Dave Jorgenson has made affably surreal TikToks for the Washington Post since May 2019, and his output has only increased since the publication told its employees to work from home last March. Now he often makes at least two of the short videos daily—he has produced a lot more some days—mostly set in his apartment and often featuring (thanks to the magic of digital technology) multiple Dave Jorgensons and (thanks to the magic of stuff he had in his house) characters like his houseplant and Sam, a can of Spam.
Now he’s written a book about making TikToks that’s less a guide for people mystified by the app than a series of creative prompts for people who already know what a “Stitch” is. Make a TikTok Every Day includes 365 prompts for creators as well as interviews with TikTokers like Melissa Ong (@chunkysdead), the McFarlands (@the.mcfarlands), and Cory Bradford (@thisiscory). We spoke to him about how it came about.
Washingtonian: Wait a second. Wait, wait, wait, wait a second. You made multiple videos a day for the last 15 months. And you wrote a book?
Dave Jorgenson: Yeah. I guess March 11 was the first quarantine TikTok day. I basically was writing it at night through September and October. So it was a lot of working at night.
What has your life been like during this time?
I got married in December 2019. We did the courthouse thing and then we were going to get married in Colombia, and that just couldn’t happen. But that’s all to say that for our first year as newlyweds, my wife and I were mostly at home. We bought a car to sort of remedy that, so a lot of camping and driving places. Every so often, if you see a three-day gap, that’s when I took vacation to just drive somewhere. And not be not be in the apartment forever, making TikToks and being 20 people at once.
How many TikToks have you made since you started working from home?
I have this Twitter thread, and I think right now it says 614.
Oh, is that all.
I know, right?
How far in advance do you plan these things out?
It really is a case-by-case basis. Because if it’s breaking news, that’s actually the nice advantage of having two a day—usually at least one of them is something that’s news that day. For instance, today, there was Jeff Bezos is going to space so there was a TikTok about that. But otherwise, it’s a combination of ideas that I’ve maybe written down and sort of combining them with either a news event or just some kind of like, funny idea I had to do in my apartment.
You also managed to secure some of your longtime props, like the bug costume. Do you own that now?
Well, the Post owns it, so to speak. But you know, at one point I took like a little field trip, Mission Impossible-style, with permission, to go pick up a lot of my costumes that were at work. There’s a closet that would normally be for—I don’t know if it were raining or you just had an extra blazer and maybe for on-air appearances—they have one of those on our floor in the newsroom and half of it at this point was filled with costumes that I’d left there. So I went and I got those. There was an Elf on the Shelf costume I’ve used a few times and just a bunch of props that were gathering dust. I said, you know, it’s time to incorporate these back into the TikTok universe.
As soils warm, trillions of cicadas will emerge throughout the D.C. area for the first time in 17 years. #BroodX
When will you get to the point where you’ve made more TikToks in quarantine than you made before it?
Good question. Actually, officially now there’s way more pandemic TikToks.
Okay, so what is your advice for people who want to learn how to make a TikTok every day?
You know, when they when they said, Hey, you want to write a book? I was like, it’d be really difficult to explain all the mechanics in the book. Especially the audience we’re trying to reach—I would get bored trying to read that. So my, my thought process was more of, I’m going to give ideas, and of course, explain things as much as I can, but really talk about the process itself. And I used to have all these writing-prompt books, in college and in writing workshop classes. So that’s why in the book, they’re described as 365 prompts for TikToks. And the majority of which are not TikToks that I’ve made. Most of them are just whole new ideas I had. And then some of them are hybrids of TikToks I’ve seen, and they’re basically anywhere from one sentence to a page explaining an idea for a TikTok and being very open-ended. And then there’s a dozen interviews with creators. I was very, as much as I could be, very specific in getting people from all sorts of genres of TikTok, if that makes sense—there’s history TikTok and you know, just the standard dance TikTok and lip-synch TikTok, and wholesome TikToks, as I call them, which is essentially people doing TikToks with their parents.
It’s more like, I can give you the phone. And I can tell you Step A, but you have to kind of get to Step Z by yourself. But I really appreciated the idea of having a lot of creativity and realizing that whatever you make, as I do every day, you can always just start over the next day.
Ran into Gene today. #RemoteWorkAnniversary
When do you plan to shut down your quarantine TiTok thread?
From the beginning, I was always thinking, you know, when we go back to work, and I’m still holding out for that. So officially, for me, it it seems like, and this time I believe it, I believe I’m going back the week of September 13. And so I would end it the Friday beforehand.
Now that you’ve had your home and the office to make TikToks in, which environment do you prefer?
It’s difficult because being in the newsroom, I get have access to all these different people. So in terms of variety of things, I’m excited to go back to the newsroom. I’ll still include other colleagues while at home, but it’s just so difficult because it takes hours just to get footage from them, which is nobody’s fault. So I’m excited to kind of get back to that, where I can just show up at someone’s desk and be like, Do this for five minutes. Honestly, that situation is still so funny to me. Like, not even explain to them why they’re doing it. So I’m looking forward to that. In terms of the creative process, I really did like being home. It was almost better for me some days in that I was limited to just the apartment because it kind of forced me to think about how I could do something different.
Know your audience. #Spam
Now, listen, this is important. We don’t have the Newseum anymore. What are you going to do to preserve the quarantine TikTok relics? Your couch. Sam.
Every so often someone tags the Smithsonian, and I’m just hoping that they’re going they’re gonna go, Okay. Other than that, I don’t know. You hit it right there with Sam. Sam is the one thing I know will outlast this, and I’ll figure out a way to make sure I am or someone is keeping him safe. Everything else is up for grabs. You know, there’s a plant I have called Planty and lately Planty is not looking so good. So I don’t know if Planty will make it to the Smithsonian.
To be fair, Sam was going to outlast us no matter what, right?
He still hasn’t been opened if you’re wondering!