When Jack Lepiarz performed at Drew’s annual MedFest for the first time in 2009, the thought that he might one day be internet famous never crossed his mind. As a junior at Emerson College, Lepiarz agreed to perform at Drew with his unique mastery of circus-standard whip tricks because of his mother, Dr. Van Blerkom—a former Drew anthropology professor.
Over the next 14 years, Lepiarz became a welcomed guest at many MedFests, celebrating the tradition with other medieval-loving Drew students and alums. This week, The Acorn was lucky enough to talk to Lepiarz about himself and his rise to stardom as his new persona: Jacques Ze Whipper.
Lepiarz has been accompanying his parents to Renaissance Fairs since he was young, and even accompanied his mother to Drew’s annual MedFest when he was a child. He was also able to explore the art of street performing with skills that he had developed while training as a circus performer.
The two passions collided when Lepiarz began his time as Jacques Ze Whipper in 2008 at King Richard’s Renaissance Fair in Massachusetts as a way to make money and sustain himself during his time in university. It was at this time that Lepiarz was able to develop his set and turn it into a show that many Drew students are familiar with, fake mustache and all.
In 2009, one of his mother’s co-workers, who was involved in organizing MedFest, caught wind of Lepiarz’s performance and invited him to join the MedFest lineup.
Lepiarz’s rise to prominence in the online community happened around October of 2021 when his “whip songs,” parodies that he makes up on the spot to the rhythm of his musical whips, took off.
“It’s become this weird thing where suddenly people see me as a celebrity,” Lepiarz said on the topic of internet stardom. As of writing this article, his account (@jaqueszewhipper) has 2.8 million followers and over 70 million likes.
While his shows remain similar to how they existed before his TikTok following grew so dramatically, he says that there is a noticeable change in energy.
“I think the biggest change for me is how far people are willing to travel, and how many people are willing to come specifically to see me,” he said.
TikTok as a platform in general came up quite a bit during our time with Lepiarz, as he has a large following on the app.
He said that, while it can be a good way to reach a large audience, at times it can be frustrating to rely on such an unpredictable algorithm. But he remains optimistic saying, “digital content always goes through peaks and valleys,” and that succeeding online is “a matter of sticking out the lows.” And while the platform of TikTok is not the best for advertising time-sensitive events, he has also mastered the use of Instagram to promote the various shows he has lined up.
While warming up for his performances Lepiarz says that he is usually scrolling through internet platforms while stretching to stay up to date on trending songs, current memes and other things that may be relevant to his show, especially when he asks for audience participation.
When asking the audience for suggestions for “whip songs,” trending TikTok sounds come up often. Lepiarz noted that when these references make it into the show a large part of the audience is visibly confused, but “the teenagers love it.”
Lepiarz also works on adding new tricks and bits to his performances. He says that MedFest—an event free to Drew students, alumni and community members—allows him to try new acts and reach into newer creative territory. And while “it may go poorly,” he says that it “is brand new stuff, so I’m willing to kind of throw it out there,” meaning that the Drew community gets to see his newest material each spring. This also allows Lepiarz the chance to see how an audience may react to new additions and to really play around with his craft.
When asked if he would be returning to Drew, he responded that “It’s a real easy show. It’s a fun show…the plan is hopefully to be back for many years in the future.”
The Drew community can rest assured that as long as Lepiarz’s spring schedule remains free, the yearly visits will continue. On some future Saturday in mid-April, the sounds of Lepiarz’s wonderfully unique performance will ring throughout campus.
Jocelyn is a sophomore majoring in history, English and Chinese.