On somewhat reluctantly encouraging his hecklers and being more than just a viral comic
Lucas Zelnick self-proclaims that he has been funny since birth. And his confidence works.
This October, the 27-year-old comedian will perform four almost-sold out shows at Faneuil Hall’s White Bull Tavern. We sat down to talk about comedic craft, hecklers, and social media.
Zelnick is both a traditional standup working his way through the clubs and a viral TikTok star who has amassed more than 150,000 followers and 40 million views. But unlike some “TikTok comedians” who fit bits made for the app into three-minute windows, Zelnick posts clips from his sets, mostly of shocking audience heckles and interactions in order to save his written work for live shows.
Like a lot of things in life, Zelnick says his success as an influencer has been bittersweet.
“I’m really grateful for all the success I have had on TikTok,” he says. “It has really changed my life by allowing me to do comedy full time. In another regard, it doesn’t really create the best value system.”
Zelnick explains that because he posts these moments of heckling, he receives more than the average comedian, which warrants comments about the sheer number of hecklers he receives. At the same time, due to his online experience with the hecklers, he also humors them more than he necessarily should because the camera is on—which inspires a self-reflecting question of, What is the value of a ‘crazy’ interaction over a funny one?
@lucaszelnick #fyp #fypシ #standup #standupcomedy #crowdwork #affair #comedian #cheaters ♬ original sound – Lucas Zelnick
Along the same lines, Zelnick posts material or interactions that he honestly views as “really funny” but that never get the same attention as a drunk, disrespectful heckler. He laments that it is “not what [he] wants comedy to be.”
As a standup, Zelnick still gets nervous about two things that are happening: first, some of the funniest comics he knows aren’t finding the same traction that he is; second, more established acts look at his work and simply summarize him as a “TikTok comedian.”
To his first worry, Zelnick notes the algorithm bias of TikTok, particularly regarding the platform and beauty standards. He explains that “if someone is conventionally attractive by traditional beauty standards, it can cause audiences to watch on average 0.1 second longer, then the algorithm is going to tip towards that video.”
An important aspect of Zelnick is that he is attractive, confident, straight, white, and wealthy—all things he acknowledges in both his written work and in his discussion of algorithms. In one of his more popular TikToks, he opens for queer comedian Ashley Gavin to an audience of over 250 lesbians. And he kills it. He jokes about the set being “reverse high school” because it is lesbians bullying one straight man and worrying that he can’t be “woke enough” for the crowd. This moment is a perfect example of Zelnick’s strengths: quick moments where he acknowledges his privilege with confidence that lacks arrogance; a large accomplishment in the battlefield that is the current comedy scene.
To his second concern about the label of a “TikTok comedian,” Zelnick’s method for planning tours has entirely depended on his following, which has resulted in little to no need for management. He asks followers to write to him what cities they would like to see him perform, then records their email on a mailing list and notifies them when he is in their requested city. Then, with his writing partner and friend Jamie Wolf, Zelnick books venues out of pocket, eliminating the need for tour managers. If his accomplishments come at the price of respect from a few “stuck in their ways comedians,” then he argues, so be it.
Zelnick’s mailing list is also the reason for his four-day run in Boston. As the most listed city by fans and viewers, he and Wolf—they share the hour—originally announced three shows, but only a short time later had to announce a fourth due to audience demand. He also jokes that when he tells people in New York that Boston is the most requested, they quickly respond that he shouldn’t say that,due to the Boston comedy scene’s reputation as more offensive.
It’s fine with him though. Boston, Zelnick assures, is a “city with many young, well-educated people.”
“That,” he says, “is why they want to see me.”
Katherine (Kate) Healy is a Publishing master’s student at Emerson College. She mostly writes feminist nonfiction which can be read in Fettucine the Zine, Mode Magazine, and her personal diary. Her hobbies include drinking too much redbull, developing crushes on people she’s never met, and listening to sad music.