Of all the things Playboy Manbaby frontman Robbie Pfeffer thought he’d be doing in 2020, getting big on TikTok wasn’t one of them. As a matter of fact, the local artist had little idea what the phenomenally popular video-sharing app was all about up until six months ago.
“[I thought] it was just this thing you could do dance [videos] on,” he says. “I was like, ‘Well, that’s not something I want to do.’”
Now, TikTok has become the center of Pfeffer’s world and an outlet for his creativity, and his work has been getting a lot of notice on the app.
Since October, the gleefully quirky videos covering politics and culture that Pfeffer’s created and shared on the local art-punk band’s official TikTok account on almost a daily basis have become increasingly popular. A few have gone viral, notching hundreds of thousands of views.
Pfeffer stars in each video, which mixes lo-fi production aesthetics, odd humor, and awkward charm. As an eclectic green-screened stream of photos, video clips, or his comic-like drawings play behind him, the gawky artist dances, sings, or explains topics ranging from election fraud conspiracies and free speech to how body wash is marketed to men. (It’s a bit like Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! or Wonder Showzen meets Adam Ruins Everything.)
Some videos offer takes on life in Phoenix, such as one poking fun at the perpetual state of road construction in the Valley. Some are just flat-out strange, like a video of Pfeffer as an insurance salesman named Bob singing about his love of gnomes, which is set to the Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero’s hit “Home.”
There’s also the ongoing “30-Second Songs” series, which feature Pfeffer and other members of Playboy Manbaby performing tracks about everything from enchiladas, arguing on the internet, or running out of content to watch on streaming services during the pandemic.
When it comes to the schizophrenic variety of subject matter in the videos, Pfeffer says that’s indicative of his personality.
“I think it’s representative of what it’s like having a conversation with me,” he says. “I’m just ADHD and kind of all over the place in my interests. I’m really into politics, really into history, and I’m just like a goofy, weird person. So the lack of focus kind of made it easy to bounce around [to different topics]. I get bored easily.”
And Pfeffer’s boredom is part of what caused him to create the videos in the first place last fall. Pfeffer says he was feeling a nagging sense of ennui and frustration after months of being stuck at home and unable to perform because of the pandemic.
“After years of being able to have this outlet where it’s very interpersonal and very communal, to just have that all kind of pulled away, and then just everything else going on, was very depressing,” he says. “It was just kind of personally devastating and hard to deal with. It just didn’t feel like I could make new stuff or be creative.”
In September 2020, he decided to start making videos after wanting to do something about last year’s election. Fellow local musician Tyler Broderick of Diners turned him onto the app.
“I felt like I could give information about stuff that was on the ballot in a way that would be fun, just as a thing that would hopefully be informative to even just a couple of people. So I started making videos about Prop. 207 and 208, or who’s running for sheriff or county attorney,” Pfeffer says. “Tyler told me, ‘You should check [TikTok] out because you already make videos.”
He soon embraced the app with gusto, posting his first video, where he introduced himself and his self-described mission of “creating a slightly better world,” on October 9. It got a few thousand views.
More videos followed, including several covering local politics and the 2020 election, each earning similar results. Pfeffer’s first major hit came on November 11 with a video called “Phoenix Tourism Commercial.” Lasting about 40 seconds, it poked fun at the “It’s a Dry Heat” trope and other stereotypes about the Valley, including the rampant sprawl and our predilection for chain restaurants like Subway and Jimmy John’s that offer “bland sandwiches.”
Pfeffer also touted “really neat” local restaurants and bars around town in the video, such as Dehli Palace, La Santisma, Cornish Pasty Co., and Crescent Ballroom.
The response was bonkers, racking up more than 400,000 views.
“People were tagging the different businesses that I mentioned, and I’ve always thought that the main thing that makes the city interesting is the local businesses,” Pfeffer says. “I think that’s the case in every single city, you know what I mean? No one gives a shit about the Jimmy John’s in any city. It’s always the same: It’s a terrible, awful, bland sandwich.”
Other hits have followed over the last few months, including videos railing against Senator Mitch McConnell (148,000 views and counting) why science is comparable to metal (125,000 views), and former Secretary of Education Betsy Devos (259,000 views).
Pfeffer’s biggest video, though, is the aforementioned love letter to gnomes, which has gotten 1.5 million views since he posted it on January 12.
“People went really crazy over that one. It’s odd enough and reminds me of the kind of weird stuff you’d see on the Internet circa 2007, like on eBaum’s World,” he says. “It was just this idea I came up with after I heard that song ‘Home’ a bunch of times and thought it would be funny. What’s even funnier is people on TikTok started [sharing] videos with where they’d show off their gnome collections.”
Pfeffer has been blown away by the responses his videos have gotten, gnome-related or otherwise.
“People really liked them a lot more than I expected,” he says. “And then it just kind of took its own momentum. I didn’t really think anyone would like it or even care, because my humor is a bit unusual at times.”
And he’s enjoyed all the feedback and comments he’s gotten so far.
“Playboy Manbaby as a whole has been a niche project, and the audience has always been people who are into music and stuff like that,” Pfeffer says. “And this is weird, because it’s branched us out the general population. So the feedback I’m getting is from people who don’t even know I’m in a band. It’s a whole different group of people. And it’s been largely positive and people just seem to enjoy all of the oddities that make up my personality. So that’s really cool.”
Pfeffer says he’s got no plans to stop making videos anytime soon.
“Beyond it being informational on things I want people to know about, they’re just to entertain me. I’m bored always, so this is a very manic form of creation that I can dive into,” Pfeffer says. “And making stuff every single day has made it that. It’s been very good at making me feel like I’m doing something.”
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