Fast Company is doing a series of profiles featuring up-and-coming content creators across social media to get an inside look at the highs and lows of the Creator Economy.
While growing up, Julian Burzynski endured an onslaught of bullying from his peers for being too “unique,” too “feminine,” too “gay.”
His refuge: falling into the worlds of TV shows and films.
“I think that’s where my love of wanting to become an actor came from, because these performers created a safe space for me,” Burzynski says. “They allowed me to escape in those fantasies: makeover scenes or slow motion walking down the halls . . . all those coming-of-age stories where that could’ve been me.”
Now Burzynski is translating what was his safe space into a career as a content creator. Already he has amassed 1.8 million followers on TikTok for his spot-on lip-synchs of popular scenes from TV shows and films. From Jersey Shore and Bob’s Burgers to Clueless and The Devil Wears Prada, Burzynski slaps on the appropriate wigs and costumes (or something close enough) and delivers doses of nostalgia.
“It just took off. It wasn’t not the aim to go this far, but it wasn’t in my sights,” he says. “But the fact that it started bringing other people so much joy made it even better. That’s why I’ve continued to do it because especially in this time, as things progress in many ways but also don’t, it is nice to, even in short-form content, make somebody laugh or smile. It’s been a dream come true.”
Burzynski graduated from Elon University in North Carolina in 2017 with a degree in musical theater. After working as a dancer on a cruise ship for a year, he went on tour with the musical production Something Rotten! before moving to New York in the summer of 2019.
“I was taking a break to just have a social life after two years of everything,” he says. “And then once auditions started back up, everything shut back down.”
Burzynski joined TikTok in 2019 at the suggestion of an ex-boyfriend. “The biggest thing I got out of [the relationship] was the knowledge of TikTok, so I thank him for that,” he says. “He’s still a friend! It was just short-lived.” But he didn’t start posting in earnest until the pandemic hit.
“I had this time to myself and started watching a lot of movies again and felt this nostalgia for that time where I felt like I could forget about what’s happening in the world,” he says. “It just reignited this passion and love for the fantasy. And I was like, I have some wigs from college, I have a ring light, and I’m not doing anything else, why not make these fantasies a reality?”
However, extending that feeling of having a safe space to social media has been, of course, a minefield.
On TikTok, many creators use hashtags that correspond to whatever is most popular at the moment, regardless of whether it relates to their actual video. It’s a way to increase their odds of exposure on TikTok’s all-important For You page. But Burzynski feels he has to be as mindful as possible in controlling where his content goes.
“As a queer artist, if videos got on the wrong side of TikTok, there are communities that might not enjoy as much what I do or find it okay,” he says. “So going to specific niches of TikTok keeps you in that community feeling of love. It’s hard, because I want my content to be as inclusive as possible. I want everybody to enjoy it. I want to spread positivity and acceptance and self-love and confidence, but there are closed-minded people out there who spread hate on the internet. You see it all over the For You page and in the comments.”
Burzynski has also been cautious in expanding his presence online. For the most part, his TikTok is strictly a repository for his lip-synch skits, as is his Instagram. But social media has created a perceived standard of transparency between creators and their followers. That parasocial relationship can create a sense of entitlement to a creator’s personal life, which Burzynski has been adamant to keep separate.
“I don’t consider myself to be the most open on TikTok. There are a lot of people who share a lot more. I share my heart in a different way,” he says. “I don’t necessarily need to say what I’m doing all day, but I share maybe a joyous passion or self-confidence or love that I have found through these moments with others to inspire them to do the same. I look forward to opening up about my life. I’m not scared to—I love the community so much. But I think it’s important to keep a boundary.”
Creating those boundaries also prevents Burzynski from allowing himself to be subsumed with chasing metrics. “It is scary because you’re relying on numbers, an algorithm. It can take over your mind,” he says. “I have experienced that.”
Burzynski noticed that his channel’s growth since posting more last year started to plateau in the past few months, and he couldn’t figure out why. “It’s hard to get past,” he says. “It’s like, what am I doing differently? What’s wrong? But it’s going back to the root of making yourself happy, as well as others.
“I don’t want it to encompass everything and take over the love for living life in the moment, or enjoying time with my friends,” he continues. “I don’t want to worry about what I’m going to post next, instead of just having conversations in real life and maybe sparking an idea to make a video later on that day.”
That said, Burzynski doesn’t see himself leaving social media anytime soon. For all the pitfalls, being able to express what’s given him solace since he was a kid and putting his own spin on it has created a new standard for who he wants to be as a performer.
“I was confident before with who I was, but this time alone with myself and making these videos and this community has made me feel so comfortable in my skin and my femininity and masculinity,” he says. “Going into musical-theater auditions, they want masculinity. And you’re like, okay so I’m putting on this character before even going into the audition to play another character.
“Teachers in college say, ‘Be yourself,’ but they don’t fully understand,” Burzynski continues. “No hate to any teachers; they’ve done so much. I love my teachers, but I don’t think they fully understood what that meant, because it was layered with so many other things. And now that I understand what it feels like to be myself, I can’t look back.”
Going forward, he wants to continue to expand his digital content—in June, he created a ticketed digital comedy show—and, eventually move to TV, film, and Broadway.
“If anything this year and a half has taught me, it’s to never sell yourself short,” he says. “When you’re allowed to sit with yourself for a second and think, you really are clear on what you can do to make that happen for yourself. [For me] it’s continuing a journey of performing and spreading joy and continuing to learn about myself and encouraging others to do so as well.”