TikTok creator Taryn Delanie Smith stars as Denise, a character who helps the internet deal with grief and abstract questions about the afterlife.TikTok @taryntino21/NPR Screenshot hide the title
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TikTok @taryntino21/NPR Screenshot
TikTok creator Taryn Delanie Smith stars as Denise, a character who helps the internet deal with grief and abstract questions about the afterlife.
TikTok @taryntino21/NPR Screenshot
If you ask someone on TikTok what happens when you die, they will most likely tell you this: you appear in the waiting room. You're wearing a bathrobe. And you are not greeted by Saint Peter or Mother Mary, but by the clicks of chewing gum, the clicks of the keyboardA New Yorker named Denise.
As a celestial receptionist, Denise will give you a welcome pack and ask what ghost costume you would like. He'll tell you all about heavenly comforts (there's a free margarita bar) and will probably leave you with a few gossip, lowering his voice to complain about a recent email from Paul Revere (capital letters, subject: URGENT) or that the hour. at the nail salon when Jackie Kennedy met Marilyn Monroe ("Two Cats on a Hot Tin Roof").
@taryntino21 #green screenthere have been many requests for more photos of Denise at work. go denis#trajeespectre ♬ Bossa nova that looks good in a coffee shop (976272) - MiYAMO
But despite all her office work, Denise is an outgoing person. When someone comes into the waiting room scared or confused, behe died too youngztoo early— then Denise is there to hug them and show them all the positive aspects of heaven.
And for TikToker viewers, it has become a tool to think about the afterlife and mourn those who have already landed there.
The real Denise is a 26-year-old beauty pageant queen.
Although it can be as touching asGood placezfield of dreams, the world of celestial reception is a short and lo-fi experience. And like most of the TikTok series, it's the imagination of one person: Taryn Delanie Smith.
Taryn Delanie Smith, pictured at the opening of David Geffen Hall in New York City, took part in the Miss New York pageant after gaining a strong following on TikTok.Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Centro Lincoln hide the title
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Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Centro Lincoln
Taryn Delanie Smith, pictured at the opening of David Geffen Hall in New York City, took part in the Miss New York pageant after gaining a strong following on TikTok.
Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Centro Lincoln
The 26-year-old, better known as@taryntino21She considers herself primarily a content creator: in two years, she gained 1.2 million followers on TikTok. But she is also an offline celebrity herself, having been crowned Miss New York in 2022 and placed second in the Miss America pageant.
But before Smith had a platform, she was a receptionist herself, working long hours to pay for her master's degree in international communications. It is the experience from which she draws that shapes Denise's character.
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"I ended up getting a call center promotion, which was definitely not the promotion I had in mind," Smith told NPR in an interview.
Even the receptionist in heaven has to go through the same mundane daily dramas as any earthly office worker.
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It's this kind of creative approach to shaping the world that keeps Smith's audience so drawn in. But like all great ideas, Denise's character was born in the least spectacular way: as a lost thought in the shower.
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"I stood there thinking, 'If I die in a chicken suit, I'm going to have to wear it forever.' Can you imagine a ghost approaching you in a chicken costume? Smith said. And I just couldn't stop laughing.
She jumped out of the shower, changed into a bathrobe and towel, found the first picture of the sky that appeared on Google, and made what she thought was the stupidest video on the internet.
Today, the Heaven receptionist's videos have been viewed more than 37 million times on Smith's TikTok page and at least 22 million times on other platforms. Smith is more recognizable on the street as Denise than as Miss New York.
@taryntino21Someone in Michigan is having a terrible 2023#hemel #receptionist ♬ 4 bar jazz instrumental music. Lifestyle. - Masanobu
Holding onto these dual identities may seem inappropriate to some, but for Smith it just works.
"Why can't we just let women do everything? Just let them be beautiful and goofy and genuine," she said. "I really didn't think I'd push the boundaries of being myself and being a beauty queen."
The same authenticity that fits well with today's Gen Z audience has helped her achieve success on stage. To avoidarchaic standards of black beautySmith competed in the Miss New York pageant with her natural hair, which ultimately won hermore praise than criticism.
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She said that at least she was criticized more for the comedy than the looks.
“People who are fans of pageantry don't understand my TikTok characters. Some of them would say, "I don't understand. Why is he acting so strange? And I'm not weird. I'm having fun. I am crazy.
"I really wish more adults would get rid of that inhibition, even if it's just in private," she said. “I think humans were made to create things. We just go our own ways."
When Denise gets personal, the comments become real.
And the more Smith emerges as an uninhibited self, the more viewers adopt the same mindset. If you're not careful, humor can cut through the hard edges of sadness and reveal something soft and raw underneath.
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"I don't want to kill the atmosphere," one user said.wrote at the beginning in the comments section"but it makes me very happy because I imagine someone as sweet as you greeted my mother."
Without warning, Smith spoiled the mood in his sixth film, Denise. As the song "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" played in the background, she warmly greeted another commentator's mother in heaven.
“No, it doesn't matter. Introduce yourself. I know who you are. You're Gerry, right?Denise says, looking up from her laptop.with a face full of pure kindness. 'You are so loved. I'm picking up a prayer mail for you now.
@taryntino21Replying to @jennifertavernier13 you and your mom ❤️ definitely qualified for the angelic bonus plus by the way!#hemel #receptionist ♬ Somewhere over the rainbow_What a wonderful world - Israel Kamakawiwo'ole
For such a personal message, it resonated widely. The video garnered over 10,000 comments, many of which were filled with heart emoticons and stories of lost loved ones: people who lost their mothers, also named Gerry, as well as lost children, aunts, uncles, older brothers, younger sisters. , grandparents, famous idols and beloved pets.
Smith said she receives many, sometimes "hundreds" of emails and comments every week asking for specific people to be included in her videos. The stories are so touching that she can't read them all because of crying. But some days he still tries.
“I'm actually very spiritual. I believe in these things. I've lost people I talk to all the time," he said. “Because love just can't... it can't disappear. It's too big. If you love someone as my mother loves me, as I love my friends, this dull earthly body cannot absorb it. ".
The duel takes place on TikTok just like in the real world: randomly
In the real world, we have a persistent expectation that our sadness will end. Funerals come and go. Parental leave ends. Friends no longer ask how you are for fear of saying the wrong thing.
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But on TikTok, in what can often be an endless sea of noise and distraction, images of sadness can pop up randomly in the algorithm just as easily as memories of loved ones pop up uninvited as you scroll through the day.
The difference in the platform is that by default you are often not alone in the experience. The film may be religious, theatrical, or educational in nature, but it's likely to feature a human you can watch and connect with.
"It's like each new generation is crossing a line when it comes to sharing grief," says Megan Devine, grief psychotherapist and authorIt's okay that you're not okay.
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"On TikTok, you get rewarded for being direct, which adds to the feeling of 'We should talk about this more,'" Devine said. "It makes big, overwhelming issues acceptable... It's safer to explore the limits of what we can tell the truth."
The hashtag #Grief is one of the most popular hashtags on TikTok, with over 9 billion individual posts. And even in this big talk, Smith's films with Denise manage to stand out.
Intuitively, what it does so well is to combine sadness with a dose of joy, as well as secular and spiritual, authentic and vulnerable, personal and universal, all combined in a powerful cleansing cocktail.
But most of all, it "speaks about the most human need: the need to connect," Devine said.
Fortunately for fans of Denise, Smith also does it for human connection.
"The only reason I do it is because of the collaborative nature," he said, adding that he found most of his inspiration for the videos in the comments section. "As long as we keep doing this together as a team, I'm all for it."