LOS ANGELES >> Annie Korzen is a judicious dropper of the F-bomb on her TikTok channel, which in mere months has claimed more than 223,000 followers and 2.2 million likes.
The 82-year-old professional storyteller and television actress favors colorful language as much as colorful clothing, accessories, artwork, furniture and friends. Her personal flair and contrarian bent help explain her popularity on a social media platform that champions dancing babies and fashion tutorials, but her secret weapon, she says, is her 30-year-old bestie, Mackenzie Morrison, who serves as the producer, editor and music supervisor for her pithy videos.
Their friendship is a TikTok version of the HBO comedy “Hacks,” where a young writer helps an aging comedian freshen up her act while finding her authentic self in the peak-meta era.
“We were watching it while we were on the phone together. We were obsessed,” Morrison says while Korzen laughs beside her.
The pair sit side-by-side on Korzen’s back porch in the sprawling Park La Brea complex along Miracle Mile, discussing their TikTok strategy: what works, what doesn’t work and why.
The “why” part remains the most baffling for Korzen. Her videos aren’t meant to be comic, but they often have comic undertones. They are essentially small stories fortified with a subtle message that generally inspires or uplifts. Korzen’s fans take particular delight in her knack for dragging. She can take a subject — Macy’s, for example, or royal family fashion — and knock it down to size with ruthless efficiency.
Korzen doesn’t understand why a video about her postpartum depression, which she thought would resonate with people, did not get traction. TikTok, she says, is a mystery to her. Which makes sense, she adds, because she can barely take a selfie or send a text.
When she was looking for a way to expand her audience, she thought maybe she should try Instagram, but Morrison immediately put a stop to the idea.
“Instagram to me doesn’t exist anymore,” says Morrison, who is a writer and sells vintage fashion online. “When I see people looking at Instagram, it shocks me. I don’t know how that app is still running. It feels archaic and it’s depressing.”
TikTok, Morrison told Korzen, is a much more positive space — with less negativity and fewer trolls. Korzen’s first reaction: No way.
“I said, ‘You’re crazy.’ I knew enough about TikTok because my 7-year-old grandson is on it,” Korzen says. “I knew it was sexy young girls doing dance moves or showing you how to wear makeup. Why would anyone want to see me?”
The reasons, it turns out, are many and varied. Scan the comments on Korzen’s videos and you’ll see loads of praise. A sampling:
“I just fell madly in love with you!”
“Everyone needs you in their life.”
“Look, I am almost 40 years old, but if you are looking to adopt, I’m available.”
“She’s the Fran Lebowitz replacement we all need.”
“You are my spirit animal.”
Lots of commentators call Korzen beautiful, and she says it makes her want to cry.
“This is not a message I have gotten in my life. Ever,” Korzen says. “If a casting call went out today and they want an ‘attractive older woman,’ I guarantee you, because I know the business, I would not be seen for it.”
“But Annie, you’re so beautiful,” Morrison says as Korzen waves a dismissive hand.
“I am not Hollywood’s idea of attractive, but that’s something I have been living with my whole professional life,” she continues. “And the idea that people are seeing beauty in me is amazing to me. It gives me hope that maybe young people today — maybe their perception is getting a little more open and accepting.”
TikTok’s global nature has drastically changed Korzen’s audience. As an actress she has appeared on “Seinfeld,” “Why Women Kill” and “PEN15.” She performed a one-woman show for a five-month run at the Jewish storytelling company in Santa Monica, Calif., the Braid. She considers complaining an Olympic sport and is a chipper champion of unpopular opinions. She hates Disneyland and reserves particular antipathy for Frank Capra’s Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Before TikTok, Korzen thought she knew her fan base: “middle-aged or older college-educated people, mostly women, mostly Jews.” On TikTok her followers represent all ages and a variety of races and ethnicities. At the Braid she was happy if she sold out the theater’s 80 seats, but on TikTok she feels bad if a video racks up fewer than 10,000 views.
Because so many people are watching, and the age of social media is fraught with online misunderstandings, Morrison sometimes steers Korzen away from delicate topics.
“I’m just trying to make sure we don’t get canceled because people are really sensitive now,” she says.
Korzen is not shy about speaking her mind, and although she doesn’t have a malicious bone in her body, she traffics in humor, which gets its oxygen from poking fun at one thing or another. Morrison does her best to make sure the jokes in question do not unintentionally cause offense.
One of Korzen’s videos shows her wearing Zulu jewelry, which she compares to wearing art. “Art is not Louis Vuitton, art is not a $100,000 stupid Birkin bag. That’s not art. Burberry. Is anything uglier than Burberry? Brown-and-beige plaid from England.”
“She dragged England’s entire culture in less than five seconds, lmaoooooo, PREACH,” cheered one commenter.
Some, though, chided Korzen for cultural appropriation. Korzen was heartened by a number of supportive comments from people who identified as Zulu and thanked her for appreciating their culture.
Korzen takes on issues of race and perception in a video about her grandson, who is Black. She says that when they walk down the street together, some people look at them like they don’t belong together. On the contrary, she says, they have everything in common, from music to humor. They are, she says with tears in her eyes, a match made in heaven.
Sex, however, is a no-go on TikTok. Korzen discovered this after a video featuring a story about her and her husband’s sex life had the sound taken down. (Korzen’s husband, Benni Korzen, co-produced the 1987 Danish film “Babette’s Feast,” which won the Oscar for best foreign-language film.)
“It was very sweet. The video is up but the sound is off,” says Morrison. “I think sex is a weird thing on TikTok. That’s why people use ‘seggs’ when they talk about sex, or they mouth it. You can’t really say, ‘Sex.’”
“We did put the one up about the vagina, right?” asks Korzen.
“We did. I think you can say ‘vagina,’” Morrison says. “Sometimes things get flagged, sometimes not.”
Korzen learns as she goes. She has no desire to be a social media star or influencer, but she hopes the fun she and Morrison have on TikTok leads to other opportunities.
“My real fantasy?” she asks.
“I’d like to do what Andy Rooney did on ‘60 Minutes.’ I want to be on a TV show once a week for five minutes to just complain — or inspire. Hopefully, inspire.”