Zev Burton, 23, is pursuing a master’s in data science and analytics at Georgetown University. An Indianapolis native, he’s the author of “Two Fish in a Tank: How Jokes Can Give Hope to a Fractured World” and an avid poster on TikTok, where he has accumulated more than 243,000 followers and 23 million likes. He’s also the reigning chess champion in his league, an avid reader and board game lover.
What brought you to Georgetown University?
I knew I wanted to do something in international affairs and I knew I wanted to work in D.C. somehow, during college. The other schools I went to were like, “Oh, we have a school in D.C.” or they had a program in D.C. I went to Georgetown and the woman who would later become my dean said, “We don’t have a Georgetown in D.C. program, we’re Georgetown comma D.C.” That sealed the deal for me.
So I went to Georgetown for undergrad. I got my degree in international politics, I really liked the data aspect. So I began grad school there my senior year and I’m still there for grad school in data science and analytics. I also work a full time job at a data consulting agency here in D.C.
How did you begin making content on TikTok?
There have been three stages to my TikTok career. I started posting for fun doing a little bit of promo for the book I was writing. Then January 6th happened. I was in D.C. during the insurrection and was like, “Oh, I’ve studied domestic terrorism in school. I know how to communicate that.” So I started posting about that, which was the second stage. And then I got a lot of antisemitic comments. I was like, you know what? I’m going to start talking about antisemitism and Jewishness and bring Judaism into a modern context that you don’t really see a lot, especially online.
Fighting antisemitism on TikTok is difficult. I want to fight this thing, but it’s also not fun being a target because TikTok is full of antisemitism. I get tagged in a lot of it. But most people are actually really cool. I’ve met some of my best friends through TikTok from all around the world. One came and stayed at my place for a week. So, yes, there’s a lot of antisemitism and it’s not fun, but people make it worth it. The community makes it worth it.
You mentioned doing promotional work for your book. What’s that about?
It’s called “Two Fish in a Tank.” It’s about jokes as a form of resistance against oppression, mostly. I was really lucky to write, get published, now it’s on Amazon, hardcover, softcover. I became really fascinated with the way that people use comedy as a weapon. For me, it was a lot about prisoners and the Nazi concentration camps and how they use humor to get an edge on their oppressors and kept them alive.
Have you drawn inspiration from famous Jewish comedians?
Seinfeld is the go-to answer. But there’s also Groucho Marx, Joan Rivers, Don Rickles — so many great comedians are Jewish. I think it’s because there’s this outlook on life where if we make a joke, the situation is easier to deal with. Comedy has definitely informed the way I view talking about antisemitism and talk about Judaism.
What do you want to do?
I’m getting a degree in data science. I am pursuing this side hobby in entertainment. There’s so many doors open for me right now. I feel like I have decision paralysis, trying to do one. My overarching goal is to do the most good. How I do that, I’m not exactly sure yet. If my eulogy just says, “He was a good man,” I’d be happy with that.