TikTok, comedy and the evolution of meme culture

Drawing on long-established forms of comedy, TikTok’s unique combination of surrealism and silliness is changing the nature of humour on social media. We explore the everyday people and unexpected brands at the forefront of this phenomenon

In what was an otherwise utterly miserable year, TikTok became one of the unlikely heroes of 2020. Since launching in 2017, the platform had already been attracting new users in their droves, thanks to its winning combination of snappy videos, catchy soundtracks and viral challenges. But in the wake of the pandemic and a series of national lockdowns around the world, even the most hardened social media sceptics embraced TikTok as a place to escape from the doom and gloom of daily life – resulting in it becoming the most downloaded app of 2020.

As head of TikTok’s in-house creative team, Creative Lab Europe, Neil Boorman’s job is all about immersing himself in the weird and wonderful content that earns viral status on the app. This typically ranges from a recent reincarnation of the traditional sea shanty, to pretty much every video put out by the beloved Granddad Joe and, of course, the Doggface Dreams phenomenon that broke the internet last year. “I mean, why is a man skateboarding down the freeway, drinking Ocean Spray, listening to an old Fleetwood Mac song? Don’t ask, just enjoy it,” says Boorman.


♬ Dreams (2004 Remaster) – Fleetwood Mac

Before joining TikTok, Boorman had already carved out a reputation for being at the cutting edge of content, whether in his early career as a Guardian columnist and editor of satirical fanzine Shoreditch Twat, or more recently heading up the content teams at Mother and Wieden + Kennedy, where he was helping brands tell their stories via the glut of different channels on offer. Amid a wider backlash against out-of-touch influencer culture, which has been brought into focus by the pandemic, TikTok’s celebration of mundanity puts Boorman back where he is at his happiest: at the heart of digital culture.