TheTomsters wants you to be in on the joke
“I don’t know more than, like, 40 people in real life,” says Tommy Johnson.
He’s the sole operator behind “TheTomsters” handle, whose comedy accounts on TikTok and Instagram have over 50,000 followers combined.
“Sometimes I’ll just look at those numbers,” Johnson says. “And I know, compared to some other creators, it’s like a drop in the bucket. But if you really think about 50,000—that’s a stadium. It’s a small town. And they’re all opening these apps to see what I wanted to say that day.”
Most of Johnson’s astonishment comes from the suddenness of it all. It took him three weeks to go from casually posting to “intentionally creating.”
In July 2021, back when Johnson first started, he’d graduated from Utah Valley University in communications and journalism with plans to kick off a career in copywriting and marketing.
“As someone who, for better or for worse, thinks they’re a funny person, I decided to start posting videos on TikTok that I thought would make people laugh,” Johnson says.
The first few got a thousand or so views, which blew his mind (remember—he knows 40 people) but a series of posts about what Judgement Day might look like solidified his online presence. The 10-video series has nearly 2 million views.
“What I’ve tried to do—from the very beginning—is create a place that can be enjoyed by all kinds of people within that larger community,” he says.
The relatability factor is at the core of his comedy.
“I want people to feel seen in my content,” he says. “That’s what gets the laugh with these kind of jokes—‘That could have totally been me,’ or ‘I’ve seen that before’. . . that’s what has to click.”
When I ask him how much time he spends on his content, he answers my question with his own: “Do you want time as far as intentional creating? Or actual time?”
The process of filming, editing, and posting, he says, is a few hours a week.
“But my accounts are always on my mind,” Johnson says. “Mostly because I like creating, but also because I have to think about it—you have to make consistent content, and it has to be at least a little funny.
TikTok has been his go-to since TheTomsters began, but he soon decided to start posting on Reels, too—mostly because “there’s an audience of people (around my parents’ age) that are on Instagram and not TikTok,” Johnson says.
That turned out to be one of his better decisions.
“There’s a lot more money on Instagram, at least in my experience,” he says.
Like many creators, Johnson makes a video for TikTok and then uploads it to Reels afterward. It’s almost always the exact same content, and it often attracts the same number of views. The difference, though, is the pay.
TikTok and Instagram both have payout programs for people with a certain threshold of followers or interactions on the respective apps.
He was invited to the TikTok Creator Fund first.
“A few days after my first viral video, I got an invite to the Creator Fund,” he says. “People like to make guesses about how and why different accounts get in, but I really have no idea how it works.”
The payouts were small but consistent. Nearly a year later, Johnson was contacted by Instagram’s program, Reels Play Bonus. He was posting the same content with the same regularity on both apps and expected a similar payout from Reels.
That wasn’t the case.
“I make double—sometimes even more than double—from Reels than I do from TikTok’s Creator Fund,” he says. “I don’t know why, I don’t know how, and I’m not interested in finding out. When I first saw the numbers, I thought it was a glitch. I was worried they’d go into my bank account and take it back.”
“I want people to feel seen in my content. That’s what gets the laugh with these kind of jokes—‘That could have totally been me,’ or ‘I’ve seen that before’. . . that’s what has to click.”
Luckily, he says that hasn’t happened.
“I do worry that I’ll wake up and all of my followers will be gone,” he adds.
That, Johnson says, is a more real possibility. He has seen his followers fluctuate, depending on the type of content he posts. He points to certain themes that have caused “a bit of an exodus” from his accounts as he has evolved his content from what his initial audience expected.
“Both my TikTok and Instagram were my personal accounts prior to all of this,” he says. “My Instagram I’ve had since high school. I’ve continued to post content that you’d probably see on a normal Instagram page.” As people mature, their beliefs and convictions evolve. Johnson is no different. As he stepped back from convictions of his youth, the people he grew up with saw him shift in real time. “It left a lot of people with a lot of questions,” he says.
“Some of the comedy went from tongue-in-cheek to coming off as rude instead,” Johnson says.
Finding content that can make all (or at least most) of his followers laugh has proven to be difficult.
Many popular creators start with a niche and slowly build it out over time—at least, that’s the advice they give fledgling influencers. For Johnson, that just wasn’t possible.
“I watched my follower count drop,” he says. “More and more people unfollowed me, and I was at a loss for what to do—my whole account was kind of built on a version of me that wasn’t really there any more.”
The pressure forced him to rethink his approach to the account—and comedy in general. His solution was a classic for entrepreneurial thinkers: pivot.
“I’ve been stepping outside my niche,” he says. “Just little steps, but I’m taking them.” He has even dipped his toe into standup comedy.
“Open mic clips are pretty popular for short-form content,” he says. “And the popularity of my account made me feel like I could do it, so I did.”
Johnson’s done a handful of shows locally and he says so far, so good.
“I never would have done that before these accounts,” he says. “If I had to go back to the beginning, I might have widened my approach from the start. That might have solved some of these problems, but I wouldn’t have this kind of personal growth, either.”
Plus, getting him (a little) out of his comfort zone proved to be the antidote for his follower hemorrhage. He has gained a host of new followers who appreciate his current perspective.
Those new followers aren’t just watching videos, either. They’re buying his merchandise, one of Johnson’s newest efforts, and diversifying his brand.
“I wanted something that could be print-per-purchase for my merch designs,” Johnson says. “Since I’m new to all of this and I wasn’t sure how well it would sell or what would be popular, I thought it’d be safer to hedge my bets.”
He uses Amazon’s merch program, which allows him to manage designs and orders by himself. The items are listed individually on Amazon under his brand name, “TheTomsters.”
“I’d recommend that approach to merch for new creators,” he says. “It’s a great way to test out your ideas and see what your audience is responsive to—and it’s not a money pit. You’re not holding onto a bunch of inventory.”
A piece-by-piece merch system isn’t only profitable, it’s also much more convenient for a one-man-band like Johnson. For him, time management is everything.
“I’m very grateful to my past-self for setting expectations low,” Johnson says. “Nothing I put out is super polished. It doesn’t look crazy professional—that’s kind of my theme. It makes producing content faster.”
But while the supportive, attentive audience is nice—and a real point of validation—the numbers aren’t his favorite part of his social media experience.
“I have to say that the connections I’ve made with people come out on top,” he says. “I’ve met a lot of new people, but I’ve also had the opportunity to talk to people I went to high school with and extended family members about faith, life…everything. I don’t think I’d have those experiences without TheTomsters being a thing.”
While he’s struggled with the heavier conversations, Johnson says they have brought him to a few new realizations about himself and his relationships with his friends and loved ones.
“I don’t have an answer for how anyone else should be living their own life,” he says. “I’m just here to make you laugh a little.”
That’s laughter he’s after…and maybe a second stream of income, if possible.
“I’m not mad that apps I’d get on anyway send me money every month,” he says. “That’s the cherry on top of everything.”