I’m proud of my newest video comedy sketch – I hope you’ll enjoy it too 🙂
I’m excited to announce the launch of my and Michelle Slonim’s new book!
New Parent Smell: Funny Thoughts On Pregnancy, Newborns & Tots is an illustrated humor book that helps ease the stress of parents-to-be.
New Parent Smell is the book to read after you’ve read one of those “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” type books, got hit with anxiety and could use some laughs.
Rise Up and Write
Humor That Works Interview
BOAST: Best Of Astoria
Comedy Network Live
No Disrespect Podcast #150
In Hot Water #565
Love Gurus Podcast
Drew Wanna Know Podcast #17
I recently hit 100k followers on my TikTok account. A bunch of my friends started asking me how I did it, so I figured it’d be more helpful to write out my methods in one post.
While my method worked for stand-up comedy, I’ve tried keeping my advice general where possible so you can apply my ideas to whatever your talent/interest is.
I started focusing on TikTok on May 13. I had about 200 followers. By June 3rd I had 1,000 followers.
By July 3, it was over 100,000.
I’ve been on the other social media platforms for 10+ years and never got much traction: My twitter has 3,700 followers, Instagram 1,300 followers and Facebook page 750 followers.
I made a TikTok account and posted about 15 videos in Jan/Feb for my album release. One clip got 10,000 views which was great by my standards, the rest got a couple of hundred, so I stopped.
In retrospect, my square format of the videos with a large ad up top was not the proper way to create TikTok specific videos. I was trying to be efficient and reuse content that I’d created for Instagram, but it didn’t make sense here.
I’d heard of TikTok for at least a year but didn’t understand it and didn’t really use it or play with it although I should’ve because:
My college agent kept mentioning I needed to figure out TikTok because all the college kids were using it.
My friend Chris James kept bugging me to get on TikTok.
The final inspiring catalyst was when my friend Dave Nihill wrote a very helpful post “TikToking From 0 to 300k Followers in 60 Days.” In fact, before you read this further, read Dave’s article. It’s super helpful and better than this post of mine.
My main takeaways from Dave’s article were
- Create in the 1080×1920 native vertical format
- Have text titles on your video for the first 2-3 seconds
- At a minimum, reply to all comments for the first 30-60 minutes after posting
(which I now batch by checking 10 minutes after posting, then 45 minutes after posting)
- Enable and use TikTok Analytics to see what times of day your followers are most likely to be online.
For me it was in the 2pm to 10pm range – so I posted like 3pm and 6pm, but sometimes 5pm and 9pm, etc. Depending on my day. I didn’t stress about the exact timing, I just used the heuristic of “morning bad, late afternoon and early evening good.”
- It helps the algorithm if people watch your whole video – aka it’s better to have two shorter videos that people might get through rather than one “long” 58 second video
- Don’t put important information in the top , bottom and right edges of the video frame because TikTok specific icons take up those parts of the screen
After reading Dave’s article, to make myself accountable, I told Chris, “Okay, I’ll post for 30 straight days and text you every time I post since you’ve been annoying me about getting on TikTok. At least now you’ll be annoyed back.” (This is my Russian Jewish way of saying, “Thanks Chris James!”)
30 days in, I was at about 5k followers. Which was more followers than in all my years of Twitter/Instagram/Facebook usage. I was happy that I was getting interaction and that some videos were getting 50k-100k views, so I decided I’d keep posting every day for at least another month.
I subscribe to Scott Adam’s theory of focusing on process, not goals.
If I was gonna do this every day for a month, I wanted to think of something I could
- Easily do twice a day, that would take a half-hour total per day or less
- Repeat constantly without stressing out about ideas
Also I was sick of video editing my last comedy special into small clips, so I didn’t want to do anything that involved a real time commitment for editing.
So I decided to film myself doing some of my stand up jokes with a white wall behind me.
And I knew TikTok skewed to a younger audience, so I started with the jokes I’d do when performing at colleges. I made the first few jokes in the shorter 8-12 second range on purpose, to increase the odds of people watching the whole thing as I was told that helps the discovery algorithm.
I paid attention to the videos that did best. It quickly became obvious that when I was doing my parents’ Russian accent, people enjoyed that most. So I started putting out those jokes more often. But not exclusively. Because I don’t want to be pigeon-holed as “the Russian voice guy”
My Tactics (That Will Be Quickly Outdated)
- Captions. From having been doing a lot of video editing for my special, I was used to captioning all my jokes. So in addition to having a 3-second title, I decided to caption the rest of my jokes, 2-3 lines at a time. It’s a little more work, but it made my video look unique compared to others I’d seen
- Different text colors. On a lark, I decided to use a different text color for every video post. It was accidentally quite useful, for when you go to my profile page, it looks fun and you can easily tell that each video is different.
A lot of comedians have all their posts look very similar visually in the profile grid, and that might confuse people. My different colors may have made people more likely to follow me because it’s visually pleasing and easier to understand exactly what to expect from my account.
- Respond Funny In Comments. I tried to be funny when responding to comments since I’m a comedian.
- Tag users that comment in a related video. At the start, if someone asked something that was related to a different video, I’d tag them in the comments for that other video. I don’t know if this actually helped, but I liked that early followers would feel more of a connection
- Weird face. Without overthinking it, I’d often add a weird facial expression at the end of my clip as an additional silly thing.
- Avoid perfection. I’d mostly do one take of the joke, unless I flubbed words, then I’d try again. My key was not obsessing about any of this.
- 6-8 hashtags. 7 seemed to be the sweet spot for me. #fyp and #tiktokcomedy were the 2 I always used. I have not found that #jokes #standup or #standupcomedy help me at all
- Filmed it the same day as posting. For the first 40 or so days, I was filming it new each day – so if you go through my page, you can see my hair and beard lengths changing each day, as well as a different colored t-shirt. I think that helps the profile view look fresh and interesting
Although now I film a few days of content at a time, changing t-shirts every 3-4 clips, just because it’s easier to track what jokes I’ve done and faster to film in one chunk. Plus I have to spend more time replying to comments after posting than before and still want to limit my TikTok use to 30-60 minutes a day.
- Don’t obsess. The most important tactic – I didn’t obsess about the numbers or spend too much time on this. I did jokes that I thought were tested, replied to comments for a little, then went about my life.
- Track what you post. Knowing I was gonna do at least 60 posts in 30 days, I started a simple text document tracking the title of my bit, how long it was, day/time posted, and how many views it had in the first day – this was mostly to make sure I didn’t repeat any material and to see that sometimes, a clip that doesn’t do great views-wise right away picks up steam a week or a month later.
- Don’t delete clips. Once you start, keep all your clips up for at least a month. The second video of mine that got over 100k views barely had 5k views for the first two weeks.
- Delete/private old content that doesn’t match. I deleted or set to private my 15-20 pre-May-experiment TikTok videos except for the one video that had 10k views.
- Good grammar and spelling. I made sure to use correct spelling and punctuation for all the text captions, as not doing so personally bothers me. I also would hit enter in places so it was easier to read. Not sure this makes any difference.
- Text timing. I made sure the text captions sync up decently with the words I’m saying.
Why My Method May Not Work For You
At the time I started to focus on TikTok, I’d been writing and performing jokes in front of live audiences for nearly 12 years. I’d recorded four comedy albums. In other words, I had 4+ hours of tested and edited material that I could turn into 15-25 second bits at a time. I could not write a new joke for at least a year and have enough in the backlog to put out two new jokes per day. If you haven’t done the work and you’re doing brand new, untested jokes every day, the odds that enough of them are funny enough to build a following are lower.
I posted usually 2 and sometimes 3 videos, every day for 50 straight days. I did not take a single day off. Allegedly algorithms like consistency.
- Post at twice a day, at least an hour apart, preferably three or fours hours
- Respond to comments for the first 30-60 minutes
- Use 6-8 hashtags but also have normal words in the description
- Post a couple of shorter (8 to 15 second) videos that you know will be well received by college-age kids first as your first 5 videos are most important
- Figure out a format you can post easily and often, then do it twice a day for a month without focusing on results
I recently got an email from a college student interested in working in entertainment/comedy. I figured I’d post the Q&A here too, in case it might help others. If you’re a young person and have more questions, ask in the comments or via the contact page.
(*FYI most of these answers do not take COVID-19 and how it’s affected/affecting live entertainment into account – so pretend I wrote this in February of 2020 or 2022)
What is your current position title and what does it entail?
I’m a stand-up comedian. I live my life, notice interesting things that happen, write jokes about them, then perform them on stage. I audio or video record each show, then listen back and rewrite based on where laughs do or don’t occur and what I riffed in the moment.
Other comedy things I do: write scripts and try to sell them to get a TV show or to get staffed for writing on someone else’s TV show, use social media to gain a following, audition/act, create books, create comedy albums/specials, do voice-overs, write/direct/edit my own short comedy videos, etc.
Also I know you’re copy/pasting this to a bunch of people but “Current Position Title” is way too corporate a term for my line of work.
What is your educational background and how has it prepared you for this career?
I majored in economics and philosophy. Other than general work ethic and thinking about ideas, it didn’t directly prepare me.
Can you recall any specific academic courses that you have found helpful in this role and why?
The most helpful thing I did in college as relates to my life right now was to co-create and write for a parody website of Rutgers called Slutgers.
We’d write articles like “drink of the week” and “sexual position of the week” and do funny captions for user-submitted photos. We’d also create merchandise like t-shirts, shot glasses and thongs and go around the dorms selling them. It was basically “College Humor” but only for Rutgers.
As a student, were you involved in any outside of the classroom activities (internships, student organizations, research, volunteer, etc.)? If yes, what were they and how were they helpful to you?
Mainly, see Slutgers above. I think I did some other things as well: I might’ve been a new student orientation volunteer one year. I think I had some internships at the museum, and I played roller hockey for a year or two, but it was 10+ years ago so I don’t really remember all my “resume building” details. I guess studying abroad counts as something, because I think I talked about that when I interviewed for “real” jobs.
How did you land your first position?
I went to career services. They asked what I wanted to do. I said “I don’t know. But I’m smart and I like to travel.” They said “How about consulting?” I looked into it, different projects and travel, decent pay. Sounded good. So I did all the on-campus interviews with all the management consulting places that were recruiting Rutgers and got a job offer with Accenture.
What are the more challenging and rewarding parts of your job?
Challenging = building a loyal following that wants to listen/watch/pay money to see you.
Rewarding = the creativity. Stuff like when a new joke starts working on stage, or changing the order, or building your new hour by playing with the order.
Also you get to talk to, hang out with and befriend other lost and funny souls. Way more interesting than the shmucks at a regular office’s water cooler.
What advice would you have for young professionals just getting started in this field?
Stop using the words “young professionals.” Learn a little joke structure. Then write some jokes. Put it away for a few days. Look at it again and edit the shit out of it. Memorize that. Then go perform it. Record it. Listen back. Make adjustments. Keep doing that process.
Also be polite/nice to everyone cause it’s a small community and already hard enough. Or just make a viral youtube video that gets you a loyal following and you can skip being good at the craft…
Also with comedy, especially at the start before you find your voice, you should be pretty familiar with what other people are doing/talking about, so that you avoid those subjects. Once you learn your character/viewpoint you’ll have a unique take on the most common of subjects and this matters less, although I still try to avoid very common subjects unless my joke is very specific.
Have you done any freelance work? Is job security with that type of work a big issue in highly populated areas like NYC and LA?
It’s all freelance work. Job security didn’t exist before COVID19, now that’s just an oxymoron. If you want “job security” go work in something other than entertainment. At least entertainers know they don’t have job security. Everyone else is pretending that they do – see current global situation and Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s Turkey Story below… Regular w2 wage workers = turkey.
Do you have one piece of advice for someone who has never tried stand-up before but would like to try?
I wrote a blog post about it here.
In this digital and social media age, do you think it is plausible and sustainable to pursue a career solely online?
Yes. You can become a Youtube/Instagram/TikTok/whatever else star if that’s where your drive and passion is.
I take a lot of digital audio classes and am interested in possible producing podcast in the near future. Have you had any experience in this somewhat new and popular media format?
Podcasting isn’t new at this point. It’s a mature medium. I did a podcast for 2 years / 100 episodes with two other comedians. It was fun. I learned the skill of bullshitting for an hour and being funny. We never had huge audience growth, so eventually, we stopped doing it. I’ve also been a guest on dozens of other people’s podcasts.
This is true for podcasting as well as all entertainment, if you’re interested in it and have a passion for it, you should do it. Just don’t expect anything to happen from it other than learning how to do it. (“You’re entitled to your labor but not the fruits of your labor” I believe is the quote.)
Recently with all the institutions closing down, how has the CODVID outbreak affected your field and do you think it will return to normal?
Until there’s a vaccine that gets distributed to the whole population, all live performances are fucked. My guess is that will be the next 6-18 months minimum. It ain’t gonna be pretty.