When 27-year-old comedian Jack Usher started dating his new girlfriend in April, he naturally told his family and friends. However, he also went one step further, documenting his budding relationship on the popular social media app TikTok, known for how it popularizes “trends,” performed by one user and copied over and over by thousands, or millions, of users.
At the opening of one of his TikTok videos Usher declared, “Modern romance is weird.”
He began raising his TikTok profile by documenting his first virtual dates while sheltering-in-place at home in New York City. He met the woman he is dating now on the popular dating app Hinge. Without the chance to grab drinks in person for a first date, they “attended” a concert together, through the virtual game Club Penguin. A few weeks later, they took a socially distanced, mask-clad biking trip through Brooklyn.
As their relationship grew, so did Usher’s fan base. It’s “unbelievable how excited people are on our behalf,” Usher told the Journal. “I watch TikTok and I assume 99% of the stuff is staged,” he said. “All I’m going to say [is], ‘Let me just film this really quick.’ Otherwise it’s all actually occurring.”
Usher spent 2 1/2 years working at two entertainment agencies before pursuing his comedy dreams full time. Before the outbreak of the coronavirus, he was writing and performing with his sketch comedy group Rad Motel, performing at open mic stand-ups, tutoring kids in SAT/ACT prep, math, computer science, physics and game theory, and working at a board game bar in Manhattan.
“My normal thing I do in comedy is take a shared experience and then find the funny thing in it,” [but since the coronavirus], this time has everybody so upset and wringing their hands all the time … so I very much try to make my comedy fun and light.” — Jack Usher
Quarantining in his Brooklyn apartment with his two roommates, Usher said he has been using the time to focus on a different type of comedy — helping people find connection at home by hosting an online dating show.
Since documenting his relationship on TikTok, he’s amassed more than 1 million views and hosts the show, titled “Love Lockdown,” on the app. He signed off his first episode at the end of April, acknowledging that his show borrows its name from a popular Kanye West song, joking, “Kanye suing me, would be an honor.”
“I’m definitely feeling more inspired in quarantine,” he said. “My normal thing I do in comedy is take a shared experience and then find the funny thing in it,” [but since the coronavirus], this time has everybody so upset and wringing their hands all the time … so I very much try to make my comedy fun and light.”
However, he added that at times he finds his comedy pursuits frustrating. “It’s thrilling and exciting when it feels like things are working, and other times it feels like nothing is going on.”
“Love Lockdown” stars Usher’s friend, Fletcher Bell, whom Usher describes as “a dating-challenged medical student quarantined alone on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.” All of the women vying for Bell’s attention answered Usher’s call by contacting him through TikTok.
He asked potential dates to submit their names, ages and dating ideas. The first woman wrote 20 questions, including: “What is your moral alignment?” “What gets you out of bed in the morning?” and “Do you talk to beings or inanimate objects that can’t talk back?”
“The people who [are writing in] are oddly earnest, wholesome folk,” Usher said. He hopes his show makes people smile, but he said he also wants “to try to make virtual dating seem approachable and doable.”
Regarding his own background, Usher said he comes from “a risk-averse Jewish family,” and that he’s “not terribly religious.” Nonetheless, he added, Jewish community, food, values and humor have informed his life. He cited comedians he watched as a child, including Mel Brooks, Larry David, Adam Sandler and Jon Stewart.
He noted how each of them “were very forthright about their Judaism and, in some ways, it made me proud to be a Jew. That’s where I found a semblance of my identity and probably a major factor of why I’m trying to be a funny man myself,” he said. “I take pride in it. I almost feel like my humor is almost synonymous with my Judaism in a lot of ways.”
Lauren Sonnenberg is a writer in Los Angeles.