If you live for her, why not tattoo something in her honor? Unless you already have!
That’s my next thing. My next piece that I’m working on right now—I’m gonna get a portrait of her on my back, above it.
What other tattoos do you have? I noticed you have one near your neck.
Yeah, I have my mom’s name on my neck, I have a diamond on the front of my neck, a transsexual pinup girl on my leg, along with a naked—you know the Scream killer? The guy in Scream?
I have a naked guy with the mask on, and it’s pretty cute.
When people see the Dick Wolf tattoo, what’s their initial reaction?
Everyone just has to go up to me and talk about it and tell me how much they love it. It happens whenever I take my shirt off. Like, it’s funny this happened at [The Country Club, a bar in New Orleans], because the last time I was there I had like, 20 people take pictures of my back, and post it on Facebook.
Were you just hanging out with friends that day?
I’m a drag queen, I was just having a pool day with my drag queen friends.
I live in New York, but my best friend from high school lives down in NOLA, and she was at this bar, and she snapped me. Afterward she was like, I feel so bad because I was sort of creeping on him with this surreptitious photo. I was like, from the reaction it got, it seems like he would be pretty—
Yeah, I want all the attention for Law & Order I can get. I want everyone to know that I’m a super Law & Order fan.
Do you have a favorite episode?
Season 7, Episode 3. I can’t remember the title of it, but it’s the one where there’s a child porn ring, and Mariska’s just a fucking badass.
I think I’ve seen that one! Is that the one where she’s like, on the phone all the time? Is she on the phone for most of the episode?
Yeah, she’s on the phone for a lot of the episode.
And the girl is trapped somewhere, or she’s in a basement or something.
I’m here for it.
After the tweet started blowing up, one of my friends sent me a photo. Apparently, these executive producer Dick Wolf tattoos are actually—well, not common, but more people have them than you might think. I saw one where the girl had sort of a ribcage/underboob type deal going on.
Do you think you would feel like kindred spirits?
Yes, 100 percent. I feel no competition with Law & Order whatsoever. I wish everyone had the tattoo so that we could all love Law & Order the same.
How long have you been watching Law & Order for?
As long as I can remember. My parents watched it, my grandparents watched it. I would bond with them and watch it, and I used to love it as a kid. I love it even more as an adult.
What do your friends and family think of the tattoo? Are they fans?
My family loves it. As soon as I got it, they thought it was hilarious. My friends love it, it’s such a party trick—whenever I take off my shirt and I have that there.
People responded really, really strongly. I was going through some of the responses on my own Twitter feed, and so many of them were like, “same,” “it me,” “I want this,” or tagging friends or whatever. Why do you think that the response is that way? Is it just a shared bond over Law & Order?
I feel like tons of people love Law & Order: SVU and they just don’t really talk about it as much as they should. It’s a controversial show—it [has] sex abuse, crimes, but when you get down to it, it’s about the characters and about the stories and showing that a strong woman can be empowered. That’s what I value most about it, because Mariska Hargitay reminds me a lot of my mother, [whom] I lost when I was 19. I just get it. I love Mariska so much.
This was one of those weird things for me where it was sort of like the internet coming to life. You always see these types of things on Tumblr or Instragram, but you’re never there for the moment of creation. You’re never there to see it before it gets crazy.
It was really fun to see that transpire all at once. I was on my way home from the pool and I checked my Facebook feed and someone posted on my wall already that you had tweeted it, and I was like, oh my goodness. And then all night long I was just watching the views and retweets go higher and higher.
What’s the craziest thing anyone’s ever said to you about the tattoo?
Some people just think it’s stupid. They’ll be like, why would you get that, it’s ridiculous! I’m like, I like Law & Order a little bit more than you. If you liked it more you’d understand why I had this tattoo. Why wouldn’t you if you’re dedicated?
Do you have any idea if Mariska has seen the Dick Wolf tattoo?
As far as I know she has not. I’ve tweeted several times at her because I want her to see it more than anything.
Update 4/11/2017 11:58am: Mariska has seen the tattoo.
In a Facebook post last night, Bernard wrote the following: “Omfg holy fuck Mariska Hargitay tweeted me. Omg. I am fucking dead.”