A camera pans lovingly over BMW rims, set to a crunchy, electric beat. The slick, silver car flashes its headlights before the video abruptly cuts to the vehicle’s driver, Jerry, a surprisingly chill duck who is shown wheeling off into the distance a split-second later. In another video, Jerry flaps his beak in bed before he’s suddenly spotted on a table strewn with food while his owner, Brendan Balaskovitz, chides him about his bedtime. Another shows Jerry riding shotgun, quacking in response to Balaskovitz crooning his name in a high-pitched squeal.
On the TikTok page @brendanxa, dozens of videos are dedicated to the mallard. Jerry quacks, waddles, and occasionally poops on things while Balaskovitz shouts in the background. He yells at Jerry for boozing or paddling around in the pool. Jerry can’t be bothered to care.
Pet-focused influencers aren’t new to the creator space. But on TikTok, where trends like the Yeehaw Challenge blow up songs like “Old Town Road” and Area 51 memes run wild, Balaskovitz and Jerry are an odd oasis in a sea of music challenges and teenage-run jokes. Balaskovitz plays the fool, a bumbling doofus who is at the whims of an animal that’s not typically found in a home, let alone on social media. Jerry exudes the kind of “don’t give a fuck” attitude a person aspires to have. They’re a modern comedy duo as absurd as the platform itself, and more than 2.9 million fans agree.
Balaskovitz didn’t set out to make his unusual pet a star. The 21-year-old started making videos for YouTube six years ago, and it was rough going. “I had absolutely no success,” he says. After three years and around a scant 100 subscribers, Balaskovitz went on a hiatus. Eventually, he landed on TikTok.
Unlike YouTube, TikTok is still a fairly new platform. There have been countless pieces written about its cringe-worthy nature, and Balaskovitz doesn’t shy away from that fact. “When we got [on TikTok, it] was still the platform that you had that you didn’t tell your friends about,” he says. Now, TikTok is no longer for Music.ly hangers-on who’ve come to sing, dance, and lip-sync. Instead, it’s a place where users expertly edit videos, create comedy bites, and push new memes.
Today, Balaskovitz shoots videos from his home in Muskegon, Michigan, with a small team that includes his younger sister and mix of his 17 pets. A typical day goes like this: at 8AM, he’s up answering emails and scoping out brand deals. By 10AM, the team starts filming: first, it’s the daily vlogs that go up on YouTube, then it’s whatever else they’ve got in the pipeline. By 2PM, they’ve moved on to editing, and the day fans out until they end around 9PM. In between, Balaskovitz and his friends are filming TikToks.
“It’s non-stop,” he says. He quit his full-time job about a month ago to focus exclusively on content creation. It’s only in the last year or so that Jerry has become a huge part of his social presence.
Balaskovitz adopted Jerry as a duckling about five years ago from a local farm. “He’s like a dog,” says Balaskovitz. Duck pastimes include car rides, eating McDonald’s french fries, napping in his own bedroom, and waiting at the front door for Balaskovitz to come outside. Balaskovitz will post videos featuring Jerry and a menagerie of pets — including birds, dogs, plunger-stealing ferrets, and sunglass-clad guinea pigs — but not all members of the animal brood are stars, and few garner the same sort of love and attention as Jerry. It’s normal nowadays to see animals in the spotlight. It’s rarer for said pet star to be a shower-loving, pool-hopping duck with an indifference to being yelled at.
The downside of running a millions-strong TikTok account? People are always asking him for advice on adopting a pet duck. His answer is simple: “Do not get a pet duck,” he says. “I do not believe that they are a good pet. Most of them will wander off. Most of them will fly away, and most of them don’t want to deal with people.”
Balaskovitz considers himself a lucky duck owner, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that they’re bad pets. To name just a few places Jerry has pooped: on the floor, in the sink, the top of a car, a chair seat, and in Balaskovitz’s bed. And Jerry’s adorable duckbill is just as capable of bruising bare skin as it is of giving a solid nuzzle.
“Most people will buy ducks and they don’t know how to take care of them,” he says. “They realize they’re messy. They realize that they’re like a two-year-old child sometimes. They’ll just drop it off at a pond, and that’s where that duck will die.”
Balaskovitz isn’t one of the platform’s top creators — yet — but TikTok stardom isn’t his only goal. He’s looking to continue moving up and into a broader audience. “I don’t think [people are] taking us seriously yet, because [there’s] still the stigma out there is that it’s a cringe-y platform,” he says. And it’s still hard for creators to earn money off the platform unless they’re cutting brand deals or selling merch. “A lot of people do not see the potential for the app yet, as far as from a business standpoint. But as long as TikTok figures out how to monetize their platform better, it will take everything over.”
For now, Balaskovitz tries to usher fans to places like YouTube where ad money exists. He loves longform content and calls his channel “TikTok on steroids” — part of the never-ending grind.
“When it comes to this business, you kind of get one shot,” he says. “You notice there’s a lot of other TikTokers out there that were kind of the face of it, and now they’re pretty irrelevant.” Staying on top, for him, means keeping up a constant stream of content that bucks trends. He doesn’t have time for idle leisure. “A kid can always go watch somebody else,” he says. It’s hard to imagine competing duck stars on the platform, but weirder things have happened.