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The Modern Mrs. Maisel: Libby Walker Wanted To Deliver Smiles During COVID So She Became A “Jewish Influencer”

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at August 24, 2021

About a month before Passover last year, Libby Walker received a frantic call from her mother that every young Jewish person can probably relate to.

“She was like, ‘Oh my gawd, how are we gonna do Passover seder on Zoom? We barely know how to use it — who is going to show the grandparents how it use it? Nobody knows how to have an account! Oh, who are we gonna have? We can’t have this person. They might have the COVID,’” Libby recalls during a rather ironic Zoom conversation with Forbes Entertainment.

At the time, Libby, a 23-year-old native of New York City, was living upstate in Buffalo and nearing the end of a BFA in acting program. As if she didn’t have enough anxiety (the world was shutting down and a number of professional job interviews she had lined up were canceled), “I’m in Buffalo by myself and I’m listening to my mom freaking out on the phone about the seder, which was making me feel worse.”

So, like most members of Generation Z, Libby, who now had a ton of free time on her hands in the wake of a global pandemic, turned to TikTok. And thus, the persona of Sheryl Cohen — a stereotypically overbearing Jewish matriarch with a thick NY accent — was born. Sheryl, Libby explains, is a mishmash of her own mom, Rachel Brosnahan’s Midge Maisel (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), Fran Drescher’s Fran Fine (The Nanny), and Maggie Wheeler’s Janice (Friends).

“I just imitated the conversation and made a video [titled] ‘Jews on Passover This Year,’” she explains. “I started doing more videos, I started getting more traction, people started reaching out to me and being like, ‘I love this. Thanks for making me smile in such a stressful time period.’”

“We all know a Sheryl. We all know that nosey mom across the hall who just says too much or is too judgmental,” Libby continues. “It’s just comical and fun, especially during COVID if you went back to live with your family. Channeling that energy was a lot of fun … Every time my mom hassles me about something, I’ll be like, ‘Don’t do anything, I might make a TikTok about it.’”

Fortunately, Libby’s real mother is not asking for a share of the social media profits — at least not yet. “She’s always been supportive. She always took me to acting classes, auditions, and supported my passion. She helped me arrive at the decision to be on the business side of performance and always said, ‘You have such a good ear and sense for finding and placing talent.’”

Not long after the first video went live in the spring of 2020, TikTok posted it on their official Instagram account and the brand deals started to roll in. A development Libby never expected to happen. “I was like, ‘Who are you? Are you a real person? Why do you want my address?’ I didn’t understand brand deals are people who actually want to send you free things,” she admits.

To date, Libby has partnered with Lost Tribe Esports, TheraBreath, Meet Jew University, Arizona iced tea, Tubi 60 alcohol, Bridged, Chip City, Hillel International, and Birthright. All of this while juggling a full-time job as a social media manager for Kii NYC, a non-profit network for Jewish young professionals. “I just thought it would eventually stop. Either the attention or the attraction,” she says. “I never intended on doing it full-time and now, I would definitely consider myself a Jewish influencer.”

An unexpected turn of events, but then again, Libby has always been a natural performer. “When I was young, I would literally spend my recess as a little kid writing plays and making E.T. 2 and Mary Poppins 2 in community buildings and charging people overpriced tickets,” she remembers. “Theater was always in my blood.”

That love of performing eventually led her to Alan Zweibel, a veteran playwright and screenwriter whom she studied under during her final semester of college. Zweibel co-wrote and produced Billy Crystal’s most recent directorial effort, Here Today, and has since become a mentor figure to Libby. Moreover, his comedy class at the University at Buffalo also helped inspire the character of Sheryl, who has moved beyond the confines of TikTok into a YouTube series called Jewish Mom Approved (see below).

Alan’s best piece of advice so far? “Don’t stop pushing, don’t stop knocking. Be persistent. So many opportunities can pass you by if you don’t ask.”

That in-your-face attitude isn’t a foreign concept to a Manhattanite like Libby, who grew up in a traditional Jewish household and attended a modern orthodox synagogue in the fast-paced concrete jungle that never sleeps.

“I’m a born and raised city kid who won’t eat shellfish or un-kosher meat, and doesn’t know how to drive. Sorry, Olivia Rodrigo,” she quips. “Never got my driver’s license or my permit. I’ve only ever used my Metro Card.”

Rare moments outside of the city were spent at Ramah, a Jewish sleep away camp. “That was the primary foundation of my whole Jewish identity,” she continues. “My biggest Jewish identity was always community and the mutual friends and I had a big role in the Chabad at college. I was that person that would get everyone to go to Shabbat services. It’s convincing people to come to events, making them seem cool because they think, ‘Oh, Libby’s gonna be there and if she’s hyping something up, it can’t be lame.’”

Of course, it hasn’t all been laughs and brand deals. After posting a recent camp-related video, Libby found herself at the center of a vortex of anti-Semitic comments about concentration camps during the Holocaust. Instead of allowing herself to be bullied off of TikTok, Libby reported as many comments as she could and helped foster a dialogue on Clubhouse.

“I think it’s important to speak out. I’m not gonna try to be a silent person,” she says. “I was like, ‘Ok, do I take a break? Do I not take a break? No! That’s what they want.’ This is the reality of the situation and it sucks that there are even people out there, displaying such ignorance and hatred, especially after all the things that have happened in the world recently. How do you have that much anger inside of you when we just experienced a whole pandemic and people are dying? These aren’t funny things to joke about.’”

Like any good comedian, however, Libby has a dark sense of humor about the whole situation: “At least they’re telling me I’m not funny.”

As of this writing, Libby’s TikTok account has over 26,000 followers and over one million likes. “Could I have more followers?” she asks. “Yeah, everybody could have more followers, but I like to think of the little accomplishments as big accomplishments … I like to pay quick attention to detail and people are paying the big bucks for a reason.”

While TikTok may have just started out as “a dancing application,” it’s fast become an innovative marketplace for the exchange of ideas and entertainment. So much so, that Libby likes to hold a sort of week-in-review centered around lessons learned from the app every Friday night when Shabbat (the Jewish day of rest) rolls around.

“People are really relying on TikTok more than I ever would have thought,” she concludes. That’s how people find out about so many things and at our Shabbat table for Kii every week, I say, ‘How did you find out about this?’ And when someone says, ‘TikTok,’ I’m like, ‘Ok, now take a shot.’ But it’s really crazy how many different ways you can use it and I’ve had so many different conversations with musicians, actors, and businesses. If you put in the time, you really can make yourself big on social media.”

That’s something we can all drink to. L’chaim!

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