In November 2016, Dundalk native Scott Seiss began working at an Ikea call center near the company’s store in White Marsh. As part of his job he reviewed emails and social media messages sent by customers who often reported late deliveries or missing parts. One man, Seiss recalls, was so irate with the delay in sending him a replacement for a wonky piece of furniture, “He just sent a video attachment of him burning the table,” Seiss recalled with a laugh. “Customers are so wild.”
It’s sort of funny in a twisted way, but, eager to break into the world of standup comedy, Seiss kept his day job strictly separate from his ambitions. Seiss, a 27-year-old graduate of Eastern Technical High School in Essex and the University of Maryland Baltimore County, left the area — and his job at Ikea — in April 2019, moving to just outside New York City to Bloomfield, New Jersey, to pursue his career in comedy.
Ironically, Seiss’ hilarious portrayal of a disgruntled Ikea staffer just might help launch his career as a comic. In a series of videos posted to TikTok and shared widely across the internet, Seiss, his old Ikea lanyard around his neck, imitates customers and mocks their complaints.
Responding to an often-heard gripe: “You just lost yourself a customer,” Seiss gets in close to the camera. “You think I own this business?” he sneers. “You think I own Ikea? I’m a part-time employee halfway through a two-week notice. I don’t give a [expletive.].”
Collectively, Seiss’ Ikea employee videos, which now number 21, have garnered tens of millions of views on TikTok alone, and more on platforms like Twitter and Youtube. Among his newfound fans are celebrities like Peyton Reed, director of “Ant-Man.” Comedian Patton Oswalt shared the videos and wrote: “I can’t stop watching this.” Even basketball legend Lebron James shared the videos on Twitter, writing: “I’m literally shedding tears right now.”
Seiss says he was doing dishes when a friend texted him to say James had tweeted about his video this week. “That can’t be right,” Seiss thought.
The key to the videos’ humor is in the details. Dramatic music plays in the background. Seiss, who wears a 1970s-style mustache, doesn’t blink or take a breath as he speaks, honing a gangster-like rage that would make Robert De Niro’s character in “Taxi Driver” look like he just took a sedative. (”I promise I’m not that angry in real life,” Seiss said.)
He began filming the Ikea videos in February, testing them out on his wife, Amanda, who shared her own retail experience working at White Marsh Mall. “She makes sure that it feels truthful to the retail experience,” Seiss said. “I see her reaction to see if the videos are funny enough to post.” He filmed and posted the videos over a period of around two months — stretching over two different haircuts. “Since February I’ve been posting two to three retail videos on my TikTok per week,” he says. He doesn’t have a title for the bit — which he thinks of as Angry Retail Guy.
Angry Retail Guy isn’t his first stab at TikTok virality. Earlier videos see him skewering the children’s book author R.L. Stine, or depicting a meeting between Ebenezer Scrooge and Jeff Bezos. (Scrooge is astonished by Bezos, who seems to one-up him in the Evil Department by refusing his employees even a bathroom break).
But nothing has taken off quite like Angry Retail Guy. The first video alone has now been viewed more than 8 million times. Viewers have included comedians like Jim Gaffigan and Paul F. Tompkins, who have both shared the videos on Twitter. Seiss says he’s extra appreciative when retail employees like and share his videos. “Labor policies, workers’ rights, making sure workers have the right to support themselves... that’s huge for me,” Seiss said. “That’s why it means so much to me that people that work thankless jobs like the videos I make so much.”
Their feedback has also inspired new material. One person chimed in with another frequent customer complaint: “‘Do you know how much money I spend here?’”
Seiss shut that complaint down in a video: “It doesn’t matter how much you spend here. We don’t thank our donors. This isn’t PBS.”
Seiss, who actually handles social media for a PBS affiliate in New York as his day job, says his coworkers have begun to notice the videos. “At work I just am more reserved. It’s not like I go into teams meetings and I start playing the sound effect” and roasting people, he said.
Someone who hasn’t responded to the videos yet? Ikea. Seiss says: “I’m waiting for the cease and desist order” and checks his mail daily “to see when I’m being sued.” On the other hand, some have chimed in on Twitter saying Ikea should hire him to manage their social media. Seiss’s response: “Been there, done that.”
So far, no official job offers have come from the videos, says Seiss, but “I’ve gotten some meetings from it... I’d rather not say where or with who,” He doesn’t want to “jinx it.”
Asked about the videos, an Ikea spokesperson wrote: “We’re aware of Scott Seiss’s videos and simply want to clarify that Scott is not a current employee of IKEA and does not speak for IKEA or our co-workers.”
The attention has been “surreal,” for Seiss, who previously performed at Baltimore arts institutions like Ottobar and Joe Squared. “I miss Baltimore like crazy,” he said. “There’s a certain magic to the gritty, blue-collar audiences at Baltimore comedy shows.” He calls Charm City the place “where I learned to be funny… and I learned to write jokes.”
Seiss advises fellow comics, “Once you find something that works or that’s a hit, see how far you can take that, see if that can become a series... You have to keep pushing and keep focusing on what works.”
Before getting off the phone, Seiss gave props to his hometown. “Be nicer to Dundalk people,” he said. “I feel like Dundalk is the punching bag of Baltimore County. We got a Five Guys, we got a Chili’s now,” he said. “Come on people, Dundalk is cool.”
An earlier version of the story incorrectly identified where Scott Seiss attended college. He graduated from the University of Maryland Baltimore County. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.