I think I’m funny and smart and original, and I have always believed that people would enjoy what I have to say.
Unfortunately, I have never found those people. Not as an actor, not as a writer, not as a storyteller. It’s not that I haven’t accomplished anything: I published a book, I’ve done solo shows on three continents, and I continue to work as a TV actress. But I’ve always yearned for a larger audience. When I did my last solo show in Los Angeles, the tiny theater held 78 seats, which meant that on slow nights I might be performing my little heart out for 30 or 40 people. Not quite what I dreamed of.
I dreamed of performing my little heart out at the Shubert Theater in New York for a laughing, crying, cheering crowd of 1,500 people. While waiting to become rich and famous, I still have had a pleasant life, full of enjoyable, creative activities.
One of my favorites has been conducting storytelling classes. I get a big kick out of watching writers improve their personal essays as I encourage them to BE VULNERABLE! BE HONEST! BE AUTHENTIC!
These classes have been an opportunity to connect with some very loyal and affectionate young people. Enter Mackenzie. Mackenzie is 30, tall, thin, model-beautiful and a churchgoing Christian. I am 82, short, average-looking and a secular Jew. We are the world’s oddest couple.
One day she said to me, “You should be on TikTok.”
“Are you nuts? TikTok is about half-naked young girls shaking their booties. Why would anyone be interested in me?”
“Trust me, you would blow up.”
(“Blow up” is young-people-speak for “get a lot of attention.”)
Mackenzie volunteered to be my producer. She would film the clips, edit them, add the music and post them. That was an offer I couldn’t refuse, since I can barely take a selfie. And so it began. I spoke about dating. I spoke about marriage. I spoke about fashion and my dislike of labels. I told stories about celebrities I had known. I showed treasures I had found at yard sales and thrift stores. I discussed the challenge and the bliss of having a Black grandchild. And — lo and behold — people started listening. All kinds of people. I always thought my core audience was middle-aged and older women — mostly Jewish. That turns out not to be the case. I began getting adulating comments from young singles, religious Christians and proud Zulus. “Preach, Queen!” “You should run the world!” “Greetings from Iceland.” “We love you in Scotland!” “You are my favorite TikTokker!” “I love your wisdom!”
I am sorry to report, however, that not everybody loves me. This being social media, there are also, of course, the haters. For example, I raised a lot of hackles when I compared Los Angeles — where I live — unfavorably with New York — where I’m from. I got many angry comments of the “Well, move the f--- back if you love it so much!” variety. How nasty! I am old enough and old-fashioned enough to be appalled at the lack of civility in today’s discourse.
What those haters don’t understand, of course, is that just because I complain about Los Angeles doesn’t mean I don’t like my life here. I’m a New Yorker. We view complaining as a competitive sport. I complain about my country, but I still love my country. I complain about my husband, but I still love my husband. There are people who, when you ask them how they are, they respond, “Oh, you know, can’t complain.” I am not one of those people.
Haters aside, my TikTok success has been a colossal surprise to me, and it remains incomprehensible. I now have over TWO MILLION “LIKES!”
But the most astonishing response I’ve gotten from my fans is that they keep telling me I’m beautiful. This is not something I am used to hearing. If a casting call came out for an “attractive older woman,” I guarantee you I would not be seen. I am not Hollywood’s idea of attractive. I’m too “ethnic” — which is a show-biz euphemism for Jewish-looking. But after a lifetime of knowing that I’m not pretty, suddenly people are telling me that I am.
Maybe it means that younger people are seeing beyond the conventional idea of beauty that I grew up with. And that's encouraging, isn't it? There are TikTokkers with much larger followings than I have, but they are all much younger. The fact that a woman in her 80s has received this much attention is miraculous.
When I asked Mackenzie to explain it, she said, “People respond to you because you are Vulnerable, and Honest, and Authentic." Sound familiar? I’ve always dreamed of finding a larger audience. Well, I was just a guest on a Dr. Phil episode celebrating vital seniors. I guess his audience of over 2 million will do for now.
ANNIE KORZEN was the recurring Doris Klompus on Seinfeld. She has written humor essays for NPR’s Morning Edition, The New York Times, the L.A. Times and many more. Annie has performed her solo shows on three continents. She is a Moth Mainstage storyteller, and can be heard on themoth.org. Annie is the author of Bargain Junkie: Living the Good Life on the Cheap, and she has been interviewed by Oprah Winfrey and Tavis Smiley.