A few months ago, Chicago-based comedian/storyteller Elizabeth Gomez had an insane schedule. Between working two jobs, freelancing as a writer and performing shows across the city, her calendar was completely full, and that isn’t even factoring in adventures with family and friends.
After Illinois’ stay-at-home order went in place in March, Gomez found herself with a whole lot of free time. With extra hours eager to be filled, she boldly ventured where few working mothers have gone before: the short-form video app TikTok.
Rollerskating videos, comedic skits – often accompanied by her beloved pit bull, Lucy – song and dance PSAs and cathartic laments now pepper Gomez’s TikTok page, which has been viewed thousands of times since she embraced the platform during quarantine.
“Once we hit quarantine, at first I started slow like if I was bored I would give it a look. Then I started to see all of these incredible creators – and young ones like little kids – learning dances, making up dances and dressing up as cosplay,” she said. “The more I got into it, the more I thought this is such an incredible way to create, to exercise your brain and to really tap into connecting with people on a different level then I’ve ever seen.”
Gomez said her youngest child, Zee, a senior in high school, introduced her to TikTok, and now the pair have been known to compete for the ring light.
“Zee basically started doing TikTok a year or two ago, and I didn’t know what it was, obviously, I’m a parent and I’m old,” Gomez said with a laugh. “I would be in my living room and all of a sudden Zee would come out of the basement dressed in a wig with all kinds of makeup on their face and I would think, ‘What is happening?’”
While a bevy of political posts flood Facebook, and Instagram has become overrun by influencers touting a picture-perfect life, TikTok offers Gomez and others a place to connect during these crazy times without all the baggage of previous platforms.
“It’s hard. I think we’re all kind of suffering right now, even if it’s on a more low-key level. We’re all staying at home, trying to be good and trying not to act like it’s that big of a difference, but it is. Getting your choice taken away is a big difference in the American lifestyle,” said Gomez. “We all agree that Facebook sucks now, and Instagram is hard for me sometimes because I don’t have that ‘Instagram look.’ I’m just kind of sick of it. I’m sick of everyone being a bikini model, so moving over to TikTok – where all these people are young kids who are coming up in the world – is refreshing. There’s a diversity factor seeing all of these different types of creativity. There are people who just talk into the camera. There are people who do dances. There are people who do cosplay and lip syncing. It’s like ‘“Wow, here it all is available in my hands while I’m eating food and watching TV.’”
Gomez has also used this time to create in other ways. She’s published several stories in Chicago Magazine, is developing a podcast based on the Sweet Valley High books and has appeared on a few Zoom shows, though she does miss connecting with people in a live setting.
“I think the magic of storytelling is connecting with people, feeling their vibe and their energy, making eye contact, reacting when the audience reacts. There’s so much in-person chemistry in storytelling that over Zoom it’s a little bit of a feeling of deadening. It is not the same,” she said.
While Gomez is looking forward to reconnecting with audiences, she is grateful for the opportunity to have spent uninterrupted time with her family and herself.
“One of the best things in quarantine that I’ve learned is it’s really important to slow down. It’s really important to be in your body, to be in your space, to take a breath and remember your time is limited,” said Gomez. “People are around for only so long, and you should try to take advantage of eating all that up because I think that’s what makes life so rich.”
Final Five (Quarantine) Questions with Elizabeth Gomez
What makes you laugh while staying at home?
TikTok (laughs). I keep saying that, but, for sure, that’s the outlet that I’ve been using.
What have you been binge-watching?
This is going to be a weird answer, but my Peloton. I bought a Peloton I couldn’t afford, which is probably part of why I was working two jobs (laughs). I cannot get enough of it during quarantine because it gives me a place to put all my anger and aggression, to find a place of peace before I start yelling at my kid for having an aluminum can in their room.
What Chicago establishments or landmarks are you excited to visit when the city opens up?
Any old-man bar. It’s my favorite place to be.
Do you have any TikTok recommendations?
I follow all these comic people on TikTok. We’ve been watching this one guy who is a waiter and all his TikToks are about having to do wait service. He plays all the characters at the table. He’s super funny. I’ll look it up and send it to you.
The other thing is I cannot get enough rollerskate dance videos. It’s been one of my goals in quarantine. I’m working on my quads.
What keeps you Rebellious during quarantine?
Not giving an F. I put myself out there virtually online. That’s a hard thing to do. I’ve spent a lot of time making these videos, and I have no idea how people are going to react. Of course, every single video that I do and I love where I’m like, “This is going to be the one. Everyone is going to love it and share it everywhere” always flops, consistently (Laughs).
I’ve learned through this process to not let that hurt me. This is not about approval of other people. This is not about the idea that other people are watching you. This is about myself and taking it to a level where I feel happy and I feel safe and I get to share some joy with the people who do care and who it resonates with. It’s not always going to be everyone – or who I think it’s going to be – and that’s okay.
(Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Gomez)