TikTok's Favorite Creepy Clown, Twisted Pennywise, Reveals How He Built His Social Media Career
If you love watching dancing videos on TikTok, chances are you've come across the hilariously creepy videos of Michael Taeza, better known by the nickname Twisted Pennywise.
The ingenious content creator made his claim to fame dressing as the horrible Pennywise the clown from the It movies while recreating all of TikTok's biggest trending dances, skits and more—and people have definitely taken notice. He now has more than 16 million followers on TikTok, with that number growing daily—and with Halloween just around the corner, this is definitely his time to shine.
We got the chance to hop on a truly bizarre and enlightening Zoom call with Twisted Pennywise (in full makeup, no less!) to learn all about how he got to where he is today and the community that helped his meteoric rise. Curious? Just keep reading for the full interview!
Sweety High: Tell me a little bit about your rise to fame on TikTok.
Twisted Pennywise: I used to work at Amazon as a warehouse worker. I'm always cracking jokes, and when I'd giggle at them, my coworkers would tell me that I laughed like the clown from the new It movie. I went to check it out with my girlfriend at the time and seeing that famous sewer scene made me go—wow. This guy took it to another level. The original It actor, Tim Curry, was pretty creepy, but Bill Skarsgård made it even more sinister—especially with the way his eyes move. And when I heard that really high-pitched laugh, I kind of saw what they meant when they said I sounded like him. It all started from there.
I'd been seeing a lot of cosplayers online, and I thought that maybe I could make myself look like Pennywise. Of course, my first take wasn't very good at all. Actually, seeing the evolution from that first time, I'm pretty proud of myself. I started looking for the right cosplayers to help me out and point me in the direction of who to contact about making a prosthetic. When I did some research to find out how much it would cost to hire a makeup artist to do it for me, I knew it was too much, so I turned to YouTube to learn how to do it myself. It took a lot of time and practice to get to where I am now—and I was blessed enough to actually meet the makeup artists from the film, after getting to meet the It director Andy Muschetti and producer Barbara Muschetti in person.
(Photo credit: Ian D)
SH: How long does it take for you to put on your full Pennywise makeup? Did it take a long time to master the look, and how did it come to be?
TP: When I started, it took me literally like seven hours. I had this other prosthetic, which is a little bit bigger and heavier and took a toll on my neck. I didn't know anything about the special effects world, so I just started playing around with glues and things. I was actually supposed to go to the Pasadena Convention Center for my first debut as Pennywise the dancing clown, but it didn't happen because it took so long that by the time I was finished, the drive to Pasadena would take two hours, and it didn't make sense for me to show up 30 minutes before they closed.
That was disheartening, but at the same time, I decided I could just go to the mall and walk around and see how many people took notice. Sure enough, it got to the point where security guards were telling me they loved how I looked, but I had to leave for everyone's safety.
Then L.A. Comic-Con came around and I decided to buy a ticket. By the time the day came, I would say it took about four hours to do the makeup—a little improvement. That became my big debut. I was expecting people to just see me as another Pennywise cosplayer—nothing too good. But as soon as I got out of the car, people started taking pictures of me. It was weird because I wasn't used to that scene at all. I started gaining traction fast.
Then, as I was walking toward the entrance, one of the guys supervising the private entrances saw me and invited me and my little brother to come on through. He took us through a shortcut to cut all the lines. I was like, "We can't just cut in front of all of those people, I don't want that," but he said I looked so good that I deserved to be in there and didn't need to wait. The people who handed me my ID were like, "Okay, you look terrifying. You look just like the character." And from there, I started meeting a bunch of cosplayers, and one of them actually invited me to a private event to meet the director and producer of It.
At the end of the event, I was the second person in line to get a book signed. The problem was, I didn't have the book available for me! So I shot my shot. I told them they'd inspired me to cosplay Pennywise, and I showed them a picture from Comic-Con. Andy fell in love with it and asked why I hadn't come in costume. Of course, I didn't know what the rules were to get in, and I didn't want to give anyone a heart attack. But they loved it so much they gave me a free signed copy of the book and encouraged me to keep doing what I was doing. Of course, I was starstruck.
So when I told my friends that I got to do that, they told me I should do a video on TikTok. I didn't even know what that was, so I installed the app and started to see what was trending. I was like, what is this? Why do people do this? But when I started seeing dance trends, I realized I'd never seen a Pennywise do his take on these trends. I stepped in and took the mantle, putting my own twist on things—which is why I'm called Twisted Pennywise.
@twistedpennywise##distancedance ##fyp ##pennywise ##outwest ##outwestchallenge ##outwes ##tracisscott ##covid19 ##covidー19 ##socialdistancing♬ OUT WEST (feat. Young Thug) – JACKBOYS & Travis Scott
SH: What do you love most about cosplaying as him?
TP: The best reactions I get are usually when I'm in an elevator or coming around a corner. I love seeing people's reactions. Because in my head, I think I'm just dressed like him and I'm not gonna freak anybody. It's just Pennywise. But people really do have that phobia, or other times it just really takes them by surprise. I never know if people are going to give me a hard time. But that reaction really does make this feel like an accomplishment. If I'm not doing it right, then nobody's gonna be scared.
(Photo credit: Mike Spinos)
SH: There seems to be quite a community of horror cosplayers. What's been the best part of the experience linking up with them?
TP: It's really given everyone the chance to get out of their bubbles and be more social. It's music to my ears when I hear people that I was why they installed TikTok and started doing their own cosplays. It's such a fun way to meet people that I didn't think I wouldn't ever get to meet otherwise. They're just normal people that do cosplays, and it's awesome that I've inspired people in the horror community. Of course, I don't want to claim responsibility for building that community, but to be able to help people and see some of my friends come out of there is great. I like to help them get past any anxiety and awkwardness to step into the TikTok community and be known, too. They don't have to be the best videos in the world—just having fun and getting out there is amazing.
SH: What has been your most memorable collaboration to date?
TP: That's a hard question because I've had an incredible time with every TikToker I collaborate with, but I think probably Jason Derulo. And that all happened through other collaborations. I met Amanda Cerny through her boyfriend, who invited me over to make a skit together. Little did I know, when I went to the house, she was there, too, and she also wanted to collab with me. I suggested we do this trend with the song "Where Is the Love" by the Black Eyed Peas, where we kind of hop around, and I had another idea I thought could blow up using this Jason Derulo trend. She posted that second video and it blew up, and a few days later, Jason hit me up in my DMs asking me to do a skit with him. I was like, is this really happening right now?
It's incredible. I'm still learning it all, and I'm so happy I have my managers Michael and José to coordinate everything and help me level up and grow, while meeting awesome people and giving me more opportunities for the future. I've never been like that. If you would have asked me about all of this social media stuff, I would have said it wasn't for me.
But Jason Derulo was so cool. I never thought he'd be DMing me and I'd be making a video with him. It was such an opportunity and I'm so blessed. From there, I wouldn't say that everything has been thrown at me because I'm still putting hard work into everything I do to get people to see it—it's not just makeup, but dancing and skits and comedy—but doing that content, and throwing it out there and loving what I do has been huge. I really do believe that everything happens for a reason. I stepped in deciding that I was going to do Pennywise TikTok, and I wouldn't care what people think and I'd just have fun.
The next thing I knew, I posted a video, and it just started picking up. I thought 50 followers was awesome, and then it was 100, and then 1000. When I got to 10,000, I thought that was a big number. People really liked it. I started this back in March of last year, and picking up on trends was easy for me because I used to dance a little bit myself. People really liked seeing those trends with Pennywise, and I started getting fans all around the world seeing videos. I think that's what helped me get all over the For You page.
@twistedpennywise@jasonderulo killing IT! 🤡🎈##lovenotwar♬ Love Not War (The Tampa Beat) – Jason Derulo & Nuka
SH: What would you say are the biggest misconceptions about what you do?
TP: There can be a lot of negativity online, and I have to call people out on the things they assume about me. I'm just a human being who likes doing makeup. People come to me in my DMs to be very nitpicky and tell me about the "flaws" they see in my costume that don't look right to them, like my face being smoother than Pennywise in the movie. I'm just cosplaying the character! It doesn't matter. Other people take the character very seriously and think I'm supporting a character who does bad things to people. That's not what this is about. People also call me out on my dancing. I'm not a professional dancer, I just freestyle and enjoy the music, and they say I don't deserve the attention because I'm not a "real" dancer. Sometimes I still have a hard time with that. I'm still new to the scene and I'm learning every day.
SH: Is Halloween your biggest time of year?
TP: Definitely. I loved Halloween, even before I became Twisted Pennywise. I love joking around and pranking people. The first cosplay I came up with was actually Ghostface from Scream, but I realized it would be too easy. If I could just put it on, it wouldn't be as effective, especially with the comedy. I wanted to put time and effort into it, for people to really appreciate the costume. Since people were telling me I sounded like a clown, I decided to run with it, and it really worked out.
(Photo credit: Alex Carrillo)
Still don't have a costume picked out? Get some inspiration by clicking HERE to find out what Halloween costumes you'll be seeing everywhere this year.