"It's embarrassing to try to become famous on the internet."
Self-respect, self-seriousness, and self with content creator Lydia Keating
Est. Read Time: 35 Minutes. Read Time brought to you once again by the Ashburton Energy + Hair Logistics Group, in association with the Bradley Hills Bureau of Corrections. If you like the Sternal Journal, forward it to a friend. They can find the Best of 2020 list here.
Greeting, Sternal Journalists!
I’m pleased to announce the return of the Sternal Journal Interview Series, with a conversation with Lydia Keating—comedian, New Englander, horse girl, former Division 1 rower, and MASSIVE Tiktok creator, as well as YouTuber, Instagrammer and general digital creator.
Lydia is someone I knew from the L.A. open mic scene, but also one of the comedians I’ve watched launch themselves from (her words) “Joe-Schmo-open-micer” into social media fame over the course of the pandemic. To date, Lydia’s account @lydialoo121 has 1.2 Million followers and 43.8 Million likes.
But like almost all of the Tiktok-successful comedians I know, Lydia didn’t find success by simply continuing to do what she was doing on stage. She had to find a niche. And then another niche. And another.
She went from funny stories while doing makeup, to scary stories while doing makeup, with a quick stopover in snarky and concise explanations of psych theory, and landed most recently in a phase dubbed “Fruit Gang,” which involves a lot of running outfits (“fruitfits”) and eating tons of fruit. Oh, and also she’s about to start an MFA in creative fiction.
If you’re having trouble holding that all in your mind at once, that’s because you don’t really have to. Nobody should try to watch all of a Tiktoker’s Tiktok from start to finish. Nobody should try to see it as a cohesive catalog. That’s not how Tiktoks are supposed to be enjoyed or experienced. Old Jebediah Tiktok would be livid.
And yet, that is exactly what I tried (may that rascal Jebediah spin in his grave). So when I chatted with Lydia one morning earlier this week, I was fresh off a multi-hour, multi-day binge of solely her Tiktoks. It was weird. It was fun.
We talked about her first post ever, whether you can be taken seriously as an MFA Tiktoker, Theo Von randomly, running with music, how all stand ups are sort of scared of and respect each other, and I said “Dangus Carangus” when she told me how much brands pay her to do a sponsored post (There is also one Trigger Warning, but it’s announced in very bold type before the passage in question).
Please enjoy a conversation with Lydia Keating, edited for brevity and clarity:
JS: So we got on Zoom and you were like, "Oh, hi!" because you were seeing me for the first time in a while. But I've been watching your TikToks for an hour every day for the past four days. It's fascinating to go from the beginning of someone's TikTok.
LK: I think if I were to do that, I would have a whole different perspective on what my experience has been. So please tell me your thoughts are, what your thesis is.
JS: I wanna do that. But I also want to introduce you to the Sternal Journalists, which I call the readers. They are a small but mighty base, and they have a lot of overlap with you. There are a lot of New Englanders--
LK: My people!
JS: There are a lot of endurance athletes, because I ran cross-country in high school and for one year in college, and then I got kicked off the team.
LK: Did you like get caught smoking weed or something?
JS: No, I just wasn't fast enough. But I was occasionally getting black out drunk the night before a long run and then still being drunk while like out in Kennesaw, Georgia running 14 miles.
One time, I saw a horse while I was running. I was still so drunk from the night before. It was like mile 8 and we turned a corner and there was just a horse there. And it's going to be one of the things that flashes before my eyes when I die.
LK: First of all, the idea of drunk running sounds so deeply unappealing to me. But I also think when you're in college, especially college athletes, you glorify really awful experiences. My team had a similar culture. It’s almost a point of pride of how drunk can you get and then the next day, how well can you perform, and be like, “Haha, fuck you guys!” It's just gross.
But was the horse beautiful?
JS: I guess it was.
So on day one of research for this, I watched your Tiktoks from the beginning for an hour and four minutes, and that only got me to I think July 2020.
LK: Wow. And from there, I started posting more videos per day. So I'm sure even after that, you had your work cut out for you. But I think last summer, I made some very deliberate changes to the type of content I was making.
I started off making a lot of content at the beginning of quarantine on Instagram. More traditional sketch structure you would say. And I only had so much success. I only had my comedy friends tossing me an “lol.”
But on Tiktok, I had a video go viral which I'm sure you saw. The first video where I'm putting on makeup. And that actually was never any material I did onstage. I like was very depressed, and I'd go on these long walks and I'd listen to podcasts of mostly male comedians. I don't even know why I was doing this. I'd listen to a lot of like Theo Von podcasts.
LK: You can imagine I was in a dark place. [Laughs]
JS: Hang on, how does one start listening to those types of podcasts? I always see things like Theo Von podcast, Andrew Schultz, on Instagram. And when I'm watching the clips, I get what's interesting about it. But I wonder: why didn't I get into that? What was your entrée into the Theo Voniverse?
LK: So you know I worked at the Hollywood Improv for a little bit?
JS: Okay, I don't know if I knew that. And by the way, I’m a very tangential interviewer. Some call it a weakness, some call it a strength. I realize I did start to try to introduce you and then I talked about myself for ten minutes.
You're Lydia! Keating! Lydialoo121 on TikTok. You’re a content creator?
JS: Over a million followers on Tiktok!
LK: [Laughs] Very important.
JS: Eighty thousand? Ninety? A hundred thousand on Youtube?
LK: Something like high eighties.
JS: Up in the high-dub-dig-thou on Youtube. You are someone I knew from the standup community. You're a former division one rower at Yale. You are from the New England area. Is there anything I'm missing there? Or anything I'm overemphasizing?
JS: Is it uncomfortable when someone yells your stats and facts at you?
LK: [Laughs] Yeah. I'm pretty embarrassed right now. I think that sums up my entire personality. There's nothing else you should know about me.
JS: Excellent. Anyway. Theo Von.
LK: So I worked at the Hollywood Improv. I was a door person, and I would just end up consuming a lot of comedy. Because you know, I'd work six hour shifts standing in a showroom the whole time. But one time I was in the room and I was standing at the backdoor. Lara Beitz was one of his openers, and she was just killing.
And I was laughing really hard, and I look to the left and Theo's sitting right there. And he's the headliner so he's gonna go up soon. And he looks up at me and he's like, "She's so good." And I was like, "Yeah, she is so good." And he was like, "Wow."
He seemed like so earnestly happy for her, and he was really enjoying her set. And the fact that he felt compelled to say that. I was like, "Theo. He's a nice guy."
JS: It wasn't just nice of him. It was also very present of him. Because you see a lot of people who are sitting in the back at shows not watching, not being present. But he clearly was, and that's probably what makes him a great comic.
LK: Yeah, and I think these older headliners seem so bitter about so much, and it felt like such a genuine moment where he was immersed in his own world and loving it. It was nice to see that someone still clearly enjoys the thing that they’re also doing all the time.
JS: Absolutely. How does looking at screens make you feel?
LK: Bad. My mental health is in a bad place recently. And this is something I grappled with even when I did stand up. I think there's a huge part of me that, at my happiest, from sunrise to sunset, I'm outside, being active, never looking at a phone.
And with stand up, this was a problem too because part of being an outdoorsy person is that there is a big emphasis on getting out there early in the morning. Whether that be surfing or a sunrise hike, this idea of being there in those first waking hours.
And [with] stand up, you’re obviously awake until two in the morning regularly, and it's not healthy to wake up then at six in the morning, or I don't think it is.
But how do I feel about looking at screens? I don't feel great about it. I love entertainment and I love comedy, but sometimes I think entertainment like weirdly butts heads with also loving being an active, outdoorsy person.
Because it seems like you have this past of running. Are you still into working out, being active?
JS: I'm more a runner than a specifically outdoorsy person. But I don’t bring a phone. And during quarantine, because I've also had my mental health struggles, I've gotten into meditation. And meditation is its own meditation, but running is also meditation for me.
Also, my coach in high school would not let us run with music because he said it would mess up our cadence.I don't know if, for crew, there's as much of an emphasis on having your own specific rhythm.
LK: There definitely is. But rowing is also a sport that emphasizes so many hours of low heart rate cardio. That's how you actually get fast at rowing, putting in multiple hours of Zone 2 cardio, and it would just be totally mind numbing.
Although you might be good at it. I think that's quite a unique and special skill to be able to go on a sixteen mile run and not listen to music. Was it something that you forced yourself to do initially, or you had this coach who trained you to be like "This is how you run?"
JS: We just weren't ever allowed to run with music. Not the sprinters because they're running for eleven seconds. They can have their mp3 player—I’m thinking about high school.
LK: You just showed your age. Mp3 player! [Laughs] Nice.
JS: Other people had mp3 players! I just had the CD player! And I would palm it during warmups. The last digit of each one of my fingers was wrapped around it. And if I tripped or something, it was still so secure.
LK: [Laughs] Just like grip it! I love that imagery.
JS: I had like 14 songs on a CD. Sometimes, my friend and I would go on warmups together, each with one headphone in because we needed to listen to Sum41 “Fat Lip and there were only five minutes until the 4x8 started.
LK: You also just made me think of how, by the end of college, I had such a toxic relationship with working out and training because I was so burnt out. So now when I think about working out, I'm like what are the elements that I can include in this experience that will make me excited for it? And listening to good music is one.
However, recently since I've started kind of becoming a fitness influencer, not only am I bringing my phone on my runs, but I feel like my runs are so attached to having this new audience and needing to show, "Mile 2! Mile 3!" And I think it's actually started to affect my relationship with running in a bad way, so I might stop making that content for a little bit.
Because one of the huge perks of running is this feeling of freedom. It's just you and your breathing and your body. The simplicity is what is so appealing or me. And now that I have all these contraptions and TikTok? It's made it less simple. So I think I might need to step away form that content.
JS: That makes me think of so many things. I'm writing down "Social media addiction! Voyeurism! Criticism!” I listened to the interview you did on this podcast, "Well, Now What?" I had just watched Bo Burnham Inside.
And I thought, "This will be exciting, to talk to Lydia about the perils of social media fame," and then I listened to this interview and you sounded so upbeat and optimistic and positive. And I realized I shouldn't just assume that everyone who is famous on social media is having a terrible time.
LK: That interview was also two or three months ago. Things have changed a little bit. Recently, I've gotten so much more hate than I did before. Maybe I'm in a sensitive spot. If I were to do that interview again today, I would probably sound like a different version of myself.
So assume everything. [Laughs]
JS: But I also don't want to force that idea if it’s not there. For instance, I'm reentering the stand up world and hitting mics regularly. And I used to go to mics, and I would have a good time, and I would see people I really liked and enjoyed seeing, you included. Although, really, I’ve probably talked to you three times. You know?
LK: Yeah, but I think you were at one of my first mics. And I remember thinking you were very funny, seasoned. I was like, “This guy knows what he's doing. He's really cool.” And you have a joke about like meaningless sex, right?
LK: Okay, so I don't remember a lot of open mic-ers jokes, but that is one that I often think of. It's so funny. You wrote it so well and you're so good at performing it. And I had just been starting comedy, and I was bad. And I don't know if I even knew your name, but I was like, "One day, I hope to be as good as him." But also like have your respect.
But then like a year later, I had been like doing stand up out my ears. It was my only focus. And I had a good set at a mic. And I remember you laughing at one of my jokes. That was such a win for me to get you to laugh. So you don't even know the role you had.
JS: I am incredibly flattered, I don't deserve it, but I do remember meeting you. Because I think I had just bombed at three or four mics in a row and really needed a win. And then I got to that one and I think it was an all female comedy class, and everyone was going up maybe for the first time?
And I was there and I just felt bad. Because sometimes, if you're the only guy in the room, you get shit on—absolutely fairly. I was like, "This is such a safe space other than me."
So I tried to be as generous as possible, and I had a really fun set with it. I think that's when I met Sarah Lawrence for the first time, and she randomly DM'd me and was like, "That was a really funny set.” And it was exactly the type of win you're saying that I gave you. So it's just like, we're all part of this one big glom.
I guess I’m saying that around the same time when you were like, "Wow, this guy is so seasoned," or whatever? The day before that, that day, and the next day, I was walking into mics being like, "Oh, god. These people are talking. They all know each other."
And as I'm returning now, I'm seeing the little mini cliques start to form again.
But. I'm having fun with it this time. I'm telling myself it doesn't matter. And everything you're saying is reinforcing my sense of this. That everyone is actually kind of scared. And everyone kind of wants to be friends with each other. Except for maybe one very, very angry man at every mic.
And he is at every mic.
LK: [Laughs] Yeah. He is always there. Somehow. He has the time.
JS: Another thing from that “Well, What Now?” interview is that you sounded so intentional from the beginning about blowing up. Is that true or is that a narrative you were able to look back on?
LK: I think it started even pre-pandemic. I had this assistant job, but the company’s deal was up for renewal in June of 2020.
So in January of 2020, pre-pandemic, I started to be like, "Okay, I might have to get a new job in June. And right now, I have the most ideal job. It's salaried. It's honestly not that many hours of work. It's creative-adjacent. And it allows me to do stand up.”
I was like, "How can I continue to have a source of income, and have the thing that I'm pursuing be stand up, which I'm probably not going to make a lot of money from in a very long time?”
And I was really insecure at first about anything on instagram that was showcasing my comedy. I was getting really comfortable getting on stage and testing jokes at mics, but it's scary to be like, "Is this funny, person-from-science-class-from-senior-year-of-high-school?”
Then COVID happened, and I got this little kernel of "Let me build my social media following because maybe that will get me where I want to go with stand up faster." I wasn't like super adamant about it, because it was embarrassing. It's embarrassing to try to become famous on the internet. But I started posting more comedy on my Instagram as a way for me to showcase jokes on the internet, and that was leading nowhere.
So randomly one night, I posted the first viral video that I did on Tiktok. I would have never put that on Instagram, because I would hav been too embarrassed, and that literally got 3 million views in 3 days. I didn't know what was happening.
JS: What had you gotten before that? What was your best?
LK: Maybe 200 views. And then I found this formula, which I realized was working: doing makeup and saying stuff.
At first, I was like, it has to be funny. But then I realized it's not really as much about the comedy as it is about having a narrative arc. Like, people watching it through the end because they wanna know what happened. I had some comedic stories I had been telling onstage, but then I ran out of comedic material, and that's when I started telling the scary stories.
And basically, when my following started growing and growing, I was like, "Okay, how can I monetize this? Because I'm about to lose my job in June.”
But there was a bit of a curse that went along with that. Because instead of making content that was true to me and true to what I thought was funny, and true to the content that I would watch if I were a consumer, I started making content for the sake of getting a lot of views.
So I would say last summer was when I realized I was making content that, if I saw this content on my ForYouPage, I would be like, "I don't want to follow that person." It's content I would never consume myself.
JS: How long had you been making the content when you realized, "This is not something that's for me."
LK: I think I realized last summer. But then I kept making that sort of content until last winter. Until like January 2021. I kept doing it.
JS: Was it a daylong breakdown? An hour? A week? What was the shape of this realization?
LK: Our minds have a way of reconstructing exactly how things happen, but when I think about it, this is like the moment when I was like, "What am I doing?”:
I was no longer doing very much comedy. The stories I was telling were strictly scary stories. Because I realized that the scary stories wound up getting more views. But I started running out of ideas. There are only so many times you can be like, "And then she heard a noise."
So I put out this PSA being like, "If anyone has a scary story they want me to share, I can tag you in it and I'll tell the story on my platform.” And I got this massive influx of DMs on tiktok and instagram and emails.
JS: How many?
LK: Hundreds. I mean, I never read all of them. It was too much.
And it made me very aware that I had this, first of all, very young audience. There was a lot of incoherent spelling. Some weren't full sentences. And like, from reading fifty, there were maybe one or two that I thought had something.
Trigger Warning (not a bit!): The next section references an anonymous story involving sexual assault. There’s another clear break with larger text to signal the end of the TW if you’d like to scroll quickly to that. You may obviously also stop reading. Take care of yourself <3.
But then I got this DM from this person being like, "Okay, this is a true story."
It's disturbing by the way.
"One time, my family and I were having a BBQ, but then I had to go to my cousin's house and my brother came with. And then he pulled down his pants and he made me suck his penis, and I haven't told anyone. But afterwards, he made me promise not to tell anyone. Anyway, there's my story."
JS: Ohhhh my god.
LK: And I was like, "What am I doing?"
I responded to that person and said, "I really hope you've spoken to an adult you can trust about this." But I just zoomed out for a second, and I was like, "I'm trying to become a digital creator, and I'm reading this very disturbing story of this I think young person talking about how they were forced into incestuous sexual assault."
End Trigger Warning.
And that's when I was like, "This is not right. I'd rather have a 9-5 than be in this weird corner of the internet."
JS: That's insane. And what is the responsibility to do anything with it?
LK: I know. Because I didn't have time to respond to a lot of these DMs. But yeah, like, what are the ethics? How do you know if it's true? What is my responsibility?
And I also think it was the fact that I had requested it. This wasn't something that was happening and out of my control. I had asked people to send me stuff, and this is what I got.
JS: So that was your dark time.
LK: It was a turning point for me, and made me realize that my thirst for becoming a viral Tiktok creator came at the expense of doing what I actually wanted to be doing. I have always wanted to be a comedian, and all of a sudden, I'm reading some weird story on the internet that I'm maybe gonna tell while putting on makeup? I felt like I had strayed so far from my authentic self.
JS: And that's the thing I didn't want to inject into the conversation, but that I think about whenever I see comedian friends who are blowing up on Tiktok. You touched on this on “Well, Now What?” The fact that Tiktok rewards niche-ness, and you don't really get to be a generalist or explore.
But I think you do explore. And you talked about how you did the comedy stuff for a while, and then you were chasing virality with the makeup and spooky stories.
By the way, there are also a lot of comments about how your makeup is bad or different or whatever, and I'm always like... you're not doing intentionally bad makeup, right?
LK: No! I'm really trying. But those were the days when the only hate I got was slander about my makeup, which is so easy to shrug off because it's so detached from my identity.
But now, people insult my personality. Now that I've moved away from the story times, the hate is... I'd so much rather someone be shitting on my makeup.
JS: And now, you're making money full-time off of being a creator. You're set--ish.
I watched Free Solo recently and I liked how, when Alex Honnold visits his old high school, a kid yells out, ”How much money do you make?" The teacher’s like, "Shut up, kid!" But Alex is like, "I make as much money as a mediocre dentist."
I don't know whether you're mediocre dentist level and I'm not asking you to say yes or no, but I liked the idea of "this is a job that is close to what I feel like I make."
LK: Well, I think there should actually be way more transparency in the influencer space. I think when there's not transparency about how much influencers are making, it basically allows brands to abuse the service that influencers are providing.
But it wasn’t until I pivoted to Fruit Gang and being a fitness influencer that a lot of brands started to work with me, and Fruit Gang as you know really started in what? February?
JS: Yeah. [Laughs] As the Lydia Tiktok historian.
LK: I really do think you know more about me than I know about myself right now. But yeah. And then I got a manager, and the manager was the one who was like, "You should be making-.“
In terms of salary, I don't think I actually know how much I'll be making over this year because it seems to just honestly be increasing and increasing. But for like one Tiktok, if I do one brand collab with a Tiktok, usually I make three thousand dollars from that.
JS: Dangus Carangus!
JS: I said, "Dangus Carangus." It’s a phrase that I made up.
LK: Oh. I like it! But my manager does take twenty percent. There's one brand thing I'm doing with a credit card company which sounds weird, but they're paying twenty thousand dollars for like a few videos. I think I have to repurpose some of it on my Instagram as well.
But it's crazy how freeing it feels to be like, "I can move wherever I wanna move and pay rent." When I was an assistant, I was completely paycheck to paycheck. So it feels really good to have that freedom. And I'm moving finally out of my parents' house. [Laughs] I also think I've kind of become fixated on saving, like because I've entered into this period of life where I have more money than I've ever had in my personal bank account.
I’m kind of obsessive about saving it. But I really do need to move, and stop using the excuse of, "I'm saving on rent." I'm twenty-six, and it's not cool. It’s sad. I think it makes me sad, even though it's comfortable.
JS: I think we're still on the COVID tailwind where it's okay for people to live with their parents, or have weird living situations. We haven’t even really talked about Fruit Gang yet! You have sort of had two or three lives as a Tiktoker.
LK: Which I think you kind of need to.
JS: Oh, really? How come?
LK: This algorithm propels people into fame faster than any social media platform ever has. I was just your assistant-Joe-Schmo-open micer, and then had what felt like a huge rise into social media stardom over the course of like three months.
But I think people love seeing a normal person rise into stardom. There's a culture of being a part of that, and seeing a creator your followed at 10K go up to a million followers, and feeling like you're part of that journey. But then once that creator is famous, you're not that excited to watch them anymore.
People become so invested in the rise of creators, but then they're like, "Okay. Onto the next person who gets famous." I think creators are very disposable, and people love the rise. More than any other platform, the accumulation of stardom is a source of content beyond the content that they're putting out.
I've seen so many creators have this huge surge and then plateau. So I've felt like a way that I've circumvented that is by just recreating myself, and rebranding and finding new niches to dip my toes into. So I think it's almost been out of necessity.
JS: And you were saying that you're feeling somewhat mentally unwell about Tiktok at the moment. But now, as opposed to before, you're somewhat financially tied to the success.
LK: Yyyyup. I know.
JS: And that's something that has started, how recently? With the advent of Fruit Gang?
LK: No, I was loving Fruit Gang. I think I started to feel a little pessimistic about the whole thing starting in May. In May, I think I just got a little burnt out of the same type of videos and the redundancy of "Let's pick out a running fit!"
Also, I just feel a little confused about… what is the content I should be making? And what is the content I wanna make?
And also being very aware that the version of me on the internet that's been the most lucrative is the one where I'm like basically a fitness influencer. I don't think you know this, but I'm actually going to BU next year to get my MFA in creative fiction writing.
JS: Oh, cool!
LK: Yeah. I only found out recently that I'm going. Previous to that, I was like, "I'm moving to Brooklyn. I'm doing comedy. I'm gonna be an influencer. Yeah!”I was really ready for that.
And now I feel like I'm going into this highbrow academic space where the cohort is only ten writers, so it's a small group of people. I really wanna be respected by them and I wanna be respected by the faculty, and I'm like, "Can I be respected if they ever stumble upon my social personality? Is that just gonna completely undermine any source of respect?"
So I just think I'm in a weird space with my social media where it's like, "But I do wanna keep making this much money." Because that's... nice.
The program is fully funded, but I'm being paid sixteen thousand dollars for the fall, spring, and the summer which is not really livable. Like, you'll need another job.
LK: And my other job is this. There was an info zoom session with the program coordinator about student jobs on campus: tutoring, copywriting, interning at the BU publication and respond to submission emails. And I remember being so happy that I have my own business basically. But then I think about my own business, and I’m like, "Ah. What am I doing with it?"
I'm in a weird in-between. I go through these little periods and then like two weeks later, I have clarity. So I'm just seeking that clarity right now.
JS: I took this writing class over Zoom over the summer, and everyone else in it was either in an MFA or formerly in an MFA or thinking hard about an MFA, and I was like, "Oops! I didn't know!"It was all people who were like serious Capital F Fiction writers.
And it was really refreshing how much everyone—including the instructor, who was a writer I really like—everyone was saying that the MFA industrial complex is rife with shittiness.
Not in a way where it's going to suck for you, but in a way that you shouldn’t worry about what those people think.
For better or for worse, this is the world. Tiktok is the world that we live in. It is not the same as going to war by any means, but I'm looking at Slaughterhouse Five on my bookshelf and Kurt Vonnegut wrote it about World War Two, a thing that everybody went through and everybody had to go…
I'm already regretting comparing being a Tiktok creator to going to fight for your country
LK: [Laughs] I was like, "Wow." But I loved it. It made me feel really tough.
JS: The point is it's part of culture. And anyone who is going to deny that is kinda going to be left behind.
LK: Totally agree. And thank you for making that point. That's one thing that I kind of rationalized in my head. If someone is so judgmental about opting out of social media, and opting out of the digital space, ultimately that’s their loss.
I think in this day and age, you have to have some sort of social media fluency. I think you have to be somewhat familiar with the space to have any success in a creative profession.
JS: Yeah. I would push back on that slightly, or maybe add to it. I don't think you have to have social media fluency. But you have to have curiosity. You don't have to ever have seen Tiktok before, but if that's the case, you can't just say, "Ugh, those Tiktokers.” You have to want to hear about what that's like.
Because also I have a terrible Instagram addiction. So I try to get off it as often as I can, and I hope to sort of wean myself off of social media. But I agree that people should know about it. And I'm sure if you were answering emails for the BU Creative Writing department, it would take you the entire three semesters to make what you make for one post.
LK: Exactly. Exactly. Okay, I completely agree with that and it reminds me, I was just talking to my friend. She's one of the most brilliant people I know. Phenomenal writer. She was talking about how she went through a phase where she binge-watched Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
And she binged it out of a fascination with: How has this show captured so much of America? And what does its popularity say about our culture? What about it has made it so successful? And what about this family is reflecting something back to us? What is the success of this family in America reflecting back to us about Americans as a whole?
And I think Tiktok is another example of that. For people who completely reject Tiktok or just immediately start trashing the Kardashians, it almost feels similar to me to people who are like, "I don't read the newspaper. I don't talk about politics."
You're just opting out of something that we're all in. And to opt out of it from a position of high horse superiority? We're all in this system that has made the Kardashians successful; in this system of Tiktok.
It’s the most popular social media app, so to just say, 'I don't want any part of it?' Well, you are part of it whether you are watching and consuming it or not. You are living in the world that made these things popular.
JS: Right. And with Tiktok, with stand up, with going into an MFA program, you are being influenced by the environment you're putting yourself into.
So I think it's fair for people to put up boundaries. To say, "I had a really bad relationship with Instagram for a long time. I'm off of everything. I don't even want to see what Tiktok is about."
It's fair to be like, "This makes me feel bad. I don't want to open myself up to it." But not "This thing's dumb." Because like, this thing is making people three thousand dollars for a video. This thing is moving trends. You know Lil Nas X? You know the iconic gay performer of our time? Without Tiktok, he's nothing. You can't pick and choose.
And this makes me think about returning to stand up also. I realized that sometimes you have to be like, "I don't care how this gets received in this room because I don't want to be influenced by these people.” The same way you're influenced by your followers and finding out what they want, I don't want to be influenced by these 17 comics that I see every day.
LK: Right. You don't want to edit your jokes according to the feedback you get from them because their feedback is ultimately inconsequential to the humor that you're trying to create, or the comedy that you're trying to create.
JS: And same for going into an MFA program. Something that I thought was interesting from this class is that the instructor, who is very much in the literary fiction classification, she said that literary fiction is a genre the same way romance is a genre and mystery is a genre.
But we treat it as if it's this tier. We treat is as if it's the best kind of writing. But there are tropes through it just as there are in any other genre.
And so there are so many things that people talk about as qualitatively better that are actually kind of just tropes of literary fiction.
So how do I, when I'm getting on stage in front of seven people who are going to make somehow racist masturbation jokes later; how do you when you're going into this MFA program,;how do you when you're getting on Tiktok... where do we put the boundaries of "This is what helps me be better, and this is what doesn't?"
Do you feel like you have an idea of how you're going to do that with Tiktok in the next phase of your life?
LK: I don't. And that's why I think I'm kind of in a bad headspace right now. Because I think when I don't have a plan, I just feel unstable and insecure. And I don't know. I think I have a tendency to let whatever phase of life I'm in and whatever my environment is fully inform my identity.
For example, let's just take fashion and style. When I did standup, I dressed like a comedian. I always wore a hoodie and jeans. Even when I wasn't doing stand up because I was like, "I'm a comedian." And now I do Tiktok, and I dress like a fashion Tiktoker. Really weird bright outfits.
And I was thinking, at this MFA program, am I gonna start dressing like a tortured MFA student? Because what happens if I show up to class wearing the type of outfits I've been wearing?
And I know that seems like such a silly thing to be concerned with, but I really think it has a lot to do with like the person I plan on being starting in September when I'm around these people.
I also think it's just a little scary being around people for the first time, just in general. But yeah.
I don't know how I'm going to reconcile these two identities--the one that I currently have, and the one that I'm trying to forecast but inevitably am not going to be able to. Because I think whenever we try to forecast versions of ourselves in the future, we're wrong. So it's not worth spending time on.
And as much as I tell myself that, I still do it. [Laughs]
JS: I’ll end with: do you remember what your first Tiktok was?
LK: Yeah. Well, I think it’s this video of me dancing on a stage in China.
JS: And it stood out to be because it was such a person-who-doesn’t-know-what-Tiktok-is post. It’s a kind of funny video of some really white people having a pretty intense dance-off on a very professionally lit stage in China.
It's what some people would call "Instagram story content."
LK: Exactly! And I actually know one of the funniest comments on that video. Once I already had a viral video, someone went back to look at my other videos, and it was like, "This gives me Christian retreat vibes." And I was like, "That is so accurate." The video is very much like Christian kids dancing. [Laughs]
JS: And how does that make you feel?
Someone told me once about how The Beatles' first album, “Please Please Me," starts with Paul going "One, two three, four!” And they were like, “It's so cool that the opening of the entire discography of this band that went on to be considered the greatest by so many people just starts with somebody going ‘One, two, three, four!’”
So how do you feel about the fact that your body of work—it might be hard to see it as a body of work, but watching it from back to front the way I did, that’s how it felt—how does it feel to you that that video is the beginning of your body of work?
LK: Ummm. I feel like it feels somewhat inconsequential. Partly because I can go back and just delete it. I can go and change the story of the beginning whenever I feel like it. The beginning can seem like my first video just popped off.
But I kinda think I'll probably keep it there. Because I like that I just meandered onto this app with no idea what I was doing. It does look like an Instagram story. [Laughs] I was like, "Hey! This could be funny!" With like zero understanding of how to capture someone's attention.
Which, now I feel like I think about capturing people's attention all the time, almost obsessively. And I didn’t then. So maybe being able to see this old version of myself who wasn't obsessed with that is kinda nice.
Many thanks to Lydia Keating for being generous with her time and open with her thoughts! If you’re not the type of person to opt out of this thing we’re all in, check her out on tiktok (@lydialoo121), instagram (@lydialoo12), and YouTube (lydia keating).
I really enjoyed this conversation and, as I was editing it, I came up with about a hundred more questions I’d like to ask this first-ish generation of Tiktokers. Maybe you did, too! If so, drop them in the comments. And if there’s anyone you’d like me to interview for the future, let me know as well! But now…
Bo Burnham: Inside. Special (Netflix). If you liked Eighth Grade and Promising Young Woman, you might be surprised to know that Burnham had a long and young career as a musical comedian. After a multi-year hiatus due to panic attacks while on stage, he returns with a (very) solo show that uses music to explore the anxiety-depression-turduckens-all-the-way-down that was lockdown.
Please Please Me. Album. “One! Two! Three! Four!”
I Saw Her Standing There (Little Richard Version). Song. I cannot suggest the Beatles’ version without paying respect to Mr. Little Richard.
Feels So Good. Song. Somebody brought records to my house for the first post-quarantine party and I don’t have a record player, but I really liked the cover of the Chuck Mangione one, so I had to look him up. He plays the flugelhorn! This song is awesome. To paraphrase my meditation app, it’ll be the 1% of your day that makes the rest of your day 10% better.
And with that, Sternal Journalists, I hope you have a week that makes you feel so good.