Horror fans will know him as one of the engineers from last year’s hit killer-doll movie M3GAN, while Nineties-sitcom aficionados will recognize him as Estefan from the revival seasons of Will & Grace. But to the very online, Brian Jordan Alvarez is also the mastermind behind the cult web series The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo, which followed the lives of an LGBTQ ensemble in a slightly off-kilter version of our own reality. With his internet comedy, Alvarez is always ahead of the game, finding ways to make you laugh at stuff that you don’t quite know how to describe to your friends. They just have to see for themselves.

Luke Fontana

Since the 2020 pandemic lockdowns, Alvarez has conquered the medium of short, absurdist selfie videos made for Instagram and TikTok. Though each is the unpredictable work of a mad scientist, there is a kind of formula: Alvarez develops hyper-specific, ongoing characters through the use of distorting facial filters and strong accents (his ear for these is virtually unmatched). It was one of his regular incarnations — a fellow he calls TJ Mack — who this month hit it big with a relatable song called “Sitting.”

If you feel like you don’t “get” it, well, one, consider that there is nothing to “get,” per se, and two, give it a minute. Even those who initially profess to not find “Sitting” all that amusing have been known to fall gradually under its spell. TJ Mack’s simple message on the beauty of sitting — “the opposite of standing” — worms its way into your brain like a far more produced and polished pop song. Which is maybe why musicians started covering it in every imaginable style, turning it into a mega-viral sensation that wound up in Spotify Discover and even got radio play on a national radio program in Australia.

Here, Alvarez reveals the character background and creative process that brought “Sitting” into the world, why exactly he is so beloved Down Under, and his own surprising love of standing desks.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

A lot of the song feels born out of this very specific character you’re playing — TJ Mack. What can you tell us about this guy?
TJ Mack loves shopping. He loves shopping at TJ Maxx, Ross, Marshalls. Loves his wife, has a very controlling wife. She has a really dominant energy, but they really are a match to each other. And at the end of the day, you can see that there’s a lot of love there. She controls a lot his business affairs. And they have a baby together, sort of a surprise. The baby really looks much more like TJ Mack.

So, “Sitting” comes out of this particular background.
TJ Mack has a lot of time alone at home. His wife is a busy woman. When he was writing this song, when the song came to him, his wife was visiting her sister — which he often does. Maybe the baby was was with his wife, I think maybe with his wife and her sister. So TJ has some time at home alone, which is when he gets the most creative, and he was sitting in his chair from CB2 (not a paid promotion). Usually when a song comes to me you sort of you hear a good first line — so this starts with sitting. And [TJ] is very, very kind, so he wants you to know that you deserve to sit, you deserve you deserve to relax, you deserve all the good things in this world.

Yeah, I think part of the popularity might be because it’s so affirming. How long did these lyrics take to develop?
I went to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, which is a bit of a mouthful, and has a really amazing conservatory program for acting. They have a one-year high school program for seniors, like boarding school, very intensive classes, conservatory-style training for like eight or 10 hours a day. During that time, we had this teacher, the director of our high school drama program, named Bob Moyer. He trained us in sort of the most deep and fundamental and old-school style of improv, which is theater games by Viola Spolin. This is a kind of improv where you’re not trying to be funny. You’re really being in the moment for a long time, seeing what you would do, and being patient. I got this amazing improv training for hours and hours a day.

And it wasn’t until years later that I realized that that training is why I’m almost more comfortable improvising. Just running, and the ground is appearing before you, you almost have no idea what you’re gonna say next, you know, the sentences are just forming out your head as you’re going. Although, luckily for this video, I did it once, and then I looked at the video, and the sound didn’t record, which happens sometimes with the filter I use. So I had to do it again. I think the song benefited greatly from that first forced rehearsal because it got a bit more structured than what I’d done before.

What’s the name of that filter, by the way?
It’s called “I Tried.” A lot of people think it’s “Big Mouth.”

In the bridge of the song, I’m struck by the claim that there are people who say that sitting is bad.
Oh, there are so many arguments against sitting! There’s this idea that sitting is the new smoking.

Are there sitting haters in your own life?
No, luckily I surround myself with people who love both sitting and standing.

At my last office before Covid, we all had adjustable desks where you could be sitting or standing, and you felt a sort of peer pressure to stand.
The funny thing is that I love standing desks! Actually, this is what I do when I’m staying at a hotel, for a makeshift standing desk. [Alvarez moves laptop to reveal that he has stacked a chair on top of a coffee table so he can give the Zoom interview while standing.]

Oh my god.
Because I love, love standing! But that’s Brian, not TJ Mack.

Tell me how the song got radio play in Australia.
There’s a good backstory there: I am big in Australia. I’ve been on the Australian news quite a few times, for how good my Australian [accent] is. Which to me is not that notable, because I put on various accents, I’ve always sort of have a gift for accents, and I love doing it. And so I just do an Australian accent that, to me, sounds accurate. I learned from watching seasons and seasons of Australia’s Next Top Model, and somehow I really got it down. But apparently, it’s just very rare to actually be able to pull it off. So then when I post a video where I pull it off, this thing happens where it goes viral among Australians.

For a long time the comments were usually the same: “I didn’t understand why everybody was just reposting this video of an Australian guy. And then I realized he was American. And that’s so crazy. And that’s why I’m reposting it, because I can’t believe this.” Which is such a compliment. And I think I also we maybe share a bit of a sense of humor. I have sketches on on YouTube, and people from Australia have been watching my stuff for a long time.

All this is to say there’s up there’s a fan base in Australia that is already sort of up to speed with what I do. So then when this song “Sitting” went big, when these really cool radio hosts there, Abby and Tyrone, they host a show that’s national, called Triple J. And from what I understand, it’s a very hip show that introduces people to new music. I did this other Australian news show recently, and the guy was saying, I don’t think you understand how big of a deal it would be for young artists to get on to Triple J, and you’ve done it with this song. It was hard for me at first understand the reach of that show. And then they had TJ Mack call into the show. I remember the hosts were bantering before they played the song. And one was saying, “You know, there’s a long history of these comedic remixes.” And then Abby goes, “This isn’t one of them.”

We’ve gotten so many of these incredible covers. Are you surprised at how versatile the song is across different genres?
No, I think there’s probably a lot of songs that could do this same kind of thing. But it’s just something about the game that arose with this song — how many different styles can do? Everyone’s kind of lending their voice and their style, and it’s also a simple enough song that it’s easy to move it between genres.

Is there any version or interpretation that you just can’t stop thinking about?
There’s one version that wasn’t one of the most popular, and to me it was interesting to love this version so much but to know it’s it’s not really rising. It’s really pretty, it has these sort of nostalgic, sentimental vibes. All the other ones are cheery. This one, to me, sounds like it’s for a rainy day.

I saw someone who was putting together the orchestral score, so I do hope we see the full orchestra, John Williams conducting.
Yeah, at the Hollywood Bowl!

All right, the toughest question: How can you follow this?
Gotta write another hit. It’s my only choice. No looking back now. International pop star.

It’s tough to stay on top.
Britney Spears did it. Madonna did it. We’ll see if I can do it.

Has TJ Mack done other songs?
Yeah, he’s got other songs in his backlog. So maybe we can resurface them. But really, it’s eyes on the prize, looking to the future.

After the massive success of this song, does sitting feel different to you now?


[Laughs.] I always notice how I, Brian, am not the biggest sitter. And it shows me the difference between me and one of my most beloved characters. TJ Mack, I would say, loves sitting a bit more than I do — and that’s okay.