On a cloudy day in May, I meet the TikTok Creator @tweakseason near Madison Square Park, where he’s filming before his shift at Trader Joe’s. When he gets his phone out to shoot a video of a nice car parked on the street, he takes maybe a few seconds to ponder a joke before pointing his phone at the driver, who by then is nervously smiling along, and proceeding to fire off a stream of observations, like Seinfeld in real-time.
Since the “end” of the pandemic, a swarm of would-be influencers has descended upon NYC TikTok. A perennial fixture in movies and on television, the city has given rise to a new generation of transplants documenting their experiences in the city. Now, with the help of one of the fastest-growing media platforms in the world, they’ve created their own genre of sorts: Videos that bastardize neighborhood names, or cluelessly treat storied establishments like new discoveries.
Started by 25-year-old Rogeri Scandela, @tweakseason is an evolution, or perhaps a subversion, of the city’s more polished social media documentarians. The uptown native walks around the five boroughs gently roasting strangers and, more often than not, inanimate objects. “Sometimes I think about it, sometimes it’s freestyle,” he says of his voice-overs. “But I feel like the freestyle ones are the ones that blow up the most. The ones where it’s just natural.”
Take, for instance, a video posted in June. Scandela sees an ad for the upcoming film Lightyear atop a taxi and notes how the cartoon astronaut resembles a state trooper (“He’s giving you a ticket automatically”). In another, he notices a kiosk for umbrella rentals, a quintessentially New York extravagance (“Nah, they bored out here”). In my favorite clip, he stands outside of an imposing office building and sees a man at his desk with a genuinely perplexing number of monitors. “He’s analyzing mad data,” Scandela jokes before semantic satiation takes hold and he questions the sound of the word “data.”
He says he started on Instagram, where he’d post similar clips — near poetic observations of the bizarre and sometimes unsettling puzzle pieces that make up life in the city. Those videos had the feel of vintage Worldstar Hip-Hop. He’d document the kinds of public brawls and freakouts that are only possible in New York City, specifically uptown. “I do feel like the Bronx and Harlem, I tend to see the craziest videos from New York out of those boroughs.”
When Scandela started posting to TikTok last year, things picked up. “I started with like 40K, and then in the fall, I started uploading more because I was working in the mornings, and then one night, it just shot up from like 40K to 190k,” he remembers. “It was really the comments.”
A central function of TikTok — and indeed another layer of its addictive nature — is the often active comment section for particular videos. “On TikTok, I’ll respond in the comments because on TikTok that’s where most of the pranks are.”
@Tweakseason has a running joke on his page, calling on viewers to “free the Commish.” The nickname “Commish,” short for commissioner, grew out of Scandela positioning himself as something of a sports announcer, documenting the city’s unique chaos as if it were an NBA season. There were even “playoffs” last year, where fans would vote on the most outlandish clip on his page.
Naturally, @tweakseason’s videos routinely get taken down for violating TikTok’s standards, namely around potential bullying and for cursing. “They would call it bullying if I say something bad about somebody’s hair or somebody’s clothes. They call that bullying.” He chalks it up to New York’s less than sensitive sensibility. “A lot of people like to clown,” Scandela says. “We call it cutting up.”
He credits his neighborhood near Washington Heights, and a love for battle rap videos growing up, as the source of his account’s quick wit. “That’s something people don’t really notice,” he says of hip-hop’s influence on his videos. “But yeah it’s like I listen to rap a lot, and I used to watch battle rap a lot. So that’s where all the quick, random wordplay comes along.” He cites the Brooklyn-based musician Gorilla Nems, behind the inescapable “Bing Bong” meme from last winter, as another example of battle rap ethos translating to TikTok.
And New York City is an ideal testing ground for a growing part of the platform’s online dominance. Analysts believe TikTok could quickly become a serious competitor to Google in the realm of search, precisely because of the wealth of videos about the best and most interesting places to hang out in the city. “There are just so many trends, all these little restaurants, and special places and all that. People like TikTok because it shows you all that,” Scandela says.
But @tweakseason has the kind of low-key fame that’s coming to define whatever comes after the great pandemic “vibe shift.” He even gets recognized at work. “I remember I was at work one day, and I started talking louder to somebody, and this guy would keep looking at me, and then I got to the comments the next day and someone’s like, ‘Oh my god, does the commish work at Trader Joe’s?’ They notice me but they don’t say nothing,” he says.
As it should be. His page is consistently entertaining but remains slightly mysterious. He never shows his face on camera, and when I ask him why, he explains it like a real New Yorker: “There’s no reason to because it’s about the world it’s not about me.”