Jake Novak doesn’t even want to be on Saturday Night Live.
“If I’m being honest, I don’t think it’s what I was ever really aiming for,” he tells GQ. “It more was a thing that I thought might be good to try [for].”
Novak did try, famously, on June 15, 2022, by uploading a TikTok video that quickly went viral for all the wrong reasons. “I wanna be the next SNL cast member,” he declares in a singsongy, Lin Manuel Miranda–style rap. “Hi, Lorne Michaels, I’m Jake Novak.”
For anyone who was even casually using TikTok in the summer of 2022, those words will likely trigger a flashback. The video, which goes blithely on for over a minute, received eight million views. But it was also soon turned into fodder for stitches, duets, and parodies that saw at tens of millions more views on the app, racking up comments like “Let’s hope not” and “Your singing is good but you forgot one important part which is to be funny” along the way.
Novak avoided TikTok for a few weeks, determined to ride out the backlash. When he finally opened the app, after a good friend messaged him there, he had 26,000 notifications. The first comment he saw: “I wonder if he killed himself.” He deleted TikTok then and there.
What had Novak done to deserve this? The first hecklers to comment on his video were no doubt reacting to his intensely millennial earnestness (Novak is 30), which is decidedly out of step with the deadpan, hustle-averse Gen Z attitude that’s now prevalent on social media. Thirty-six-year-old YouTuber Colleen Ballinger, who recently posted a 10-minute ukulele song as a response to allegations that she had inappropriate interactions with minors online, now exemplifies the rancid turn this particular brand of internet earnestness can take. Novak had done nothing wrong. But those early negative comments likely helped bend the video’s algorithmic trajectory away from his usual audience of musical-theater fans and placed it squarely in front of people more like the bullies who wait outside the auditorium to give the theater kids swirlies.
Novak went into digital—and sometimes even physical—hiding.
“The main thought on my mind most of the time was, What am I going to do to come back?” he says. He only returned this summer, exactly a year later, with a darker, more wry video devoid of music.
When Novak fled TikTok, he left behind a storm of gleeful vitriol. He returned to praise and apologies so earnest it would make even the old Jake Novak blush. What happened in between was a lesson about virality—not just for Novak, but for everyone on the internet.
Jake Novak, who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, appeared in his first amateur musical at age nine. By the time he entered high school, he was acting professionally in commercials, and he decided to study musical theater at Emerson College in Boston. It was there he realized that he wanted to be onscreen, not onstage. When he graduated, he moved to Los Angeles and eventually landed small gigs on shows like Sugar Rush Christmas on Netflix and in the Dapper Dans, Disneyland’s barbershop quartet. On the side, he made music videos for the internet.