Is Comedy's Next Breakout Star on TikTok?
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TikTok has been churning out new “celebrities” left and right for the past few years. Because of the app’s ability to expose personalities to the public with lightning speed, we’ve been given such incredible talents as Addison Rae, Charlie DiMelio and (insert third dancer/influencer/unboxer here).
Although the TikTok gods have bestowed us with the raw talent necessary to make a film as Oscar-worthy as He’s All That, it still begs the question: Where are the comedians? The social-media-comedian-to-mainstream-success pipeline is a much more complicated and winding path than that of the teen-heartthrob-to-mainstream fast lane.
Why is that? For that matter, are the TikTok comedians of today even searching for mainstream success, or looking for a chance to control 100% of their content by staying with online media? One thing is for certain, the true comedians of TikTok are always looking for bigger and better projects.
As a TikTok comedian myself with around 120k followers and 3 million likes, I have spent a lot of time around other TikTok comedians and understand what it takes to build an audience and consistently release content. From my own experience, when you’re blowing up on the app, offers do come in. My account, @Twotreehill, was approached by America’s Got Talent, NBC’s Bring the Funny, and Rooster Teeth. While all three of those offers fell by the wayside, it still shows that today’s talent scouts are spending a lot of time on TikTok. That's why the best TikTok comedians put in a lot of work behind the scenes to push out content and become better performers.
The best example of TikTok comedy moving to mainstream comedy is the group Please Don’t Destroy.
Three former NYU students (like most of the Brooklyn comedy scene) went from viral TikTok sketches to viral SNL sketches. These guys weren’t just picked up after Lorne saw them while scrolling through TikTok on the toilet. The sketch group has been working for years doing shows around the city making sure their live chops are as good as their online personas. In addition, as with a lot of young success, family ties helped out. Martin Herlihy is the son of long-time Adam Sandler collaborator, Tim Herlihy. John Higgins is the son of Steve Higgins, an SNL writer-producer and the sidekick on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. While those connections definitely gave them a leg up, it's important to remember that these guys also have the skill and work ethic to keep up with the demands of an SNL.
Meet The Future
In searching for people with the best chance of breaking out of the chains of TikTok stardom and moving to bigger and better things, I had to find the right mix of attributes: performers with a following, real raw talent, and a bonafide hustler gene. Not just people with repetitive material, or videos that your aunt would post to her Facebook wall. I reached out to two artists who fit the bill: Natalie Burdick (@Natsingssongs) and Kyle Gordon (@kylegordonisgreat). I spoke to both about what it looks like to leverage TikTok into bigger projects. Because if Vine taught us anything, it's that short-form social media video apps don’t always last forever.
Kyle Gordon has gone viral several times with his character-based sketches. Characters like DJ Crazy Times and Greg The Kid that Nobody Likes have garnered Gordon more than 2.4 million followers and 90.4 million likes. Natalie Burdick also goes viral consistently on both Reels and TikTok. Burdick uses a blend of musical comedy and absurdist sketches to make content for her 250K TikTok followers and 140k Instagram followers.
First, I wanted to learn how long each of these creators has been doing comedy, as TikTok comedians can range from inexperienced to very experienced and still gain massive followings. Gordon has been in the New York comedy scene since he graduated college in 2014. I was on the same bill as Kyle for a 2019 show before his TikTok success, and can safely say he was killing rooms well before his focus on social media.
“I think my ability to grow my account and get popular on TikTok is due in large part to the kind of comedy I was doing before," he says. "I was doing short solo character pieces and I think the way TikTok is structured has worked really well in my favor. I really have had to change almost nothing about my style. I just created 10 times more than I ever did pre-TikTok.”
Burdick, on the other hand, says “I never really gave value to the silly songs I would write, but then I saw pages like yours and Austin Archer and people who were putting their songs out and I was like ‘Oh I can do this too.’ I didn’t think it would have any value. It was really surprising because when you go from writing stupid songs in your parents' house to 100 thousand people watching it and enjoying it, it's like omg what I played this for my parents yesterday and now it got me a job at Nickelodeon.”
Nick hired Burdick to contribute to experimental short blocks created by influencers that will run on the channel. Any other mainstream offers? “So the big one is Nickelodeon," says Burdick. “And then I also have a deal with Foundations Music. They reached out to me because of my TikTok and Instagram and it’s huge because one of their big artists at their label I've been listening to since I was like 14 years old, Tallest Man on Earth.”
“Also, Instagram reached out and they said hey we have this cool competition for you and a few others during creator week,” she says. "The day rolls around and there are three other completely different creators. At the end of the meeting, they were like you all won! Here’s a huge amount of money to make your own series for IGTV! There's like a screenshot that was posted of all of us in total shock. We had no idea that A) we were all gonna win and B) that we were gonna win a s**t ton of money. They completely changed my 2021.”
Gordon has similar experiences getting scouted by larger companies while noting that things have changed a lot since 2014. “When I was in L.A., I met with a management company and they said they do a lot of work with Nickelodeon and liked my personality for that. This other person who was on the call was very honest and I appreciate it, she was like ‘you’re great’ but super skeptical. It's hard to sell me because I have no acting credits and there's nothing to grab people's attention other than the TikTok. I've got a few creds but for the most part they're like, this is a TikTok guy."
“What was interesting was they said that industry entertainment people have been burned by this excitement over social media people before,” Gordon says. “So maybe like 5 years ago, Jake Paul was on a Disney Channel show and they gave a talk show to Lily Singh. They said a lot of that s**t did not pan out, it didn't work, it didn’t translate.
Hollywood in 2014 was like omg this person has 40 million followers, let's give them a show. And the shows didn't work. If it was 2014 maybe I would've gotten this stuff but the vibe I got was mainstream people were burned by this hype before. It's exciting and it's better than not having a following but just having a social media following, I think it's not quite enough anymore.”
Burdick heard something similar from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Rachel Bloom. “It was so cool. She gave me advice about how the industry has changed so much since she went viral. She was like ‘I know my advice is dated even though it's only been 10 years.’”
Bloom went viral in 2010 for her song “F**k Me Ray Bradbury” on YouTube and has since achieved huge mainstream success. “Back when (Bloom) went viral, within two months she already had meetings with huge agencies, huge writing agencies, and management teams and it was like instant,” says Burdick. "Whereas now so many people go viral and have big comedy accounts that it's not necessarily about ‘oh this is good we like this and others do too’ it's like how many followers do you have and they care so much more about that than they did before.”
What Comes Next?
As for the future, both have big plans. Burdick hopes to start doing live gigs and sketch shows with other content creators soon. She plans to make a writing packet and start to navigate the comedy scene more seriously with the end goal of having a sketch show. “I also really want to do something where I’m writing for adults. I love working with Nickelodeon but I would love to do something with Adult Swim or Comedy Central.”
Gordon doesn't plan to quit TikTok “but when I think about things I want to do and career goals, yeah, my energy is more focused on trying to branch out into more mainstream things. I’ve just started doing more out-of-town dates with the goal to build up to a bigger tour in the spring. Part of that is like a chip on my shoulder to prove that I’m not just a TikToker. But I also recognize my desire may be me being a dinosaur. Like Cody Ko may look at me and think you’re wasting your time. The people who follow you are not going to give a s**t about your set on Jimmy Kimmel, ya know? I may have my priorities in the wrong place, but I am trying to do everything all at once so even if I’m wrong about one thing I have backups.”
The future of sending TikTok comics into the mainstream will evolve over time. The industry is becoming more careful about who they make their deals with. Not everyone has the same charisma as the Island Boys.
But there's plenty of talent on TikTok just waiting to break out. Look for big things from Mathew Friend (@Matturday.night.live), Clare Ruddy (@Clare.Ruddy), Angelo DiGiorgio (@Khakisonly), Courtney Parchman (@averagefashionblogger), Grace Kuhlenschmidt (@gkuhlenschmidt) and Megan Stalter (@megstalter). Oh and (@twotreehill).
With enough luck, the comedians of TikTok will soon take the main stage, even though it will be very hard to make anything funnier than He’s All That.
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Top Image: Natalie Burdick, Please Don't Destroy