Greensboro’s own Ty Gibson has gained a massive following as a comedian on an app that’s rocking the boat of the Trump administration— even more than the “parade” held on Lake Travis in Texas this past weekend.
Gibson, 20, has been TikTok-famous since before the app was rebranded from Musical.ly in the summer of 2018. He moved to Greensboro in 2011 from his hometown of Rockingham, and ending up staying to attend the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he is now in his junior year as a drama-major and media studies-minor student.
“I grew up shy, so coming to the social media world has definitely taken a different turn on my life,” he said. “It brought me out of my shell.”
Gibson said he always wanted to be an actor, however, he was not a part of a theatre or acting program at a young age.
“I was kind of bummed about it,” he said. “By the time I got to high school, I knew what I wanted to be in life and what I wanted to do, but we didn’t have an acting or theatre program until midway through my senior year. So, it really wasn’t something I was going to be able to experience because I was graduating in a few months.”
While in high school, Gibson’s friends told him about the new trendy smartphone app, Musical.ly (now known as TikTok), so he joined on April 8, 2015, to see what all the hype was about. Little did he know, he would become a sensation on the platform.
“I was just kind of doing what everyone else was doing,” Gibson said. “I didn’t expect to grow and make it into a career as I do today.”
Musical.ly was first developed in August 2014, and the app was predominately used by Generation Z for making 15-second to 1-minute karaoke videos with different speeds, filters, and special effects.
According to Wikipedia, the app had reached over 200 million users by May 2017. Then, the company ByteDance, Ltd. acquired Musical.ly, Inc. in 2017 and merged it into TikTok in August 2018. Like most users, Gibson started off doing lip-sync and dance videos on Musical.ly.
“Please, do not scroll down that far, because it is very bad,” he said with a chuckle. “I have definitely grown over time.”
Since he was having fun making content on this platform, he stuck with it. When he started posting less music-related content and more comedy videos, his account grew to 1,000 followers.
“People would post videos of themselves, and then I would basically lip-sync their comedy videos to get myself out there,” he said. “From there, I met this girl, named Kalia (@kuhleeuh)— I consider her like my big sister, she is so dope and a singer on the platform— and she was like, ‘Ty, you should start posting more comedy videos.’”
After taking her advice, Gibson’s fanbase grew to 5,000 followers, and onward to 10,000. Gibson said his original comedy content eventually “caught Musical.ly’s attention.” On Sept. 1, 2016, he said he got his first feature on Musical.ly and was “crowned” (the app’s term for verified) a couple of days later on the platform.
“When Musical.ly featured your first video, they have their eyes on you at that point, and they want to see what you are going to produce next,” he explained. “I kept going and growing as I put out original content, and they were literally featuring me once or twice each week.”
Gibson describes himself as naturally funny, but when he started at UNCG, he felt intimidated since he didn’t have much theatre experience. His presence on Musical.ly/TikTok ended up helping him hone his skills.
“The main thing that really speaks to me—that applies to both my acting classes and my videos— is being in the moment and being your true self,” he explained. “Like my skits and stuff, I want to make sure they are relatable in a way, but at the same time, portraying me. I just be who I am, and at the same time, I am very watchful of others.”
He cited movie mogul Tyler Perry as his biggest influence and inspiration for his comedy and said it’s one of his dreams to work with him someday.
“That is one person I truly aspire to be like one day,” Gibson said. “That is why I really got started with my characters. The main thing that sticks out to me about him is that he is always for his people to bring laughs and then, at the same time, teaches life lessons. I want to do that. I want my videos to be something that can bring you laughs, and at the same time, if it can teach you something, let them be a teachable moment.”
Gibson said one of his characters is named Grandma Twerksalot, which is pretty self-explanatory for what he depicts in his videos as that character. Gibson said his TikTok style also includes various series of video templates such as “When Kids Roast Each Other,” which conveys his relatable humor brand on the platform. Unlike other comedians who may mask their inner sadness with humor, Gibson is altruistically funny.
“Bringing laughs to other people makes me happy,” he said.
But in order to juggle school, social media, and success, he’s had to learn to take care of himself first.
“I do have moments where I am still trying to make people laugh, but at the same time, I’m not right,” Gibson admitted. “I do have to step back and remember me, even though I do want to change lives and bring laughs daily. I had to learn how to stop doing that because it did take a toll on me— at one point, I just wanted to give up and give in. But I had to remember sometimes it is OK to take time for you. I think that is what happens when it comes to social media; we get so wrapped up and want to entertain and please others, but we forget who we are because we are giving so much.”
In five short years of making comedic videos on Musical.ly/TikTok, Gibson has grown his following exponentially to 4.9 million and has made a living off being a TikTok celebrity.
“I am like a storyteller in a way—I like to do skits, I like to post relatable things,” he said of his original content. “Looking back five years ago, I was just having fun, and now it is also my business, my career. It is also branching me out to other people and brings other people to work with me. It has opened up many, many doors, and I am thankful.”
Gibson qualified for the $1 billion TikTok Creators fund, so he is monetarily compensated based on how many views his videos get. However, he said that most of his revenue comes from ad campaigns.
“Media companies will send me artists’ songs to make a video,” he said, adding that sometimes the creative direction of the video is up to him or it will come with instructions from the company.
YouTube is also another income source for Gibson, who was partnered with the Google-owned company in October 2018.
“TikTok has definitely helped me boost my other platforms and has opened doors there,” he said. “So, anything I do and get from life, it’s all really going to be from God and TikTok.”
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Gibson said he noticed a lot more people joining, namely celebrities he did not see on the platform before, such as Will Smith and Jason Derulo. He also has seen a huge jump in his followers in the past six months.
“Being in since we can’t go out, so what do we do next? I think that is what spiked it a lot.”
The civil unrest still happening across the nation in response to police brutality has also affected what users saw on the platform. It also influenced Gibson’s content, specifically.
“For me, I had to definitely stop and reflect,” he said. “I didn’t just want to sit there and post comedic content and not address the fact that we are hurting. I was like, ‘Lord, what should I do, what should I put out?’ And the very first video that I put out was called, ‘The Air That I Breathe,’ and it was pretty much a spoken-word piece of me expressing how I felt in that specific situation and pouring out my emotions for the Black community. It was kinda tough—being a comedian, you want to bring laughs where there is pain. You still want to bring joy, so people don’t drown in fact that there’s a lot going on popping up at one time.”
He said he let God guide him on what to post, and for weeks, his comedic content was paused to show solidarity for his community. But now, he has started to put more comedic content out in order to help others heal from the trauma that this year has caused.
He noted that the Black Lives Movement has never been a trend and that it has always existed, but he didn’t want people to perceive his solidarity content as piggybacking on the movement. He has hope that this year awakened those still asleep at the wheel.
“I just feel like people now know it is not going to be a one-time, one-moment, one-day thing.”
In pure 2020 fashion, another curveball would be thrown to TikTok users and Gibson— this time, coming from all the way at the top.
On Aug. 6, instead of attending to perhaps more pressing matters (such as the country’s climbing COVID-19 deaths or highest unemployment rate), President Donald Trump issued a ban on TikTok via an executive order, which would supposedly go into effect on Sept. 20.
The executive order was issued due to “national security concerns” that the Chinese-owned company would share user data with the Chinese government.
However, skeptics and Trump critics say his “national security” reason remains vague, leading them to think that the ban on TikTok isn’t about the safety of the country, but rather, an act of retaliation. Back in June, thousands of TikTok users reportedly reserved tickets to Trump’s Tulsa Rally but didn’t show up, leaving many empty seats to mock the president and his supporters.
Even though the ban on the platform could leave TikTok users with large followings unable to receive compensation for their content or other opportunities that the platform may provide, Gibson said he “is completely unbothered.”
“At the end of the day, I have been on this platform for a good strong five years, once one door closes, God has another one open for me,” he said. “And, I am not going to believe it until I see it. How can you make an order like that without consulting them first? TikTok is still a brand, and business is business.”
Gibson speculated that the reason the leader of the free world issued this ban on TikTok is because he is the butt of many jokes on the platform.
“You brought that upon yourself—The stuff you are doing, the stuff you are saying— you really don’t think the TikTok community aren’t going to say something? I try to stay out of politics, I let everyone else talk, but I will sit back, laugh and like,” he added. “Stay out of the kitchen if you can’t take the heat, Trump!”
All joking aside, Gibson remains immensely thankful and grateful for the opportunities TikTok has given him, and the joy it brings others.
Looking to the future, Gibson said he is going to keep creating for however long he can on TikTok, but he is also using the platform to venture into the music world.
“I created a song and dance, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but it’s called ‘The Kick Swivel,’” he said. “I created that dance on June 28, 2019, and it literally took TikTok by storm. It had its own hashtag, everybody was replicating it, and then, someone added a beat to it, and now, it’s a full song.”
Gibson said this video also caught the attention of multi-platform influencer GotDamnZo (@iamzoie), and they teamed up with House of Evo to produce the full “Kick Swivel” song.
“That became my first single, but now, I am working on my second song,” he said. “I am dropping the hook for that this Saturday.”
Gibson said his new single has beats produced by Casa Di and is called “It All Starts in the Back.” Gibson credits his character, Grandma Twerksalot, as the inspiration for the song.
“If they loved ‘Kick Swivel,’ they are going to love this track,” he said, “and go crazy with it, I hope they do. You don’t have to twerk, you can dance, too.”
For those wanting to make it on the TikTok platform, Gibson offered these tips: Find your niche, record your passion and share it with others, be consistent, but, most importantly, be yourself.
“There is only one you in this world,” he said. “You are made with a purpose, that is why you are here.”
Keep up with Ty Gibson on TikTok, Instagram, Twitter (@yeahitstyg), and YouTube. The hook for “It All Starts in the Back Shake” will drop on TikTok this Saturday. For more information, visit https://linktr.ee/yeahitstyg.