How Anania Williams exploded on TikTok and became a Gen Z comedy star
The city of Boston is his own character in Williams’ TikToks – he often records his videos while walking around the city at night, talking to the camera in his distinctive voice, or just running to music. In a video, Williams is kayaking with friends on the Charles River. “My white friends put me on the water,” he half-shouts into the camera. “I am a kayaker now. His supporters joke that one day he’s going to get killed because he doesn’t care about his surroundings.
Williams has achieved TikTok fame for being what Gen Z desires most – genuine. His voice is distinct and recognizable, even as a background sound in videos from other creators.
Williams, 21, is entering his final year at Emerson College, studying musical theater and social justice. He is originally from Iowa.
Q: Tell me how you got started on TikTok. When did you join?
I started making my own videos around July or August 2020. I started making these videos which was called the “Gen Z as” series. It was just me who didn’t care how Gen Z acts in different professions, like Gen Z was the president. I eventually turned to using my own comedy. I saw something that was missing on TikTok that I wanted to fill, which was that people weren’t afraid to show that they are not doing well right now, or that they are not perfect.
Q: When did you start to see your account explode? Was there a video that went viral for the first time?
It was one of those “Gen Z as” videos. I think I reached 100,000 subscribers based on those videos and then I started doing more social justice related content and comedy. I reached 1 million followers during the election, while working a lot with the Gen Z for Biden account (now called Generation Z for change). This is also when I started my running streak – I just started filming myself in the dark running away from fantastic beings and things like that.
Q: Was there a time when you realized, for example, “I’m famous now? “
It was the blue check – get verified. I also had a management team and that’s when I was like, “Oh, I’m famous. “
I am recognized almost every time I go out in public. It’s weird because I don’t see myself as someone to be excited to see on the street, but it’s good that it makes someone a day to meet me. That’s my whole goal – if I can make someone laugh or make their day, I’ve done something right.
Many celebrities have shared my content or contacted me. Cynthia Erivo contacted me on Mothers Day and offered to be a queer older sister who I can always contact for anything. She’s been my inspiration for a very long time in my life and when that happened it reinforced a lot of what I’m trying to do. I’m also happy that I can even interact with people like Cynthia Erivo.
Q: How much time do you spend on TikTok each week? Are you making money?
It’s a side job and my favorite job I’m doing right now. I can choose the hours, but also when I’m not inspired, it makes me angry with myself for not being able to create as much as I want.
I make the most money with my management team. They contacted me with branded offers and all that stuff. TikTok also has the Creator Fund, which I don’t make that much money from, but which I use for bills, school, and rent.
Q: How did moving to Boston for college impact you and your identity?
I wanted to move so far from home that it would be a nuisance to go and come back. The first thing I noticed was how instantly liberating it was as soon as my dad and sister left after dropping me off. I just felt this freedom for the first time in my life. For the first time, I am surrounded by queer people, I am surrounded by people who are ready to think differently from the way they were brought up. It’s crazy how much can change in a person depending on their location and who they are around. I don’t know where I would be if I wasn’t in Boston right now, or a bigger city. I probably won’t love myself as much as I do now.
Q: Is it difficult to reconcile your hometown with your university and yourself online?
Absolutely. I have to compartmentalize different parts of my identity just to be safe, just to feel welcome in any space. When I come home for breaks, it’s a matter of survival. It’s a little sad because I promised myself that I would never put myself in a situation where I feel like I owe things to people, or I have to change for a lot of people, but I do. work.
Q: What are the downsides of TikTok’s fame?
There is an emotional tax. It’s exhausting to present yourself in a way that people want to engage with. There can be so many positive comments and then you see a negative one and it ruins your day.
Another downside is the picking and choice. The algorithm likes to play with people of color and with queer people. It’s really hard to navigate what will work well on the app. It’s exhausting to put your heart into a video and no one sees it.
Q: What do you see for your future? Where would you be without social media?
I plan to go to New York after graduation to continue my career in musical theater.
Even if social media were wiped from everyone’s phones, I would still find a way to connect with people in my community. I am a social justice miner because I want to be able to organize my community on a smaller level.
This interview has been slightly condensed and edited for clarity.