Student Spotlight: UI senior finds fame on TikTok

With nearly a million followers on TikTok, Gabriel Bautista creates humorous content about anime while balancing his work as a University of Iowa student.


Dimia Burrell

University of Iowa senior Gabe Bautista poses for a portrait in front of his computer monitor in Iowa City on Wednesday, March 23, 2022. (Dimia Burrell/The Daily Iowan)

Jami Martin-Trainor, Arts Reporter

The pandemic has led many people to adopt new hobbies. Some have taken up painting, others baking, and plenty of others picked up relaxing pastimes like reading, puzzles, or yoga.

Several people, including University of Iowa senior Gabriel Bautista, took to creating content on TikTok.

Under the online name “senpapi.gabe,” Bautista began making TikTok videos about anime in the garage of his home.

About two years later, Bautista has just nearly one million followers and has racked up over 42 million likes on his account.

At the beginning, Bautista said he exclusively posted content about anime. His work wasn’t scripted or planned out beforehand — he just hit “record” on his device and started talking.

Now, he’s expanded his videos to include some of his other interests, like video games and Marvel content. His simple process has evolved to include fully scripted skits, ring lights, and extensive video editing to create more humorous and enjoyable content. On his account, he can be found performing his popular “Aniway” Subway spoofs and commenting on anime and manga, like Attack on Titan, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, and One Piece.

“I realized I actually really enjoy sitting down on my laptop or PC and writing out a skit and trying to find the best way to slide a joke every other line or trying to incorporate some kind of fun wordplay into it,” Bautista said. “I can really only do [that] if I try to plan out the entire script beforehand.”

Bautista said he has strategies to ensure that he remains humble in lieu of his growing success. Comparing it to a term that he heard used when he played football, Bautista said that observing other successful content creators has kept him “hungry.”

“I cannot let my ego get inflated or else I will just be an absolute monster,” Bautista said. “I compare myself to other content creators that are huge on the platform, like, I’m talking tens of millions of followers.”

Bautista said that he has not experienced too much negativity online. Although he gets the occasional rude commenter on his account, he said he largely ignores those responses and instead focuses on his welcoming community.

Bautista said he’s expanded his skills as a writer and social media creator because of his dedication to content creation. His growth on TikTok has also led him to make new friends.

Bautista also attended Anime NYC in November 2021, a convention that brought together many anime enjoyers. There, he met and collaborated with other large creators, which he said was one of his favorite parts of his platform.

“Seeing my accounts grow and seeing more and more people following me — it’s been really eye-opening — just the amount of opportunities that I have with it,” Bautista said. “I always thought I was funny, but now, apparently so do other people. It’s reassuring to know that other people think that as well.”

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Despite his success, Bautista said that he does struggle with imposter syndrome — the phenomenon where successful people feel as if it is undeserved, or that they only achieved their goals out of luck. It’s the nature of social media that some weeks his videos are successful, Bautista said, and others they are not.While the fluctuation is normal, Bautista said it can be hard on weeks when views are low.

“TikTok success comes in waves,” Bautista said. “There are those low points where in a week you might not really have anything do all that well. Those weeks, it sucks — there’s no other better way to say it.”

Additionally, Bautista has to balance managing his large online presence with being a college student. It’s difficult to do that, he said, and sometimes one area of his life has to suffer in order for the other to do well.

“There have been times where my grades have slipped, or I took like a week off where I just didn’t post content that I really liked — it was more just to post something because I had to catch up on school or in that area,” Bautista said.

Bautista said that he always has people supporting him and encouraging him to keep on creating content through struggles. His passion for his work keeps him going and inspires him to pursue a job that aligns with his online interest.

As a senior, Bautista is currently looking for jobs in media production, such as a social media manager or professional content creator. While he searches for a job that aligns with the skills he’s learned through TikTok, Bautista hopes to become financially independent using his online persona so he can combine his passion and career into one.

“I plan to continue making content on TikTok — I like it too much to quit.” Bautista said. “End goal would be to have that or just content creation not on TikTok, but on TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Twitch, be like a full-time gig where I can be financially dependent on it.”