‘It was the best decision of my life’: Zach Jelks on pursuing a career in social media
Zach Jelks, the 22-year-old content creator skyrocketing to stardom on TikTok, always knew that he was meant to entertain. For him, comedy was instinctual. So, it only made sense that he share his humor with the world.
“I always had this feeling in the back of my mind that something would work out for me,” Jelks says. “I really do feel like I was supposed to entertain people. I don’t think there’s any other job that I could do that I would really enjoy.”
However confident Jelks was in his ability to amuse, he never could have foreseen how Dubsmash dancing and TikTok trends would catapult him to social media success. Jelks, better known by his handle “undos,” has amassed more than 6 million followers on TikTok and half a million on Instagram.
Jelks’ journey has been a rollercoaster. As his YouTube channel description says, “buckle up.” Just a few years ago, Jelks was a student at Kennesaw State University. There, the Atlanta, Georgia, born-and-raised influencer began posting again on social media after taking a break from it due to high school backlash. As a teenager, Jelks endured incessant teasing from his peers because it wasn’t the norm to consistently post on social media. But, after he graduated, Jelks realized that the opinions of those in high school would no longer affect him in college. So, he tried his hand at a new app — TikTok.
“That’s when things really started to take off,” he says.
Jelks had seen how people were blowing up on TikTok, and envisioned a future where he would do the same. At the time, Jelks was in college to please his father and his late mother, but his real passion was creating digital content. When he wasn’t balancing school and social media, Jelks was plagued with guilt for relying on his single father for money. So, when a company reached out to Jelks to give him his first sound promo, he was elated.
“It really wasn’t that much money at all, but, to me, it was so good because I could finally afford a meal without asking for money or going to the dining hall,” Jelks says.
Originally, Jelks’ content was, as he describes it, “cringy, uncensored and wild.” At first, he was posting dance videos and the latest trends. But, as time went on, Jelks started creating unhinged videos that made people replay them until they processed what they had just watched. For a while, Jelks’ bio was even “your local pennywise” because his account featured numerous videos of himself replicating the unsettling eyes, facial expressions and actions of IT’s Pennywise the Dancing Clown.
“I really was just so bored in my apartment in college that I was just having fun,” he says. “I was trying to do the craziest things possible and making myself laugh. I was like, ‘wait, these people finna eat this up.’ People just knew me as the crazy kid who was climbing on the walls of his room, making faces, and just posting anything he wanted.”
As he became more financially independent, Jelks realized that posting on social media could be an actual job, not just a hobby. When his videos went viral, Jelks would be so distracted in class checking his likes and comments that his education got put on the backburner.
“I was like, ‘wait... this could actually be something for me,’” he says. “I always had a feeling in college that there was something more for me. I knew that something was going to happen so that I didn’t have to go the normal route. I think that’s why I put more time into social media than my classes.”
When Jelks needed to register for his junior year classes, he put it off. He put it off for so long that eventually all of his required classes were full. He simply had no desire to continue his enrollment. Instead, he dreamed of moving to Los Angeles to pursue social media.
“I was so scared to tell my dad because I was literally expecting him to scream,” Jelks says.
Although Jelks’ father is a traditional, risk-averse parent, he supported Jelks’ decision to drop out of college and relocate to Los Angeles. During quarantine, Jelks’ father had seen his son wake up early, get dressed, and go outside for hours to film dance videos. He did this for days on end.
“He would just see me every single day wake up and go outside for hours doing the trends,” Jelks says. “I think that was in his mind when I told him that I actually wanted to pursue this. He could see that I had never cared about something so much.”
With his father’s support, Jelks packed his things and faced his fear of flying.
“It was the best decision of my life,” he says. “I just went with my gut. I never want to be too comfortable. If you’re too comfortable in where you are then you won’t grow.”
Since moving to California, Jelks’ career has flourished. His content has evolved too.
“I wanted to transform my presence online,” the animated influencer says. “If you play a character, it only lasts for so long. I knew I had to transform it to Zach from the crazy dude.”
Jelks still makes comedic skits and lighthearted videos, such as showcasing his uncanny resemblance to Stormi Webster, but his content is “more censored and personalized” now.
No matter how his videos change, one thing will remain the same — his goal to brighten people’s days.
“When people watch my videos, I want it to change their day,” says Jelks, who feeds off of and puts out positive energy. “Even if they aren’t on the floor laughing, I just want to leave a positive impact.”
As he’s risen in prominence, Jelks finds it incomprehensible just how many people care about him. Sure, he sees the numbers, but they never felt real until he started getting recognized and stopped by strangers. (Pro Tip: If you spot Jelks in public, ask for a hug. He loves giving them!)
There’s more to Jelks than jokes. In the future, he hopes to get into acting, modeling and fashion. He even wants to start his own clothing line. Additionally, he was recently featured in a music video. However, he couldn’t say who it was for (stupid NDAs!), so we’ll just have to wait and see.
Jelks is grateful for the opportunity to do something he loves while profiting off of it. He advises those aspiring for a similar career to take risks, ignore haters, and live with no regrets.
“At the end of the day, you have to do what’s going to make you happy,” he says. “You never know what can happen.”
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