The Angry Ikea Guy would like a word -- as long as that word is not "Malm"
A conversation with comedian Scott Seiss about work, misery, and resistance
Sometimes a viral video is just a viral video.
And sometimes it speaks to a great big feeling throbbing at once in millions of hearts.
Scott Seiss, a comedian from Baltimore, now based in New York, created one of them — a few, actually — recently, becoming forever in our hearts the Angry Ikea Guy.
Against a backdrop of improbably cheap furniture that actually isn’t that cheap if you value your time at a rate above 10 cents an hour and value your hands being uninjured, Seiss spoke for so many who have worked retail and had to suffer from know-nothing bosses, know-it-all customers, and a recurring presence named Diane who wants to use last year’s coupons and doesn’t seem to understand the concept of expiration.
I caught up with Seiss during his moment of viral glory to find out what he makes of this moment in which he is far from alone in revolting against work as we know it.
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“No hard feelings towards Ikea whatsoever”: a conversation with Angry Ikea Guy Scott Seiss
ANAND: Sometimes a viral video is more than that — it speaks to something so widely felt in a moment. And I think yours about working at Ikea landed at this moment of a real crisis of people's feelings and relationships to work. As a professional observer of the culture, why do you think the Ikea series caught the way it did?
SCOTT: I just think that people are sick and tired of being treated like shit at work. I mean, people are underpaid, they're overworked, and especially within the pandemic, they're realizing that they're being asked too much of by their jobs. And the video is depicting a minimum-wage worker at the breaking point, making the switch, turning on the customer, turning on the job, and I never expected it to take off the way that it did.
I never in a million years thought it would get to this level. It's absolutely blowing my mind. I'm just so, so grateful for all of that. And the fact that people that work absolutely thankless, thankless jobs are enjoying them or getting some sort of catharsis from them means the world to me.
ANAND: Tell us your history with Ikea.
SCOTT: I worked customer service at Ikea for three years, from 2016 to 2019. I was in the call center and I was mainly taking complaints over Facebook and Twitter, and sometimes I would talk to customers via email or over the phone. But my wife actually — at the same time that I was working at Ikea — was working retail at the Disney Store in the mall.
So I have a lot of experience with customer-service stuff, and I'm writing the jokes for the videos. I showed them to my wife to make sure that they feel true, that they're funny enough. She's a big part of the process helping me with that. She's not a comedian herself, she's just a very, very funny person who doesn't need validation from strangers — unlike me.
ANAND: Did working at Ikea make you more or less likely to shop at Ikea afterward?
SCOTT: I think it made me less likely to order online. Most of the complaints we had came from online orders. But I still like Ikea; I still go to Ikea. A lot of the furniture in my apartment is Ikea.
No hard feelings towards Ikea whatsoever. I love the people that I worked with. I loved the environment, but there's just something about retail and customer-facing jobs.
Here's my theory on it: People are so powerless within the economy that when they get face to face with a retail employee or over the phone, that's the only time people have power over someone else in the economy.
That's the only time that people get to exercise some sort of control or are made to feel like they have power, because of the “customer's always right” thing. People abuse that all the time. Most don't, but some do.
And that's why retail is a thankless job. It's the same thing with people who are mean to waiters. It's only because they are so powerless in the economy. This is their only situation where they can be mean to someone else, where they're allowed to be mean to someone else. But love Ikea, love them.
ANAND: When you're not making hilarious videos with brilliant sound overlay, what is your main delivery vehicle for comedy, and what do you reckon is the most idiosyncratic aspect of your process for formulating material?
SCOTT: I like to think of myself as like a blue-collar John Mulaney. I don't know, I'm trying to distill what I do on stage. I do stand-up mostly. I've done stand-up for eight years; that was my main vehicle. And once stand-up became illegal because of the pandemic, I switched — pivoted to TikTok. I'd already been doing sketch and improv for a long time as well.
I was raised by a single mom, I'm a very skinny, boyish, goofy, silly guy. And so a lot of my stand-up is about making fun of over-the-top masculinity. And I try to find different angles for it. A lot of stand-up is just a lot of toxic masculinity being performed on stage. It's a lot of just hacky bits. There's, "Don't women take so long in the bathroom?" or whatever the hell it is.
I do a bit about how men should sit down to pee, and should wipe after they pee. What's the rush? Why are we trying to rush through peeing? Let's take a load off. I do a whole thing on that.
I just use my background, and I use my family experience, my everyday experience, to find new angles on stuff that's just so tired in stand-up. And I love making fun of rich people, which I don't think enough stand-up comics do.
ANAND: So there's this real uprising that seems to be happening against work as we know it, against our same-old-same-old jobs, as the light at the end of the tunnel of the pandemic shows itself. People are vowing to change their lives, abandon jobs that were slowly killing their souls, and it's happening at various levels of income and privilege, etc. What do you make of the work revolt, such as it is?
SCOTT: I love it. Let's go further.
I'm a big fan of the workers' revolt. Labor policies, workers' rights, that stuff is huge for me. I'm very, very interested in all of that. I think that people work far too much. I think people are paid far too little, and I think all of the stuff within the past year is showing that the work-life balance needs to shift completely in the other direction.
People do not want to spend 80 percent of their lives on their job, sending emails or being on their feet in stores or waiting tables or whatever it is. People need more time to focus on their own lives, their own wellbeing.
So, yeah, work revolt? Big fan. Big, big fan.
ANAND: What do you think the minimum wage should be?
SCOTT: I say $30 an hour. Let's make it $30. Whatever lawmakers are willing to set it at, let's double that, just to be safe. That's what I say. I say, whatever it is, let's double it. We've tried underpaying people. That doesn't work. Let's try overpaying for a little bit. I think that's the best strategy right now.
ANAND: What's really in the Ikea meatballs?
SCOTT: I think it's balsa wood. No, I don't even want to — I'm so dangerously close to getting sued by Ikea, I feel like that I don't even want to make a fake answer to this question.
ANAND: I appreciate Ikea's reasonable prices on many things. But there are some things where you're like: That is TOO cheap. Dangerously cheap. Why is some of that stuff SO cheap?
SCOTT: Same thing as the meatballs — it's all made out of balsa wood. I mean, it's like particle board. It's little bits of wood that are, like, glued together. And then they put like a nice finish on top. I don't even know if this is trade secrets. Again, I'm sitting over here checking the mail every day for a cease-and-desist order from Ikea. I feel like this is just going to fan the flames.
Why is it so cheap? Because Ikea cares about the customer. That's the one they would want me to say, maybe. Oh, man. It's just not stuff that's built to last. OK, I think that's good enough.
ANAND: If you end up having children, and you had to name them after Ikea product lines (Malm, Vallentuna), which would be your top three choices?
SCOTT: I don't have any children. My wife and I would like to have some. But if I had to name them: One, I got to go with Godmorgon, a very powerful name and it sounds like someone's annoyed with Morgon — “God, Morgon!”
And then I'll do Flärdfull. I think that that's fun. That's a very funny name. Then I won't torture the third kid. I'll name him after the Billy bookcase. I'll just name him Billy. So then the other two kids are like, "What the fuck? Why do you go with the normal one for him?"
ANAND: Please explain the origins of the secret sauce of your videos, which is the haunting music and the standing up and the impeccable timing of it all. Help us make our own videos better.
SCOTT: I mean, that sound that I use, the music, that was a trending sound on TikTok that I saw people using. It's called the drama effect. I saw people using it in every single video that I saw was funny. That doesn't happen with every TikTok trend. So I was like, "I got to use this." And I had these retail jokes written out that I was going to use in stand-up, but with the pandemic, I didn't get to do stand-up.
So I decided to pivot and turn them into TikToks with that sound. Then, boom!, it just blew up. It was incredible. I’m still incredibly grateful, incredibly overwhelmed, speechless about it.
I also did a lot of listening to the feedback. When I finally got a video that got millions of views and a ton of comments, I read the comments, made sure I understood exactly what people liked about it. I saw people commenting about how I don't blink a lot in the video, like I don't let the viewer go. I'm staring right at the screen. I'm angry. They were suggesting other retail things to do videos about.
So it was just a lot of listening to what people liked about it and just not stopping. Keep pushing and keep doing what works and see if people are still liking it the more you do. Every single time I did one, I was like, "This will be the last one. There's no way that people will continue to like this." Now, I'm 21 videos in, and it's just grown more than ever I thought. It's absolutely, absolutely incredible.
Just listen to feedback.
ANAND: If Ikea wants you to do social media for them, will you accept? What if they paid in unlimited meatballs?
SCOTT: Been there, done that. I started taking complaints over Facebook and Twitter through their social media. So when you tweeted that, a friend of mine texted me and said, "Wow! It really has come full circle." I moved away from Ikea social media to do comedy, and then my comedy gets recognized and then I go back to doing social media for Ikea. That would be the funniest way that this all resolves itself.
What if they pay me in unlimited meatballs? I don't really like the meatballs. I know people love the meatballs. I never really understood the meatball sensation. I liked the salmon that they had in the restaurant. The meatballs are OK. Pay me in salmon, maybe I'll come back.
Maybe I'll pick up another shift just to get some more material, actually. That's not a bad idea…
Scott Seiss is a comedian based in New York, known for his viral Angry Ikea Guy videos. You can follow him on Tik Tok, on Instagram, and on Twitter at @ScottSeiss. This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
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75 year old recently widowed me— thanks so much for making me laugh this morning, Scott Seiss! Thanks, too, Anand.
I really need to stop thinking about politics 24/7; I had no idea Scott Seiss existed and just laughed out loud. Felt good. More of this please.