Social media has become a creative means to showcase one’s craft and a tool that can genuinely make dreams come true if you utilize the right strategy. TikTok is the newest social media powerhouse that has taken the world by storm with its usage of video and refreshing editing tactics. TikTok is also a platform that gives content creators a linear experience to where it is doable to create a fanbase in an organic, engaging manner. In the case of actor Ryan Ken Acts, they have quickly mastered the recipe of creating viral TikTok moments while creating content that directly resonates with the Black experience at large.
Ryan Ken will make you laugh off the edge of your seat while educating at the same time – a true feat that not everyone can easily execute. Over a Zoom meeting conversation while wearing a mustard-colored sweater paired, a navy blue scarf, and signature eye frames, Ryan Ken Acts walked me through their method of creation, their aspirations for life, and the life lessons that have kept them centered thus far:
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Walk me through your initial exposure to the TikTok social media platform. As a new actor to the game and film aficionado, What made you decide that this particular medium was the one to showcase your range of unfiltered talent?
I was a really reluctant kind of TikTok user. I had experimented with the app before, and it was clearly (I think) geared towards a younger audience. You log on, and immediately there’s sound, there’s noise. There’s too much, too loud, and too fast. One of my friends, Ginny, who I worked on a podcast with, works in tech, so she’s very knowledgeable about how these platforms work. So TikTok was a really good platform to get some of the content out. It was a platform where even people who aren’t users on the app encounter TikTok on other platforms.
Once I began using TikTok, that became the platform I used first, and then posted it across the other platforms. It was mainly a practical, logistical decision around trying to get myself out there and seen by people who could help me do work on a bigger stage.
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Ryan Ken Acts: On Comedy and Their Creative Process
What is your creative process for creating the content for your hilarious yet refreshing TikTok videos?
It is kind of sporadic. I started these videos when I was just working a normal 9 to 5 job, and I wanted to make my friends laugh and pick myself up. It was inspired by just the random things that I was encountering in my own life, whether that was some frontier of personal healing, sometimes a news story, sometimes a topical conversation, and sometimes film and stuff. It was whatever kind of thing was on my mind I would use.
When I first started getting attention on the internet for my videos, it freaked me out as a person with anxiety to be observed. A part of me was happy that people were seeing and engaging, but it was the first time something of mine had gone viral. It was my face. My voice. My likelihood. I just felt really watched.
With that being said, I was like, “I want to keep doing it, but maybe I’ll do something different so the attention will change.” So I would switch it up and just do any random thing that came to my mind. It did not work in terms of stopping the attention. People were like, “Oh! We love your range!”
I’ve gotten increasingly more comfortable with that kind of attention. Often, the way a video comes to be is through conversations with friends and loved ones in my life. Marinating on it for a bit. I’m a person who tends to like to get on a soapbox and be “preachy.” After some time of processing it that way, it gets distilled down to a video; I’m sure my friends and family wish they could get the video version sometimes because they experience that twice.
I’m somebody whose background was in writing. I have done other sorts of expression. I found it powerful what you can get away with saying while people are laughing and how much you can say with this particular embodied art form—one where I don’t necessarily have to give you prescriptive answers. I can provide you with something that is just a provocation or like a moment in a conversation. I’m loving that style of writing and style of performing for how much I can create something that you revisit and get a different meaning from. It’s mostly been random things that come across my mind, and I’m thrilled that people still enjoy that.
The genre of comedy can be utilized as a tool for understanding norms and stereotypes throughout society. What are your views on the state of stand-up comedy right now?
One of the things I should preface with saying is that I am not a stand-up. All of my opinions are from the sidelines. Sometimes, the conversation around stand-ups and comedy is broadly framed from the complaints or the concerns of the people who had the biggest stages and audiences. Sometimes, the people who have the biggest stages and audiences might not have the same experience as the rest of us. What they may experience as a constraint kind of gets framed as the entirety of the conversation around what the limits of comedy are.
Having had experience on multiple art forms, I can often say that its biggest celebrities do not always define the state of a field. There are many people who are finding freedom and a new voice in comedy. There are people on TikTok who are hilarious!
Some of the content I see that makes me laugh the most is from Black folks, disabled folks, queer folks, and fat folks. This is the landscape of comedy that I’m in that I find exciting. But, unfortunately, when we get to these conversations, there are frankly many cis-straight dudes complaining about what you can and cannot say anymore? As a result, it is often a boring conversation because we’re already limited. I would much rather be talking to people who are flourishing and who don’t see navigating around bigotry as the biggest obstacle to telling a joke.
“Let Me Back Up” the podcast is a love letter to the friendship you share with Jen Crichlow and touches on subjects that factor within the Black community. When it comes to your means of expression throughout multimedia, how important is maintaining that focal point throughout your cultural commentary?
It’s pretty important in the sense that this is an authentic expression of who I am. Jenny and I have talked like this for years. When we get together, we really are people who are trying to orient ourselves in the world based on our understandings. We’re always seeking out something new to learn. I talked to my parents about this.
I have a close relationship with my parents, unpacking some of the religious trauma that we all grew up with and are learning from and healing. I have always been someone who has felt like I’m on a journey to becoming the best version of myself-someone who can be in community with as many people as possible in a way that is not just “not harmful” but also helpful.
What has been surprising to me is finding a community of people who are also similarly engaged. I’ve always said that somebody who’s on a journey of learning and self-discovery? I can be friends with that person. I connect with that person almost no matter where they are in that particular journey.
If you’re open to “I don’t know” and “I don’t have all the answers,” then we’re here together. I always say that I am the person at a party that will zero in on one to two people and wind up having an extensive conversation about the prison industrial complex. That’s me at a party.
That’s me, and that’s always kind of been who I am. And I just feel like we are the universe’s ability to contemplate itself. We are talking stardust. Why the fuck are we here? Why are we here? What is it? Like…Why there’s so many of us?
Ryan Ken On Personal Style, Identity and Prioritizing Joy
When it comes to your wardrobe, what are the standards that you like to maintain for your overall style?
You are asking a very interesting question at a very interesting time in my life. I have had a complicated relationship with clothes for most of my life. As a fat person, I often believed that a definitive sense of style was off-limits to me and that my body had to be a certain level of thinness for those things to even have access. I’ve often felt a lot of discomfort in clothes and a lot of testing out things.
I’m in a phase right now where I’ve like come to terms with my gender identity as a non-binary person. I’m opening my closets, and a lot of the things that I’m looking at don’t necessarily reflect how I see myself now. I’m in a project and in a phase of trying out a lot of things and having fun and playing with fashion and personal style to see what feels like me.
One of the things that I’ve taken on is learning to knit. I knit this towel that I own. Having a sense of agency over the fact that I can even make my own clothes has changed my relationship with it, but I’ve had periods of my life where I felt like I made some strong choices. It has felt fun and adventurous. I want to get to a place where I’m having joy with my clothes but also my style. I want to feel like I want to show up in the world. It’s an ongoing project. One of the things that’s been really moving is how supportive my friends and network have been.
What are a few ways you like to prioritize joy in your life?
I think it is about reframing my relationship to work and unapologetically being a person who has rest in their life. It creates such a floor for joy to happen. It’s not the “thing” that everybody has the ability to access, and I’m also mindful of that. I was someone who has defined so much of myself by being the hardest worker—the person who’s going to put in the most time. I had to. The worst possible thing you could be was lazy, and I have really had to reckon with that.
Personally, I felt as though working hard was the rent that I paid to take up space on Earth and why I thought I liked it, even. At one point in my life, I worked until I was in the hospital, and I was in the ER bed answering emails on the phone. So I’ve had to really interrogate what that means, but I also have come to zoom out of it, even just personally.
I may be the first person in the entire lineage of my family who had the ability to carve out a different relationship to labor and rest. Some of what my family and ancestors maybe dreamed for themselves and myself was the ability to rest when I wanted. To make time for learning to knit, learning new crafts, making time for being with friends/family, and being fully present without feeling worried about the next thing that will happen. It’s hard to say, but I have no desire to be a hard worker anymore. That does not bring me joy. I don’t have to work hard.
There are things that I enjoy that require effort and maybe a lot of effort, but even those things don’t feel like work in the same way. I want that for more people. I want that. I want that for a lot of Black people. I want that for Black people to know. I think if we had any concept of just how much our ancestors globally have had to work, then I think we would really relish and delight in rest.
This interview of Ryan Ken has been edited for length and clarity.