This story is part of a USA TODAY series looking at the evolution of comedy and what the industry’s future looks like in a changing world.
More than ever, people are hungry for immediate laughter and connection – seeking it any which way they can. Now, instead of waiting for Netflix to drop the latest hourlong comedy special or saving up money to score tickets to a standup show, comic relief is at your fingers. Just open TikTok.
In 2022, comedy is more accessible than ever. Though some comics were early adopters to the TikTok craze, the COVID-19 pandemic and shuttered comedy clubs in 2020 forced many comedians (famous or not) to get crafty. Many reached their audiences online, and with the meteoric rise of TikTok – growing from 133 million to 902 million annual users in three years – it’s clear social media has changed the comedy landscape.
“Before the pandemic, the only people you got to see perform were who the industry thought was funny, who the industry was going to give a special to, who the industry was going to put on a late-night show,” says comedian Robyn Schall. “Now because of the pandemic, because of TikTok, because of Instagram, the people decide who’s funny and who they want to see. … It puts the power in the people versus the industry.”
And the people have spoken.
The hashtags #comedy, #humor and #funny have amassed billions of views on the social media platform, according to TikTok data obtained by USA TODAY. More specifically, the hashtags #standup, #standupcomedy, #skit, #sketchcomedy and #comedyskit have gotten about 82.5B views.
By bringing their authentic selves and embracing diversity, a new wave of comedians are proving there’s humor in humanity.
In a time when the world needs laughter the most, the USA TODAY entertainment team compiled and interviewed these comedians, not just because they make us laugh by poking fun at life’s everyday occurrences, but because they also tackle topics that matter, like mental health, anxiety, stereotypes and sexuality.
Check out these comedians and what they have to say about creating laughs on TikTok (in no particular order).
By the numbers: 5.3 million followers, 180.5 million likes
Elyse Myers (@elysemyers) went from stay-at-home-mom and coder to comedian, gaining 5 million TikTok followers by sharing hilarious anecdotes of her life experiences, with a dose of relatable anxiety and awkwardness. Her blunt storytelling paired with catchphrases (“absolutely not”) and silly graphics have fans swarming to her content.
It was Myers’ video about the worst first date she’d ever been on (she got tricked into buying 100 tacos) that went viral and sent her soaring into comedy, a career that was never on her radar.
“Even to call myself a comedian feels so foreign to me, because it’s like, ‘no, I just like being funny!’ But people are like, ‘that’s a comedian,'” Myers says. She wasn’t doing any standup before, she says. “TikTok kind of created that space for me naturally.”
The 28-year-old, who lives in Nebraska, adds that social media platforms have made comedy more accessible.
“It’s knocking down the barriers for people (who) don’t feel like they’re allowed to be successful because they don’t have the right team. You are the team. You are the videographer. You are the writer. You are the editor,” she says. “You are all the things, and if you can dive into all of those areas and learn them, then you can be successful if it’s something you want to do.”
Beyond her funny tales, Myers also gains followers with her authentic and encouraging takes on mental health.
“What we’re craving the most of right now is human connection,” says Myers, who plans to take her messages to podcast and TV. “So if I can bring that into my comedy, that’s really important to me, and I’m gonna do that every time.”—Amy Haneline
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By the numbers: 652.3K, 18.3 million likes
Robyn Schall didn’t start her comedy career on TikTok (@robynschallcomic), but the platform thrust the New York City comedian into the spotlight. The 37-year-old started doing standup in 2011 and became a full-time working comedian by 2014, doing tours for troops overseas and paying the bills for her tiny studio apartment.
Like many other comedians during the pandemic, she found herself without work, so she went to social media. Her video recapping her 2020 goal list gone awry was “the lightning” that put eyes on her, she says, to the tune of millions of followers and celebrity sympathizers including Jennifer Garner and Oprah Winfrey.
Schall kept it going, regularly posting about her life antics, including dating and failing at TikTok trends (like partner yoga). And while Schall is grateful for the internet, she is well aware of cancel culture and mindful about what she puts out there.
“I went viral making fun of my dead grandma during a pandemic that was killing old people,” she quips. “I think you do need to take risks. I also understand that some things go too far.”
Schall is doing a standup tour this summer and has dreams of doing a sitcom or talk show. “I just like making people laugh. That’s what’s so great about TikTok … now, it’s in my own hands.”—Haneline
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By the numbers: 2.5 million followers, 75.8 million likes
It took Leo González some time to find his way back to comedy.
“For a long time, I didn’t think anything was really funny anymore,” he says. González had been at it for over a decade, starting on YouTube and the now-defunct video-sharing app Vine. Then life happened, and he stopped.
But in 2020, he created a TikTok account (@leogonzall) to watch more of Adam Martinez’s (also known as @adamrayokay) videos, and it inspired him to get back to what he loved doing most: making others laugh. “Once I remembered how funny things are, I just was like, ‘This is what I feel most comfortable doing. This is what I’ve always loved.'”
The 27-year-old comedian from Hanford, California, can deliver a spot-on impersonation of George Lopez looking at a menu, or of a cranky DMV worker scolding you for no reason, and he can nail the mannerisms of a quintessential micromanage-y boss.
González believes TikTok’s influence has “created comedians.” Becoming a comedian wasn’t part of the plan, he says, but “it made people like me feel qualified, who didn’t feel they were before.”
“TikTok feels like an open talent show,” he adds. “It shifted business everywhere.”
It’s also shifted González’s life in a matter of two years. Since 2020, he’s churned out viral hit after viral hit, collaborated with other Latino comedians on TikTok and been invited to red carpet premieres to interview celebrities including Robert Pattinson and Jared Leto.
Now, he’s looking to develop a slate of original content for TV, film and audio and writing his first book. But at his core, he simply wants to create funny videos to be able to “distract someone from any sort of anxieties or heartbreak and give them that special place to go to, to do what their body is built is to do – to laugh.” — Pamela Avila
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By the numbers: 311K followers, 14.4 million likes
EJ Marcus posted his first video on TikTok in November, but it wasn’t until he moved to Los Angeles from Portland, Oregon, in January that he really started having fun on the app. Marcus’ (@ejhavingfun) “Cool LA Dad” began hitting all of our For You Pages on the app, and ever since, he’s continued drawing inspiration from the many IRL characters he meets in the city he now calls home.
“I woke up the next day and was like, ‘Why do I have so many TikTok notifications?'” Marcus says of when he first shared “Cool LA Dad” on the app. But Marcus didn’t just rely on that one persona. He expanded on it and introduced to his audience characters including the judgmental millennial sister and the “mom who finds out their kid uses they/them pronouns”— and that inclusion of relatable characters is what keeps drawing followers in. Marcus’ videos and POV sketches make it clear comedy is his “big passion.”
Marcus is aware of the “seemingly all-powerful industry forces that are at play at all times,” which plays a role in how he approaches his craft, especially as the line blurs between what’s funny and what’s taking it too far (see: the 2022 Oscars slap or the backlash Dave Chappelle has received for transphobic comments).
“I also believe so strongly in people recognizing authenticity and generosity and kindness,” Marcus says, adding that his comedy comes “from a place of love.”
Ultimately, that’s what will “continue to resonate with people,” as opposed to “saying hateful things or promoting hateful ways of seeing groups of people. That’s not going to last, it’s just not sustainable.” — Avila
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By the numbers: 1.3 million followers, 18.7 million likes
All Elsa Majimbo needs is a pair of tiny ’90s-style sunglasses and potato chips to deliver her satirical monologues with that signature manic laugh. “I don’t really overthink it,” she says.
The 21-year-old comedian (@elsa.majimbo) has graced the cover of Teen Vogue, became a Fenty Beauty ambassador, was featured in Forbes’ 30 Under 30, worked with Maison Valentino on a limited edition book, titled “The Alphabet for Kids & Adults,” and signed with IMG Models and WME.
Her rise to fame, however, wasn’t meticulously planned. “I’m not going to apply for a job. I don’t want a job,” Majimbo says in one of her monologues. “You’re doing labor — ON PURPOSE.”
“To be honest, I just genuinely had nothing better to do,” she quips. “This was my last option.” Making TikToks “made me happy and they seemed to do really, really well so I kept making them,” she says.
With her comedic style, she never wants to play it safe. “You need to know how to (spin) serious situations in a funny way,” she says. “That’s the best comedy in my opinion.”
People will always be offended and there will always be backlash, Majimbo adds, which makes her “genuinely hope” comedy doesn’t sail into a more sensitive approach: “It wouldn’t be comedy.”
Majimbo, who grew a cult following on TikTok and Instagram during the pandemic lockdown for her honest streams of consciousness on society and capitalism, knows the importance of the app when it comes to connection. “There’s so much gatekeeping in the entertainment industry,” Majimbo says, adding that the majority of comedians thriving either had connections or simply started from scratch. —Avila
By the numbers: 1.6 million followers, 34.4 million likes
Misha’s personal brand of comedy is equal parts bite and heart.
Misha (@dontcrossagayman) is best known on TikTok for “Lessons in Not Crossing a Gay Man,” a series that centers on witty anecdotes from the 34-year-old’s life. Misha says his style of insult comedy is inspired by reading, an observational and often sassy style of humor, and allows him to hold “up a mirror to the bullies of the world” and give “back the energy they’re putting out.”
“I’ve seen a lot of times people that are unrepresented, people that feel like they’re bullied or taken advantage of, just slumping their shoulders and taking it because that was the norm,” says Misha, who felt motivated by the increasing hostility of the internet. “It was important (for me) to be someone people could look up to and say, ‘I deserve respect. I deserve love. I deserve to go out into the world and be myself and take up space.'”
Comedians have become “advocates,” Misha says, and they “use their platforms to spread messages of positivity and acceptance.” In his own work, Misha says highlighting his queerness maximizes the social impact of his comedy.
“I chose that particular part of me because it is the part of me that still is underrepresented across media, across pop culture,” Misha says.
For Misha, the accessibility of social media gives underrepresented communities their overdue spotlight.
“We’re proving every day that you don’t have to look like what comedians used to look like in order to gain views and gain popularity and gain a following,” he says. — Edward Segarra
By the numbers: 2.7 million followers, 175.2 million likes
Even in turbulent times, Ben Brainard is showing laughter might be the best medicine after all.
The 26-year-old comedian (@ben_brainard) has become well known for his online sketch series “The Table,” in which he impersonates the various states in the U.S. and pokes fun at “how nobody is doing well.” Brainard says the series and his move to TikTok were both inspired by the pandemic lockdown, which forced the cancellation of his standup comedy performances.
Brainard says the virality of short-form video like TikTok has made fame and mainstream access more attainable for “regular comics (who) were already writing comedy before social media. You’re starting to see a lot more guys that are really good comics now being able to find the level of recognition that they’ve earned or deserved,” he says.
Brainard says he hopes “The Table” can help foster a greater sense of unity and mutual understanding.
“If I can somehow make these sketches help people realize that they’re not that different from the people on the other side of the country, then I want to do that,” Brainard says. — Segarra
By the numbers: 2.5 million followers, 49.9 million likes
For Georgie Muñoz, the key to striking comedy gold is sticking to what you know.
Inspired by the sketch comedy style of “Saturday Night Live” and an impersonation trend on TikTok, the 22-year-old comedian (@georgieanthony) found a winning formula in impersonating his mother, whose strong New York accent and fiery personality Muñoz caricatures for his sidesplitting sketches.
Muñoz says while he’s “always found joy in making people laugh,” posting his comedic work on TikTok allows him to offer people an antidote to the often unattainable or “unrealistic” aesthetics of social media.
Muñoz says it all boils down to using the escapist magic of comedy to help others. “There’s a lot of things that can go wrong in life,” he says. “And it’s just finding a way to allow people to escape from that and just laugh.” — Segarra
By the numbers: 412.2K followers, 14.8 million likes
Jacon Milan’s viral fame was written in the stars.
The 26-year-old content creator (@jaconmilan1) established his comedic presence on TikTok with the help of his astrology-themed sketches, in which Milan impersonates the zodiac signs in various scenarios.
“I’ve always been that friend that’s like, ‘Oh my God, you’re such a Cancer,’ ‘You’re such an Aries,’ and my friends always said that I should do something with that,” Milan says.
Milan says the current comedy landscape feels “more inclusive” toward diverse perspectives. “It’s not just all-male dominated or all cisgender-dominated,” he says, noting more LBGTQ comedians are “coming up.”
Through his content, Milan says he wants to impart the message that comedy can be found in authenticity and doesn’t have to rely on repurposed trauma. “We all can be funny,” he says. “You don’t have to be a certain type of person or certain age or go through terrible things and turn it into comedy: You can be funny strictly because of your story.” — Segarra