Stanzi Potenza’s parents don’t really understand what the TikTok star does for a living. Most of Potenza’s explanations of the social-media video platform, her playful skits, and ever-growing fandom have been met with confused nods and a few shrugs. Only one family member gets it: her 9-year-old sister, an avid TikTok user and Potenza’s biggest fan.
“My parents finally got it when I started to rapidly grow on the app,” explained Potenza, 25. “Then I started getting paid for it, and it started making more sense to them. It became real.”
Potenza found TikTok stardom — and income — during the pandemic. At a time when performers search for innovative, new ways to interact with the public, the Boston-based comedian turned to TikTok as both a creative outlet and a way to keep food on the table.
Creating 60-second skits is Potenza’s full-time job: as of publication, she had more than 565,000 followers with her video collection receiving 20.5 million likes.
“A lot of people think of TikTok as that app that children use, when really there are adults on that app making really great content,” said Potenza.
Potenza never expected to become a social-media star, have sponsorships or an agent, but then again, she said she never expected anything that happened in 2020. And while her recent TikTok fame was a surprise, she’s always wanted to perform.
“I’ve been doing theater since I was five. I went to college for theater,” said Potenza. “But when I started TikTok, that’s when I really realized that people actually wanted to watch me and watch the jokes I create.”
Her most popular TikTok series is called, “Hell,” featuring Potenza filling the roles of God, the Devil and their respective assistants. The weekly one-minute skits poke fun at political figures, K-pop fandom, and other controversial cultural touchpoints. Her other skits include “mansplaining” PSAs, slam poetry by “Tinder Bros,” and a hilariously hostile “Rich Moms Brunch.” Ever since her first video went viral in January 2020, with over 1 million views, Potenza’s Notes app filled with sketch ideas, one-liners, and scripts. And with TikTok, the ideas that used to float around in her head have a place to come to life.
“I decided I didn’t have anything to lose,” explained Potenza. “I’ve had a lot of people tell me I should do stand-up comedy, but that terrifies me. So this was a way to put my own comedy and jokes out there without having to face a live audience.”
TikTok allows for the same faceless, anonymous responses as other social media platforms and with her growing popularity, Potenza experienced hateful comments about her comedy and appearance.
“One person insulted my nose, which is ludicrous — I have a perfect nose,” said Potenza. “But really, that was the moment I realized that when someone on the Internet says something about the way you look, they just want to say anything to hurt you.”
Despite her success, Potenza doesn’t want to do TikTok forever. When the world reopens, she wants to go back to acting and finally try stand-up. But in the meantime, she’s joined TikTok’s Creator Fund, which pays her a certain amount of money for every thousand views she gets. In November, she had five videos hit over a million views each.
“It was really such a blessing that I was able to stay safe indoors, while also making content and money,” said Potenza. “I’m actually a not-so-starving artist nowadays.”
So for now, Potenza stays inside, films, and writes. But she’s excited to reenter the world, armed with her new skills and confidence as a performer.
“The only thing that’s gotten me through all of this is TikTok,” Potenza said. “As an actor like you’re often questioning your worth and how talented you are. But people have really validated my work. I’ve never felt so secure in my abilities.”
Natachi Onwuamaegbu can be reached at email@example.com.