N.J. makeup artist finds beauty in comedy. How TikTok made him a star.

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A man with rainbow eyeshadow approaches a woman with dangly earring.

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“Hi, welcome to Sephora!”He smiles warmly.

The customer has a red towel covering her head and a plaid shirt on her body. It’s like someone stopped her mid-way through getting ready to go out on the town.

“Oh!” she says in a squeaky voice, gesturing toward the employee’s full face of makeup. “Well that is a lot.”

“Yeah, it’s Pride Month, so …”He responds, trailing off.

“Ohhh that’s right,”She says it, squinting her eyes. “When’s my month?”

Every month,”He calmly replies, his expression void of any trace of joy.

This scene is part of a TikTokVideo by a New Jersey makeup artist Johnny Ross — aka @mrjohnnyross — promoting a lip stain from Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty.

But it’s also a prime example of why Ross has hit a nerve.

TikTok, YouTube and Facebook are flooded with makeup videos. Do you need a primer? The perfect cateye? There are approximately 50 million expert clips available to help you.

But your average makeup “tutorialist”Ross is not. Ross is a Lyndhurst resident. upwards of a million followers by pairing product with performance and a message — infusing his videos with comedy bits that call out gender bias and skewer homophobia in the beauty industry. It’s how after graduating into a pandemic and losing work to COVID-19, the makeup artist has found a way to translate his social media presence into solid career moves.

Some videos contain profanity

Ross, aged 30, has achieved a certain level of success. “image” problem — one that afflicts the cosmetics business despite any number of Pride Month promotions.

“Being a guy doing makeup, it is much harder to break into social media in beauty because you’re a one in 100 chance of getting featured,”He says. “Beauty brands really don’t want to feature men as much as they do women. And getting that exposure is incredibly difficult.”

Ross plays both characters in his videos — the cheerful but weary Sephora employee and the microaggression-spewing woman in the earrings and towel.

He was that not so long ago. SephoraEmployer in The Mall at Short Hills.

Ross saw his first TikTok makeup comedy videoYou can take off overnight February 2021.

The clip — “What it’s like to work at Sephora, part one,”In a matter of hours, the number of views jumped from 10,000 to hundreds of thousands.

Ross introduces his store employee, and his woman-in-towel characters in the video.

“Cute! Little boy in makeup,”The woman says condescendingly, greeting the employee.

“Yeah, I’m looking for something that’s, like, full coverage but like super sheer … skincare benefits, like, maybe gets rid of my wrinkles. I really only want one product. I would like it to, like, fix everything, but, like, I don’t want to spend a lot of money.”

In other videos, the exact same character makes impossible requests in other videos. Natural-looking blue cut-crease smokey eye. The Sephora makeup artist is being forced to read some very explicit names for different shades of makeup to women over a certain age.

Comedy wasn’t necessarily a career goal for Ross, but he always took to performing.

“He is painfully an introvert, but when he is in a room full of people, all eyes on him,” says his fiancé, Casey Coleman. “He’s a master storyteller.”

Ross, who grew-up in Stanhope and was a performer in elementary school and high schools shows, had previously worked as a make-up artist.

“I was the kid who would go to Party City and figure out how to design an entire wig from scratch,”He says.

Ross was a regular in Lenape Valley Regional High’s productions. He was also trained at Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn.

“I love putting on a show, however that may look — whether it’s a musical or whether it’s me in a robe in front of a green screen in my bedroom,”He says.

Passion was never lacking. But it was important to have guidance on how to channel that passion into work.

“When high school was over, I kind of realized going to college for theater wasn’t really feasible,”Ross: “I always kind of had hair and makeup in the back of my mind.”

Ross enrolled in cosmetology school in Morris Plains at Artistic Academy of Hair Design. He got a job at a salon in Morristown, but it wasn’t a good fit, so he applied to every MAC and Sephora store in New Jersey. Ross was hired by the Sephora at Short Hills in 2015.

“It was a very wealthy clientele,”Ross:

He channels these types of emotions today. “Emily Gilmore upper crust” characters — alluding to the snooty, rich grandmother on “The Gilmore Girls” — in his videos when he plays the woman in the towel with her backhanded homophobic comments.

While he was still an employee at Sephora, he was inspired by the makeup artists who did long-form tutorials via YouTube.

“That’s really when it was just at its apex,”He speaks out about the beauty influencer boom.

Ross left the store after more than a decade of service and began freelancing for beauty brands such as Burberry and Laura Mercier. He started doing bridal makeup while studying marketing and business administration at Montclair State University. He graduated in December 2019

“I applied for a million jobs in two months,”He says.

The COVID-19 epidemic followed.

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“It kind of rendered every application ineffective,”Ross:

His bridal makeup gigs also stopped when all weddings were cancelled or rescheduled.

“In the span of not even four hours, he lost six months worth of work,”Coleman, a Montclair State University student coordinator who met Ross via Tinder in 2017, says Coleman.

Ross spent most of 2020 and part thereof 2021 looking after his nieces as his sister, a registered nurse at a hospital, worked long hours on the front lines of pandemic. He got paid and enjoyed the time — he and Coleman also got engaged in October 2020 — but was anxious to get back to his career. The hunger that had propelled him to earn his bachelor’s degree in three years was still there, waiting, he says.

“It felt like I hit a brick wall going 100 miles an hour because I was so ready to start my life.”

Ross’s decision to turn to TikTok was partly a necessity…and part resentment.

“In the beginning of 2021, I kind of started this whole social media thing out of spite because I applied for a job at the end of the year in 2020, and it was a national makeup artist position for a big brand and I hit every box,”He says. “It was 10 years of experience, a bachelor’s degree, and the last bullet was 5,000 Instagram followers. I was just so mad because that’s the world we live in, especially trying to get a job in marketing.

“I told my fiancé, ‘I’m gonna take a whole month in January to try to make something happen online.’ And lo and behold, it was the last day of the month, my first (comedy) video went viral. And it’s kind of been the roller coaster ever since.”

That’s not to say that Ross found financial success with his first viral video.

“I started in January of ’21, and I probably didn’t see my first dollar until January of ’22,”He says.

He was constantly working at a loss and paid for makeup products to be featured instead of receiving PR product packages from brands.

He posted what he called “a” in May after he was exhausted from his second COVID-19 bout. “COVID rant.”

“Being a makeup artist for a decade, I got fed up with almost the tokenization of men and LGBT people in the beauty space,”He says.

Ross noticed that female beauty influencers who had half his followers received more business opportunities. He was furious. He was furious. He thought about pioneers of modern make-up like Kevyn Aucoin, who popularized techniques like contouring and highlighting, and drag queens, whose beauty methods reached the mainstream — the same mainstream where some people can’t seem to comprehend makeup on men who aren’t drag queens.

“At the end of the day, ramping up for Pride, there (are) so many brands that come out with Pride merchandise that the other 11 months of the year don’t have one guy in a campaign, do not post one guy on their Instagram, still market every single beauty product to women and say female pronouns in their ads,”Ross:

“It just infuriated me because I just kind of realized that it’s not going to change until the beauty brands start to market beauty — whether it’s makeup, hair, skincare — to everybody.”

It turns out his rant kicked something into motion — 15 brands got in touch after his followers began tagging them in comments.

Ross might have been “discovered”He is now a TikTok user, but he has a combined following totaling about 1.6million across several social media platforms, including Instagram, YouTube, and YouTube, where he only has just under 400,000 subscribers.

He had to do double takes when he got a message from Fenty BeautyAt the end of 2021. Rihanna’s brand wanted him to work their product into his comedy skits. It was his first big gig. “This is happening!” moment. Since then, he’s worked on a series of videos with the company’s products.

“I’m just at the point now that I’m starting to pull back from my bridal work,”Ross says, “The weddings returned with an vengeance” in 2021. “It was almost 14 months of doing it for free to get to the point that I can do this full-time.”

That’s all because he’s been able to start monetizing his YouTube videos over the past two months.

He was recently invited to YouTube’s Beauty Festival in Los Angeles, where he met makeup artistsYouTube Successes Patrick Starrr Manny MUA (Manny Gutierrez) — who have done much to dispel stereotypes about men and makeup — along with fellow YouTube star Jackie AinaModel Winnie Harlow.

It was especially rewarding for his heroes not only to meet him but also to recognize him from his work.

Johnny Ross at YouTube’s Beauty Festival, June 16 in Los Angeles, with beauty influencers Manny Mua, aka Manny Gutierrez (left) and Patrick Starrr (right).Johnny Ross

“It’s starting to tangibly put in perspective that like, ‘Oh, wow, people were watching me while I was locked in my bedroom for 14 months with a towel on my head making videos,’”He says.

Although the comedy videos are only a few minutes long, they take planning and time. First, Ross records each character’s voice for what will later appear to be an organic conversation. Then he’ll film for about 10 hours — starting with any scenes where he can show his beard. Then he’ll shave, hang a green screen and film himself doing makeup with all different steps and products (those videos can be longer). Finally, he films himself as his Sephora character, with all of the makeup intact.

The six other days of the week, he edits video and corresponds to brands for collaborations.

His first TikTok videos were all about the video. “before” “after” — taking him from bare face beard to total glam, with bold winged eyeliner, dramatic eyeshadow, lashes and glossy lips, each transformation set to a lively soundtrack of Lady Gaga or other dance music.

“It didn’t come natural to me,”Ross speaks out about the viral creator pipeline.

But he found a game plan just looking at his TikTok feed — it was all comedy, with good reason. People wanted to distract from the pandemic.

He knew. “what it’s like to work at Sephora”Plenty of opportunities for satire were presented.

“I kind of conceived the whole idea as a Trojan horse,”Ross: “Come for the comedy and stay for the makeup. I knew it had a better chance of going viral.”

With this angle, Ross also saw an opening to lobby for inclusion and against homophobia — to reframe and “soften” people’s responses to men in makeup. He could help to dispel some of the pretentiousness surrounding beauty influencing.

Ross had only posted a few videos before his Sephora-based comedy hit the big time. It was not bad for a self-taught creator of videos who had just downloaded TikTok. He tried to sign up at Montclair for social media classes but that never went through.

“It blew up, really, in the beginning with people who also worked retail or in beauty,”Ross: “I started getting flooded with people telling me their stories of crazy things people say to them or sexism they deal with, or homophobia they deal with, or racism they deal with, and then the other half of it was like, ‘Oh my God, your makeup’s amazing. Like, what are you wearing?’”

He posted other clips which detailed the products he used. It was working — people were staying for the makeup.

“It really gave me the liberty to just start to tackle more and more issues in the comedy videos,” Ross says — like masculinity in beauty.

His YouTube short “When Straight Guys Shop at Sephora”Has 7.7 Million Views

Johnny Ross and Casey Coleman

Johnny Ross and Casey Coleman became engaged in October 2020. They intend to marry in 2023.Johnny Ross

“Oh, sh-t, wow, you’re like, wearing makeup,” his straight guy character tells his usual Sephora employee.

“So, I’m, like, not gay,”The man continues. “but, like, do you have a moisturizer for, like, guys, or whatever?”

“Yeah!”The employee said it. “We have some … not-gay … moisturizers over here.”

The makeup artist’s “shopping at MAC”Video parodies store employees to the tunes of 1,000,000 views on TikTok, and 2,000,000 on YouTube.

“I feel really lucky because the base dream was always to do beauty in the internet space and influencing,”Ross: “But to have this whole other subject where I get to draw on my theater experience and the acting and the humor to just address the silliness and the hypocrisy, or the toxic masculinity or the homophobia of it all, it’s just a very unforeseen kind of cherry on top.”

He would like to keep his voice as an activist, and continue his growth in his career. He would love to book celebrity make-up jobs and teach a master class on the road.

He will also be the one to marry at his next wedding.

Ross and Coleman are set to get married next summer — towel lady is not invited.

Johnny Ross is available on TikTok at: @mrjohnnyross; on YouTube; Instagram at @mrjohnnyross.

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Amy Kuperinsky can be reached at [email protected]And followed at @AmyKupFollow us on Twitter.


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