Chris Guerra wears a lot of hats. As an actor, he’s appeared on series like ABC’s Modern Family and features such as Bad Weather Films’ Bigfoot Famous. Guerra also teaches improv at The Groundlings and is a Main Company performer there. But when he virtually sat down with Casting Networks, it was his most recent role as an influencer that was on the table. With nearly 700,000 followers on TikTok, Guerra is known there for his “Nightmares” videos, in which he acts out real online conversations between people on a variety of platforms such as Facebook Marketplace and Tinder. Keep reading for a window into the creator’s journey onto the platform and how it all started.
It’s nice to virtually meet you, Chris, and I’d love to dive right into the start of everything. Can you share the “origin story” of how you began creating your own content that led to your current status as an influencer?
I always tried to have a funny presence on social media, but I didn’t really have a clear direction on what types of things I’d post. My Instagram page was a lot of me sharing about my family and maybe reposting a funny video or two. I also would put out some clips of Groundlings sketches and things of that nature — the school and theater has really shaped my comedy. Plus, my involvement with The Groundlings helped me realize that I truly enjoy playing entitled characters. There’s just something about them that’s funny to watch, as long as they’re getting riled up about something that’s small and not actually upsetting.
It sounds like you’re describing a lot of the characters in your “Nightmares” videos.
Right, and it all started from this one time I was giving away a free pallet on Facebook Marketplace. A lady responded and started asking a lot of questions. She wanted to know how heavy it was, how old the wood was, why there was blue paint on it, if there was any water damage, and why I had the pallet in the first place. I answered her questions and explained that I’d had something shipped to me and the pallet was left with the item so I was getting rid of it. I just thought it was so funny, though, that I was getting interrogated by a stranger about a free item I was giving away. I showed the messages to my wife Kelsey, and she told me I had to go film it. She’d been wanting me to get on TikTok and suggested making a video out of the exchange by acting out both sides of the conversation.
So that was the genesis of it all?
Yes, I’d been resisting getting on the platform because I thought it was only for teenagers. I took Kelsey’s advice, though, and went to pick out a wig for the video. I’m not a serial killer — I just do sketch comedy at The Groundlings and have a bunch of wigs on hand. [Laughs] So I threw one on to play the other person in the palette conversation and then also filmed my responses to her. If you scroll to the bottom of my TikTok page, you’ll see it’s my first video. It looks a little different than the ones I make now and is nothing fancy. I literally just created a TikTok account, made the video, posted it, and then went on to do other things. The next morning, I woke up to find it had about 1.5 million views.
Wow. Having your first-ever video on the platform go viral is an impressive feat.
I showed it to a few friends, and they were like, “I’ve been on TikTok for two years and never gone viral — this isn’t fair!” No one was happy for me. [Laughs] In all seriousness, people were supportive, and I’m very grateful I listened to Kelsey in the first place. Since that video blew up, I took it as a clear sign to keep going in that direction. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I kept making videos about those types of online interactions. The next one only got a few hundred thousand views, but then the videos started hitting. I had 150 million total views of my videos over a period of 28 days and gained 500,000 followers. It was crazy how it just took off.
And you started acting out other people’s funny online interactions for your “Nightmares” videos. What’s your process like for creating them?
I was initially accepting people’s submissions through Instagram and would have them send me screenshots of their relevant conversations. But it got to a point where I was getting so many that it just wasn’t manageable so I finally set up something through Jotform that allows me to more easily go through them and pick the one I want to make into a video. I have a rule with myself that reading through the conversation has to make me laugh. You know? I have to think it’s funny.
That makes sense.
I’ve tried in the past to do things based on what I think other people will find humorous, but it just doesn’t work. So once I’ve picked the nightmare that I want to do, I read it over and try to figure out the character of the other person in someone’s submitted online conversation. I may try out a wig and play with different voices to see what seems to fit. I also like to figure out some kind of a mannerism for them. You’ll see that in some videos, such as a person trying to pick something out of their eye the whole time. I love behavior comedy and try to integrate it into my videos because it helps uniquely shape different characters so that they’re not just all standing there speaking. Then I’ll shoot and edit the video together, post it, and tag the person who submitted the conversation.
You posted on Instagram a message from a fan about how your comedy helped her get through a hard time. Can you share about the purpose you feel with making people laugh?
When I get a message like that one, it really affirms why I do comedy. Yes, I love the spotlight. Every actor does — I’ll admit to it. It’s great to hear good feedback when people think I’m funny. But what really hits me is when someone tells me that my comedy has had an impact on their life. A dumb, silly video that I threw together on an iPhone reached this person who was processing a tragedy and hadn’t laughed for a year before coming across it. That reflects my goal as a comedian. I ultimately want to make people laugh, which includes this piece of trying to bring people joy, especially during these crazy pandemic times. When I hear that one of my videos has done that, it gives me a boost of energy and is definitely a driving force that keeps me going.
Guerra recently took his skills as a creator to the big screen, making his feature debut as a writer and director with Re-Opening, a lockdown mockumentary in which he also stars. “I play a theater owner/director named Roger Bastion, who also happens to be an entitled type of character,” Guerra shared during the interview. “Making Re-Opening had some overlap with starting the ‘Nightmares’ videos on TikTok so it all kind of went hand-in-hand.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.