Joshua Block may live in Patchogue, but he is perhaps most at home in New York City.
A few times a month, he takes an Uber from his home to the Ronkonkoma train station, hops a train to Penn Station and wanders about Manhattan. Throughout those days, he broadcasts videos of himself singing, dancing and exploring sites to his 2.2 million Tik Tok followers.
“I didn’t know this was gonna be my thing,” the 20-year-old said of his New York City Tik Toks. “One day I decided to go to the city just for the fun of it. My views were so high there that I decided to keep going back.”
Block is a part-time entrepreneur thanks to the travel vlog craze among young adults using social media. He said Tik Tok pays him about four cents for every 1,000 times his videos are viewed, which comes to around $700 every month.
That’s before he accepts any sponsor opportunities that come his way. He can make a couple of hundred dollars for promoting apps and games.
“The Tik Tok business is a hustle,” Block said.
Two years to two million fans
When Block first joined Tik Tok in 2019, it took time to find his own voice.
“When I first started I was like any other creator just doing silly dances in the bathroom,” he said. “At the end of 2020 I started going to the city, and I’ve gone to the city ever since. I’ve gone to all the major events, I’ve gone to 4th of July, Macy’s Thanksgiving parade and I’m supposed to go the New Years Eve celebration.”
On his first journey into the city, Block bought a wig, a leather jacket and black pants to create an homage to Michael Jackson’s “Bad” music video. He also checked in at Times Square; Central Park; Astoria, Queens; and Randall’s Island.
He filmed his most viral video, which raked in 26 million views, in March. The Tik Tok features him in the middle of Times Square belting out lyrics to “Empire State of Mind” as a few bystanders joined in.
Long Islanders will most likely catch Block producing videos while enjoying coffee or boba tea at a mall, and in downtown Port Jefferson and Montauk. He also works part-time at Dairy Queen. But his heart — and the lion’s share of his views — are in Manhattan.
“Me going to the city is the most wholesome thing,” he said. “They say, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. And I know the city now, inside out and backwards. I’ve been in every borough, every area, every subway line.”
‘I’m very proud’
Block’s grandfather said he knew Block had a good eye since he was a child. So much so he gifted his grandson a Nikon camera when he was a child. Since then, Block has been framing the world around him to his vision.
“I started with photography and then I started with videography,” Block said. “I had been interested since I was 8 years old.”
His Instagram account is loaded with his photography, while Tik Tok showcases his video skills. Both boast Block shooting New York City scenery, which his grandfather said he prefers to his sillier videos.
“Josh’s real strength is in his videos of the five boroughs,” said Block’s grandfather, who requested to have his legal name omitted from publication. “He’s gifted and has such an aesthetic sense. That’s not where Josh gets his views, and that’s too bad cause they’re beautiful.”
“I’m very proud of what he’s doing,” Block’s grandfather added. “I just worry about him going into the city and coming home late at night. But that’s where he loves it. That’s where his future lies I think, in video photography.”
Block’s mother passed in 2015 and his grandfather took him in as his legal guardian in 2017. He found himself enrolled at Patchogue-Medford High School, where his grandfather pushed to have Block enrolled in regents courses.
Block has autism and was enrolled in what his grandfather described as a “restrictive” track while attending school where his mother lived in Virginia Beach. His grandfather said the school agreed to place him on the standard track for a trial period.
Then Block brought home his first report card with honor roll marks, a regular occurrence until he graduated this past June. He also ran cross country and track for three years.
“He is autistic, and yet he’s a track star. He’s been an honor student, every [quarter] he made the honor roll in regular classes and got a regents diploma,” Josh’s grandfather said.
More than meets the eye
For years, Block has dreamed of being his own boss, and nothing would stop that.
In 2017, he launched his own t-shirt company, World of T-Shirts, which is also his Instagram and Tik Tok handles.
“I haven’t made a ton of business, but I have made something,” Block said of his shirt company.
He took various business courses in high school and joined the Patchogue Young Professionals group. Stephen King, the chairman of the group, said he noticed Block’s entrepreneurial skills and salesman potential from their first interaction at an event the group hosted at the high school.
“I think what everyone loves about him is that he’s always himself and he’s not embarrassed to put himself out there,” King said. “Josh is himself. What stands out the most is that he does it all alone.”
“He’s been dealt some really touch difficult cards most people would fold under,” he added. “He’s playing the cards that are dealt to him and he’s happy, and that is as successful as you can possibly be.”
The Patchogue Young Professionals make brief videos highlighting some of the students in their ranks. When King and treasurer Benny Migliorino decided to showcase Block, they realized there was a lot of story to tell. Migliorino, a professional photographer and videographer, decided to accompany Block on one of his trips to Manhattan.
After his day in the city with Block, Migliorino produced a 16-minute documentary titled “This Is My City” about Block’s city routine, struggles, internet presence and fan interactions.
“Ten minutes before we went to Time Square I threw a microphone on him,” Migliorino said of their trip. “Within minutes people were coming up to him, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re Josh Block from Tik Tok,’ and asking for videos and photos and stuff. It was unreal just watching all these people come up to him that he didn’t know.”
Block’s grandfather said he hopes the documentary helps eliminate stigmas surrounding people with autism and showcases their talents and potential, often undermined by traditional aptitude measures.
“There’s more to these kids than meets the eye.”