At a small El Salvadorian restaurant in College Park, Maryland, a cashier called out Colton Mercado’s name without ever having been introduced. That’s because she recognized Mercado from TikTok, a video-sharing app where comedians, performers, artists and more can post content.
“I can tell when someone has the look in their eyes that they know I’m from TikTok,” Mercado said. “They are beautifully, courageously unafraid to stare.”
Mercado, a senior musical theatre major, is a nonbinary TikTok star known as @bwaycolty on the app. Followers started pouring in for Mercado after one of their TikToks went viral only a month after downloading the app in November 2019, leaving them at over 142,000 followers. TikTok users might recognize them for their most famous TikTok with 6.7 million views and over 9,000 likes, where they joked about closing early as an employee, saying, “Sorry ma’am, we are closed … Oops, don’t come closer! And the floor is wet, be careful.”
For Mercado, becoming TikTok famous is a dream come true, as it brings them one step closer to their dream job as a comedian on “Saturday Night Live.” Mercado’s TikTok bio reads, “tell SNL about me,” which they said is a serious statement.
“It’s my life dream,” Mercado said. “I could die very happily at any moment once I’m on SNL.”
As for getting recognized, they’re well on their way. Mercado has already made several TikTok friends, including Grayson Dunst and Brittany Broski, otherwise known as “Kombucha Girl.”
Brooke Georges, a TikTok user who’s been following Mercado for about three months now, said that the best thing about their TikTok is their sense of humor and creativity that’s shown in all of their videos.
“I love and appreciate their content,” Georges said. “It never fails to make me smile and brighten my day.”
Obtaining an audience as large as Mercado’s is almost solely dependent on a user’s ability to go viral, but even after having an audience, individual TikToks can still be hit or miss.
“I prefer my TikToks that don’t do well because they’re usually the ones that are, like, too niche for the general audience,” Mercado said.
Mercado said it usually takes them around 10 minutes to make a TikTok. Their method of creation is improvisation, so they’ll come up with a funny character and make a couple of different versions of a TikTok while improvising as them.
Mercado described their inspiration as being “every person ever.” They tend to people-watch and pick up ideas from what they see in real life. When in Harrisonburg, Mercado goes to Black Sheep Coffee every Sunday to work and complete The New York Times crossword puzzle. They’ve come up with some of their TikTok ideas from seeing other people’s interactions at the coffee shop.
As for uploading, Mercado doesn’t stick to the tightest schedule and often uploads when inspiration strikes. They said they try to upload daily, but they usually end up posting a batch of TikToks every couple of days.
“When you look at the rules of the Internet, they want consistency,” Mercado said. “But, yeah, once they start being consistent with my pronouns, I guess I’ll start.”
TikTok is the first place where Mercado came out as nonbinary, and they said it helped them come out in real life, too. They figured that now that people on the Internet knew, they’d find it easier to say it to people’s faces.
One person Mercado came out to was their roommate, junior musical theatre major Al Gravina. Gravina said the two hit it off in the beginning of 2017 and have lived together for almost two years now. Gravina said he’s Mercado’s biggest fan and always watches their content, saying their best quality as a comedian is their originality.
“I just know they’ll be on SNL one day,” Gravina said. “I can’t wait for a backstage pass."
Mercado would be the first nonbinary comedian on SNL. Having a platform like TikTok could help open new doors for them, especially as they’re already getting recognized in public, even at JMU.
Mercado said they’re recognized at JMU at least once a week. A girl came up to talk to them in a Starbucks, and another time, a classmate who Mercado described as “this hulking, masculine” type simply said to them, “TikTok star.”
To Mercado, they said the concept of being considered famous is still a weird one. When they posted their first viral TikTok, they said they “low-key” had a panic attack, since every time they refreshed the video there’d be about 10,000 more views.
“I was like, ‘What is going on?’” Mercado said. “I’ve waited my whole life for this, like, I’m a Leo, but it was shocking.”
Considering how many versions of a TikTok Mercado usually makes with one character, they said they thought it was crazy that they managed to post the one that thrust them into the spotlight. Reportedly, the same TikTok that made them famous is one that Mercado cringes at now.
As for the monetary side of things, Mercado announced that they were now the proud owner of $3.80 due to going live on TikTok. While having recognition might be in the bag, Mercado might have to wait for their big break on SNL to truly profit off their fame.
Contact Jillian Carey at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.